RI law would include pets in domestic protective orders

A proposed bill in Rhode Island would protect the safety and welfare of pets in domestic abuse situations. (WJAR)

Several Rhode Island lawmakers want to keep domestic abusers away from animals by pushing to get pets included in domestic violence protection orders.

A bill introduced by Rep. William O’Brien, a Democrat who represents North Providence, would require judges to take into account an abuser's criminal history when deciding who should care for an animal.

O’Brien said currently in Rhode Island if someone files a restraining order against his or her spouse and the couple share a pet, they have to wait until the divorce is finalized before a Family Court judge can decide who has custody over the animal.

If the bill passes, victims of domestic violence wouldn't have to wait until the divorce is finalized to keep their pets away from alleged abusers, according to O’Brien. It’s a bill the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals supports.

“If there's a human in the household that's being abused, there is a threat to the animal. So, I think it's very important to take into consideration when a restraining order is filed, there's allegations of abuse, that the animals also be removed from that situation,” said Joe Warzycha, an animal cruelty officer for the SPCA.

Warzycha said he supports the bill, but added the wording of the bill is somewhat vague. It states the domestic violence order will provide for "the safety and welfare of all household animals and pets."

“To me, I interpret that, ‘Yes, the court will take into consideration the well-being of the animal,’ but there's still some discretion on the court's behalf,” Warzycha said.

Under the bill, the court would have discretion. Warzycha said he wants to make sure animals aren't used as pawns during domestic violence incidents.

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