On October 31, 2012, Massachusetts enacted a new law to protect domesticated animals from domestic abuse. In order to obtain an order under this new law, there must also be a protective order for the protection of people. Under this law, the court can order possession and care of a domesticated animal or issue a restraining order to prevent abuse to the animal. This law elevates animals from property to the status of a member of the family. Violation of the order is a criminal act.
I question the need for this new law as I have had cases in which Judges have issued orders to protect animals. When the Judges have issued orders of this nature, nobody questioned if the Court had the power to make the orders. The Judges never hesitated before making protective orders. Nevertheless, the Massachusetts legislature decided that Judges in Massachusetts need an explicit grant of power to protect animals. In my opinion, the only difference this new law makes is that we now have an official form to obtain a restraining order to protect animals. While lawyers may not have needed this new law, now people who assist pro-se litigants in obtaining restraining orders should also understand that animals can and should be protected.