How to Save a Pet from an Abusive Household

Minnesota courts and shelters offer protection

By Doug Mentes, Esq. | Last updated on June 16, 2022

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There are 78 million dogs and 86 million cats owned in U.S. households, meaning 44 percent of homes have a dog, and 35 percent have a cat. When living in a home that is dealing with domestic abuse, pets can often get stuck in the middle.

Research shows there is a correlation between abuse toward significant others and abuse toward animals. In fact, pet abuse has been identified as a predictor of domestic abuse; 71 percent of female domestic violence victims report that they witnessed animal cruelty, animal neglect and their pets have been threatened, harmed or killed by their abusive partner.

Research also indicates that violence or threats of animal abuse are used by an abuser as a way to control the victim, which helps partially explain why victims of abuse often delay getting help or leaving the home shared with an abuser. Pets delay nearly half of all domestic abuse victims from getting out and getting help, leaving an abused animal at risk of suffering more abuse.

In 2010, the Minnesota legislature responded, amending the state domestic abuse act: Minnesota courts are now able to order relief for victims of abuse who own pets or companion animals.

Minnesota Domestic Abuse Act

To obtain relief, victims must report abuse and file for an Order of Protection under Minnesota’s Domestic Abuse Act. If victims demonstrate they are a victim of domestic abuse, they may qualify for additional relief for their pet.

Orders for Protection are often granted in emergency situations. They occur without a hearing, or what the court labels “Ex Parte”—which essentially means “one one’s own.” An Ex Parte Order for Protection will be ordered if the victim shows:

  • Domestic abuse occurred

  • Victim is in a close relationship with the abuser

  • Victim is in imminent risk of harm from abuser

Hearing on the Order for Protection is necessary

To obtain additional relief—which includes ordering the protection for a pet—from the court beyond prohibiting contact by the abuser, the victim must request a hearing. If the victim is in an emergency situation, the hearing can occur after the court orders an Ex Parte Order for Protection. Otherwise, if a court does not believe the situation warrants an emergency Ex Parte Order, the court will schedule a hearing on its own.

The court can order the pet be removed from risk of harm by the abuser and placed in the care of another—either the victim, or someone designated by the victim. The court can also order the abuser to refrain from abusing the pet, if the pet does stay in the home.

An Order for Protection is typically in place for two years, and a violation of the Order for Protection could result in criminal charges against the abuser.

Where to place the pet?

Often, victims of domestic abuse have nowhere to live after leaving an abusive relationship. Many must temporarily reside in a domestic abuse shelter. However, not all shelters will take pets, and victims may not have anyone available to care for their pet.

Fortunately, some domestic abuse shelters offer to take in a pet with the victim. Also, there are animal shelters and the local humane society for those at risk of living in an abusive home. Victims may be able to place their pets in an animal shelter pending the results of an Order for Protection.

Victims of domestic abuse will want to discuss obtaining an Order for Protection with an experienced Minnesota family law attorney. And victims of domestic abuse who need help for a pet will want to discuss their situation with an experienced Minnesota animal rights attorney. The attorneys and victim can develop a plan to ensure the victim and their pet are protected and can settle in a loving home.

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of animal law, family law and custody and visitation law.

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