In New York State, both the Criminal Procedure Law and Family law include provisions for including “companion animals” in an order of protection (See NY CPL Law 530.13 and NY FCT Law 842). The laws allow a judge to include language in the order that the defendant (or respondent) must “refrain from intentionally injuring or killing, without justification, any companion animal the respondent knows to be owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by the petitioner or a minor child residing in the household.” I don’t know if this provision is regularly utilized or only included when it is likely that the protected party’s pet will become a target of the person against whom the order is issued (there is no such restriction in the statutes). However, about two years ago, I saw a judge include such a provision in a criminal order of protection.
The situation involved a veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse issues relating to an injury sustained while deployed. The veteran and his live-in girlfriend had had an argument that escalated into a physically abusive situation; the police were called and the veteran was arrested. The girlfriend approached the court with a request to modify the order of protection (originally issued at arraignment) to allow for the couple to attend counseling together. The judge was hesitant and questioned the girlfriend about how long they had been together, if they had been together prior to his deployment, and how things changed post-deployment. In reviewing the information before her, the judge became concerned… “What about the kittens?” she asked. It was alleged that during the argument, the veteran had kicked one of the girlfriend’s kittens and threw another kitten out a window (the kittens were not injured). The veteran claimed not to remember his actions toward the kittens, and the girlfriend indicated that they were OK. The judge then said she would modify the order to allow for counseling, but she was also going to modify it to include the kittens (the original order had not included the pets and was a standard “stay-away” form prohibiting contact between the defendant and victim). She asked for the names; I don’t recall what they were, but they were typical kitten names like “Fluffy” and “Mittens”. Most of the people present in the courtroom snickered as the judge asked for the proper spelling of the kittens’ names.
Prior to that, I had never considered the significance of including a pet in an order of protection. While this particular defendant didn’t seem to be a cruel individual, and perhaps genuinely didn’t recall what happened on the night in question, there are very sick individuals out there who might consider harming a pet to get back at a spouse, girlfriend, child, or victim of a crime who reported them to the police. By including a specific provision to protect the kittens, the judge had made it an additional crime (Criminal Contempt) for the veteran to hurt the kittens, regardless of his intention. While it is a Class A misdemeanor to hurt or kill a companion animal (See NY AGM Law 353), violating the provisions of an order of protection is also a misdemeanor (NY PEN Law 215.50). These considerations become relevant in bail applications and at sentencing and can increase the penalties against an offender. The effectiveness of including pets in an order of protection may not be substantial in preventing someone from harming an animal as a sort of revenge in the case of family court or criminal court orders of protection, but I found it refreshing to see a judge utilize the tools available when something in a particular case struck a chord with her.