AUGUSTA (AP) – Pets as well as people can be protected from domestic violence under a new law that expands the scope of court orders.

Gov. John Baldacci signed what he described as a first-in-the-nation law that allows a judge to include pets in protection-from-abuse orders. Civil penalties for harming a pet in violation of a court order includes fines and jail time.

“With this new law we hope to help remove another tool for emotional and physical violence used by abusers in their effort to exert power and control over their victims,” he said.

Baldacci, who has two springer spaniels named Sam and Murphy, signed the bill Friday in a ceremony attended by anti-domestic violence and animal protection advocates.

Gretchen Ziemer of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence said many people are unaware of the link between animal abuse and domestic violence.

“This is such a large barrier to people seeking safety,” she said. “A perpetrator will use anything that the victim cares about or loves for control.”

Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantara cited the case of a battered woman whose yard became a real-life “pet cemetery” because her husband killed pets to send a message to the woman and her children that they’d better follow his rules.

“Her abuser kept telling her that what had happened to those animals was going to happen to her. This is not a unique case,” Cantara said.

Police officers often watch for signs of animal abuse on domestic calls, just as animal welfare officers look for signs of domestic abuse, he said.

“Violence is violence,” Cantara said. “Where there is animal cruelty in the home, chances are someone else is being hurt, too.”

Anne Jordan of the Animal Welfare Advisory Council said the idea for the law came from a presentation to the Maine State Bar Association about a connection between domestic abuse and animal abuse. The bill was sponsored by Rep. John Piotti, D-Unity.

Jill Morris, the public policy director at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told The New York Times that some judges are including animals in protection orders but that she had not heard of another law like Maine’s.