Animal & Dog Law

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 Cruelty

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

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.

Animal Breeding

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, the beneficiary of the trust is given detailed instructions for the proper care of the pet and may access the trust to pay for the pet's expenses. Traditional pet trusts give pet owners assurance that their animals will be cared for according to their specific wishes.

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  • NYSBA Animal Law Writing Competition March 30, 2017 David Cassuto Attention law students! Announcing the 2017 NYSBA Animal Law Student Writing Competition On behalf of the New York State Bar Association Committee on Animals and the Law, we are pleased to inform you about our 2017 Student Writing…
  • Two Bicyclists Injured in Downtown Phoenix Accident March 30, 2017 Two bicyclists were struck down by an SUV in downtown Phoenix. Luckily, both bicyclists survived, only suffering cuts and bruises. Read on to learn what you can do if you are involved in a bicycle accident. Two Bicyclists Injured in Downtown Phoenix…
  • I'm Taking the Dog: Potential Solutions to Pet-Custody Disputes March 28, 2017 The New York Times recently published an article addressing an issue that is close to the heart of pet owners across the country, namely, pet-custody rights in the event of a divorce or separation. The article notes that courts across the nation have…
  • First Criminal Charges Filed under California's Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act March 28, 2017 In February 2017, the first criminal charges were brought under California's Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, also known as Proposition 2. The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office filed more than 50 charges against an Ontario,…
  • Elevator Accidents and How to Protect Yourself March 28, 2017 Chances are, if you live in the United States, you've been in an elevator at least once in the last month. Across the U.S., an estimated 900,000 elevators serve an average of 20,000 people per year, making roughly 18 billion passenger trips in a…