tn legal

“Dogs have owners, cats have staff.” — Anonymous

Tennessee has an order of protection law to help persons who have been hurt or threatened, or have had belongings destroyed, by a current or former relationship partner or family member. 

The law also can help anyone who has been stalked or harassed by another person, and anyone who has been sexually assaulted. (Helpful information from the Legal Aid Society is available at

Tennessee’s order of protection law can also help to protect pets.

Q. How does the order of protection law help pets?

Several years ago, the Tennessee Legislature added a section in the order of protection law. Now, the judge who grants an order of protection for one or more persons also has the power to protect any pet animals in the household.

Q. What powers does a judge have?

The judge can decide the care, custody or control of any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by either party or a minor residing in the household.

The law also says that the abuser should not be allowed to have control of the pet. The pet is required to be placed with the petitioner or in an appropriate animal foster situation.

Q. Why was this law passed?

About 96 percent of reported domestic violence cases in Tennessee involve female victims, and one study found that 40 percent of women who have been hit and hurt by husbands or boyfriends delay going to a shelter because they fear what will happen to their left-behind pets.

The root of domestic violence is not about love – it’s about control. One key way for abusers to keep control over their victims is through the household pets.

Pets are at risk from mistreatment by an abuser, especially if the pets are left behind in the control of an angry, exposed abuser.

Jim Hawkins is a Tennessee general practice and public interest law attorney. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention.  Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. To suggest future column topics, call (615) 452-9200.

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