Animal law is the body of law surrounding pet ownership, wildlife, animals used in the entertainment industry and animals raised for food and research. Animal law is a combination of various areas of law, such as tort, criminal, contract and constitutional law. Important issues in animal law include animal cruelty, companion animal concerns, animal breeding and animal estate planning.
Animal protection laws, known as anti-cruelty laws, regulate the abuse of animals. The Animal Welfare Act authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture to regulate the use of animals in research settings, circuses and zoos. Additionally, every state criminalizes the commission of inhumane acts against animals. In many states, violation of these laws is treated as a felony. Animal cruelty laws address a wide variety of issues, including owner neglect, pet mills or "farms" and animal laboratory testing. The Humane Society of the United States works to shield animals from mistreatment by actively investigating potential abusers. Another prominent animal rights organization is the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), which seeks to protect abused animals through the legal system. The ALDF brings a number of lawsuits each year in an effort to eliminate animal cruelty.
Companion animals are all animals kept as pets or for recreational purposes. Companion animals include dogs, cats, horses and birds. Legal issues surrounding companion animals often involve owner liability for injuries, property damage or excessive noise. Most states have enacted statutes that hold a pet owner liable for all personal injuries and property damage inflicted by their animals. Some states limit liability to instances where the owner knew or had reason to know that their pet was dangerous or volatile. In cases of extreme negligence, or when injuries are especially severe, the state may impose criminal penalties on the animal's owner or caretaker. Pet owners may be able to defend claims against them if they can prove that the victim provoked the pet, the victim was trespassing or breaking the law, or that the victim knowingly undertook the risk of injury. Many states have enacted laws that provide remedies to those who complain of excessive noise from neighboring animals, specifically dogs. In states that do not address this issue directly, general nuisance laws may be used to obtain relief. Other legal issues involving companion animals include landlord-tenant disputes and "no pets" policies, vaccination requirements and wrongful death actions brought by owners for the loss of a pet.
The Animal Welfare Act, as well as individual state laws, regulate animal breeding. Such laws may restrict the breeding of particular types of animals, or ban the ownership of certain animals altogether. These animals are typically considered "vicious" creatures that pose serious risks to the community. By limiting the number of animals that may be bred, breeding laws also seek to reduce the number of homeless and neglected pets.
Animal Estate Planning
A relatively modern issue in animal law is animal estate planning. Pet owners are increasingly seeking legal guidance to establish trusts for their animals. Pet trusts provide for the care of an animal in the event of the owner's disability or death. In a traditional pet trust, a trustee manages funds allocated to the care of the pet, while a separate caregiver provides care. Traditional pet trusts give pet owners assurance that their animals will be cared for according to their specific wishes.
What is strict liability for a dog bite? Strict liability for a dog bite means that the owner of the dog must pay compensation for injuries caused by the bite even if they did not know that the dog was likely to bite. Strict liability also may apply to attacks by dogs that do not involve bites, although some states limit strict liability to bites.
Am I liable to someone who taunted my dog if it bit them? You generally will not be liable to someone who taunted or otherwise provoked your dog if it bit them as a result. However, some situations involving children bitten by dogs may lead to liability even if the child provoked the dog.
How do I prevent my dog from being designated as dangerous?
You can prevent your dog from being designated as dangerous by showing at an administrative hearing that it does not pose a threat. You might get a hearing before your dog is designated as dangerous, or you might need to challenge a preliminary dangerous dog designation.
Who gets the pet in my divorce? If a pet is the separate property of one spouse, it will stay with that spouse. If a pet is marital property, the judge will consider factors such as who can care for it better and where it would live more comfortably. The other spouse sometimes might receive visitation rights.
How does the presence of an endangered species affect my use of my property? If your use of your property might harm the species or its habitat, you can pursue an incidental take permit and provide a habitat conservation plan. For a more lasting solution, you might enter into a safe harbor agreement in which you take certain steps to facilitate the recovery of the species, while avoiding responsibility for future additional steps.
Dangerous Dog Laws A dog may be designated as dangerous if it has seriously injured a person or another domestic animal, or if its behavior would make a reasonable person view it as an immediate threat.
Ownership and Possession of Dogs A dog owner who is separated from their pet often keeps priority over subsequent possessors of the dog, but they may need to prove their ownership to get the dog returned.
Veterinary Malpractice A pet owner can bring a claim against a vet whose incompetent treatment harmed their pet, but damages likely will be limited to economic costs and will not cover the owner’s emotional distress.
Endangered Species Protections The Endangered Species Act is designed to promote public health and environmental stability by protecting wildlife from extinction, and it has saved nearly all of the species listed under it.