Paw Laws: Your Legal ResponsibilitiesPublished December 15, 2008
If your Labrador barks one too many times at 3 a.m., you may find yourself on the wrong side of the law. Many animal owners are unfamiliar with existing laws and bring their pets home not knowing the potential legal issues that could arise as soon as they step out of the animal adoption shelter. Read on to learn more about your legal responsibilities as a pet owner and how to find what the laws are in your neighborhood.Peering into the soulful eyes of a beautiful chocolate Labrador Retriever or stroking the velvety coat of a striped grey tabby is enough to melt the heart of any pet lover, but these simple joys of pet ownership can be marred by ignorance of the many laws set up to protect pets, their owners and the public at-large.
If "Lela" the Labrador barks one too many times at 3 a.m. in the morning, or playfully nips the neighbor's heels, her owners may find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Many animal owners are unfamiliar with existing laws and bring their pets home with little thought about the potential legal issues that could arise as soon as they step out of the animal adoption shelter.
Ignorance of the law is no defense for an offender, so getting familiar with some basic rules can help keep the courtroom at bay.
Laws designed to protect animals and control their nuisance to society vary by city and state. Pet owners are obligated to provide basics for their pets such as food, shelter, exercise and healthcare. Owners must also acquire necessary licensing and identification. Rabies shots for dogs are required in states like California. Owners are also generally required to keep their dogs on a leash of no more than eight feet in public unless in designated dog exercise areas. Owners must also clean up after their pets.
Most states and localities have some form of ordinance governing common offenses that disproportionately affect dog owners, such as excessive barking, requiring dogs to be on leashes, bites, spaying and neutering. In Massachusetts, neighbors can file a formal complaint to the city council about a dog that is causing a nuisance because of excessive barking. The council holds a hearing and can issue an order to stop the nuisance and even remove the dog from the owner.
Some states rely on general nuisance or noise ordinances to make the owner responsible for their pet's barking. In some instances, allowing a dog to bark or causing loud noises after 11 p.m. may result in fines or arrest if the problem is not addressed after repeated police warnings.
Other common complaints aimed mostly at dogs include dogs that run at-large, damage property and threaten people. Some state and local regulations also dictate the number of dogs and cats allowed to live in each household.
When dogs bite, an owner is liable if their unreasonable carelessness caused the injury, or if they knew the dog had a tendency to cause that kind of injury. A state statute may make the owner liable whether or not they knew the dog would bite.
Some states are enacting dangerous dogs statues that require owners of certain breeds such as Pit Bulls to take precautions like muzzling and securely confining the dogs. Owners of these dogs might also be required to purchase additional insurance to cover any injuries the dog may cause.
To find out more about the rules in your area, begin by contacting the Animal Control or your Local Health Department.