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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  • Why I applied to law school instead of veterinary school January 17, 2017 During the first week of December, Animal Legal Defense Fund founder Joyce Tischler presented the History of Animal Law at Harvard Law School. She discussed her path to founding the Animal Legal Defense Fund and its early cases, legal theories and…
  • Live Animal Mascots: A Tradition of Exploitation, Not Conservation January 13, 2017 Since 1936, Louisiana State University has kept a series of live tigers as mascots, all named Mike. The most recent tiger, Mike VI, was euthanized in October after a four-month battle with cancer. LSU also promotes Mike as a tourist attraction, and…
  • The problem with the definition of "necessary care" in New Jersey bill A2052. January 12, 2017 Assembly bill No. 2052 includes the following definition of "necessary care: in the definition section of New Jersey's animal cruelty statute that could be problematic for farmers raising livestock and poultry in the state, if it were to apply to…
  • Animal Law at the 111th Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Annual Meeting January 12, 2017 The Animal Legal Defense Fund attended the 111th Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Annual Meeting in San Francisco, Jan. 4-7, 2016, where "thousands of law faculty, deans, administrators, and scholars gather each year to connect and…
  • Guarding Against Slip and Fall Accidents in Restaurants January 11, 2017 Slip and Fall accidents are common just about everywhere but can be especially common in restaurants where there is potential for spilled drinks and slippery floors. One of the major causes of slip and fall cases is low traction between a person's…