Q&A: How an Ohio Law Protects Pets of Domestic Violence Survivors

A woman holds a small dog.

Fear of leaving a beloved pet in harm’s way is one of the many barriers people attempting to exit abusive situations face. Twenty-seven states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico have addressed the issue with laws that allow judges to include animals in domestic violence protective orders.

Ohio’s law passed late last year. We talked to Nancy Neylon, executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, about why it’s important to put the protection of pets “on the books,” and what service providers can do to help.

NCFY: What does the new law mean for victim advocates in Ohio?

Nancy Neylon: What this law does is it allows explicitly for companion animals to be included as protected property in civil protection orders. [Ohio judges] were already allowed to include pets, but because it was not explicit in the state statute, many judges weren’t actually doing it. [The law] also – and this is really important – allows judges to let the victim safely go and pick up the animals. Often while they are fleeing, people may or may not be able to take [their pets]. Now they can go [back to] get their animals accompanied by law enforcement.

NCFY: What recommendations would you give to service providers?

Neylon: Ask the questions. When talking to survivors, ask about companion animals and whether they have any concerns. Whether the animals would be coming to shelter or just being able to help them – make them aware they can do so with a civil protection order. One question to automatically ask survivors is whether they have any needs or fears around companion animals. Depending on how they answer, go from there. If yes, add this to the protection order. If they are coming into shelter, help them find safe place for the animal while they are in the shelter.

One of the things we’ve tried to do for advocates is make sure that when someone is asking questions about animals, they know there is a way to protect pets. We have shelters who have made arrangements with various people, and [we have] shelters housing animals on the property. We have various resources on our website for domestic violence programs, including strategies and letters of agreement, so that they do not have to figure all the legal stuff out on their own.

NCFY: What do you do for those in abusive situations who have not yet left?

Neylon: We may provide a brochure about a program and tell them about referral sources. In many cases law enforcement may have contact with them, and the officers could say, “Hey, by the way, this shelter can make arrangements for you and your pet.” It’s important to make sure the right people are aware of the resources you can provide, to do community outreach to women’s groups, church groups and civic groups. Let them know this is a barrier, but there are ways of dealing with it. We also reach out to hospital emergency rooms and other first responders and to the community in general.

More From NCFY

“Five Unique Ways to Address Family Violence”

“Bright Idea: A Pet-Friendly Domestic Violence Shelter Lets Survivors Keep Their Four-Legged Friends”

“Q&A: Pamela Wiseman of the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence”

9-5 pm Eastern