Monday, November 5, 2012

How to explain the new Domesticated Animal Restraining Order provisions to your pet!

On October 31, 2012, a new statute took effect in Massachusetts adding protection for domesticated animals in restraining order cases.  This does not mean that you can obtain a restraining order for your puppy from that feisty dog next door.  The new provisions only allow for a court order relating to the possession, care and protection of a pet when a temporary or permanent vacate, stay away, restraining or no contact order is already in effect or has been requested.   In simpler terms: this new law allows custody orders and protection orders for pets to protect them from the abusers of their human owners.

So what do you do when your pet asks you how this new law affects them?  We've provided some helpful answers to make that conversation go more smoothly:

"Super Awesome Best Friend, how can I help protect you from that angry guy?"

"That's not something you have to worry about anymore.  The court provided me with an order that prevents him from coming near our home.  I also filed a new form that made sure that the court included you in that order.  The court ordered that you will continue to live with me and that he can't abuse or threaten either of us. "

These additional orders can protect pets by assigning their care and protection to the Plaintiff and by ordering the Defendant to refrain from abusing, threatening, transferring or otherwise disposing of a domesticated animal.

"My plot to scare away that crazy woman by showing her a disemboweled chipmunk was clearly successful.  You're welcome!"

"Okay, that's not really a question, but you just reminded me that I didn't ask for protection for you when I obtained my restraining order.  Although I know you can protect yourself, I remember recently that she threatened you after that chipmunk stunt.  Tomorrow I'll go down and file a request to add protection for you to the restraining order."

A request doesn't have to be filed with the original restraining order but can be filed afterwards when an order is already in effect.

"Will this new law help protect me from sharks?"

Unfortunately, the statute is not for use on its own to protect animals from potential abuse or being eaten by other animals.  If someone you are in a relationship with ever tries to feed your fish to the sharks, then you may be able to get the court's help to protect them.  However, unless your fish is particularly valuable, it is unlikely the court will take the abuse or custody of a fish seriously.  Try explaining that to your pet fish, though, am I right?  Unless you're best friends with Aquaman, you may just need to change the subject.  In a few seconds, the fish will just forget they asked anyway.

"I heard the fish weren't safe, but what about me?"

"The statute does not define "domesticated animals."  Since you are so cute and cuddly, I'm sure the Judge would want to ensure that you were protected from any abuse."

Of course that's just speculation, and the reality is that it is impossible to tell where Judges will draw the line on this new law.

While the goal of protecting animals from abuse is a lofty one, it seems a little absurd to think about protecting pets as a priority when domestic violence is such a serious danger to the human victims.  While we hope every victim's pet is safe from abuse, we also hope that no victims are left unheard because a court docket is clogged with pet custody issues.

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