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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  • Pit bull mauling in California: Dog bite expert opinion July 22, 2017 Below, I share the correspondence I received from the extremely distraught owner as a result of the vicious pit bull mauling in California. In this instance, the owner and his wife lost her beloved dog. JP writes: My wife and I with our dog Sherman…
  • Potential Risks from Pet Therapy Programs July 22, 2017 Pet therapy programs have been expanding throughout the country, based largely on the increasing recognition that humans benefit from the human-animal bond. The human-animal bond is defined by the American Veterinary Medical Association as: a…
  • USFWS Tentatively Supports ESA Reform Bills July 20, 2017 On July 19, 2017, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a full committee legislative hearing on five bills that would amend portions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). H.R. 424 (Rep. Collin Peterson; D-MN) – This bill would require the…
  • On The Dismal State of Equine Rescue In The Garden State Where The Horse Is The Official State Animal. July 18, 2017 Horses in New Jersey are highly regarded. When designating the horse as New Jersey's state animal in 1977 Governor Bryne said: "The founding fathers of our state thought so highly of the horse that they included it in our state seal." In New Jersey,…
  • Biomedical Research Advocacy July 17, 2017 Like many other animal-related businesses universities, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, their suppliers, associated businesses and non-profit trade associations, are facing increasing scrutiny by the public who seemingly object to the use of…