Protection of Animals Under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act

Protection of animals in cases of domestic violence is not a topic discussed to often, but there are laws in place for such.  Effective January 1, 2008, a new remedy under Section 214 of the Illinois Domestic Violence Act (“IDVA”) was established, captioned “Protection of Animals.”  This remedy reflects increasing awareness throughout the country of a significant “linkage” between animals and domestic violence.

Significantly, the new remedy is sequentially placed in the IDVA immediately after the remedy relative to protecting property.  Such placement, of course, reflects the traditional view in Illinois that pets are personal property, assignable or allocable between parties in a dissolution of marriage case in the same way non-marital assets are assigned or marital assets are equitably allocated.  Notably, this new remedy is remarkably broad in scope, permitting a court to grant “exclusive care, custody, or control” to a petitioner and/or to order the respondent to altogether “stay away” from the animal.  Especially important is the new remedy’s use of the word “harming” – i.e., a court may order that a respondent is prohibited from “harming” the animal.

“Teeth” inherent in an IDVA order of protection are substantial.  This Act, which traces back to 1982 (when the forerunner to the present statute was first-enacted), entails a unique interplay between civil and criminal law.  In general, any proceeding to obtain, modify, reopen, or appeal an order of protection is civil in nature; but a proceeding as to a violation of such an order may be in the form of a prosecution in criminal court.

In the early 1980’s, when the first forerunner to the IDVA was enacted, the legal system in Illinois had ineffectively dealt with family violence, allowing abusers to escape effective prosecution or financial liability.  Since the early 1980’s, there have been numerous statutory amendments to the IDVA adopted, many of them serving to re-fine the legal “tools” to combat family violence; and the new remedy protective of animals is consistent with this trend.

In this connection, the overall scope of the IDVA should be underscored, as it embraces many types of relationships beyond applicability of traditional notions of the word “family.”  There is a key term in the Act – “family or household member” – a term that is at the heart of the Act, as it draws the line of demarcation between “domestic” violence and “stranger-to-stranger” violence.  Notably, the term “family or household member” has been expanded over the years; and, since 1993, it even encompasses parties to a “dating or engagement relationship.”

The interrelationship of the new remedy protective of animals with other IDVA remedies should also be underscored.  Since the Act permits a court to order an abuser to pay for losses, including reasonable expenses for temporary shelter, it appears clear that a court has the power to order the abuser to pay for veterinary care and/or boarding costs for a pet.

The foregoing point is relevant in all too many cases, since so many abuse situations involve family pets, coupled with delay on the part of the abused party in seeking protection under the IDVA out of fear as to the possible fate of the family pet if it is “left behind.”  Unfortunately, all too many domestic violence shelters in the U.S. are not adequately equipped to provide housing of pets of the victims otherwise accepted.  Indeed, in response to this widespread problem, the American Kennel Club’s Humane Fund, a Section 503(c)(3) entity, has recently established a grant program for women’s shelters that permit pets.  (Details of this program are available from the AKC Humane Funds’s website – i.e., www.akchumanefund.org.)

As cases come down under the new remedy, nuances of it will be clarified.  For the present, this new remedy fills a major void under the IDVA.

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