Animal and Dog Law FAQs
What is strict liability for a dog bite?
Am I liable to someone who taunted my dog if it bit them?
Why might a dog be designated as dangerous?
How do I prevent my dog from being designated as dangerous?
Can I dock my dog’s tail before putting it on show?
What damages can I get for veterinary malpractice?
Who gets the pet in my divorce?
How can I provide for the needs of my pet after I die?
Can I keep an emotional support animal if my landlord has a no-pets policy?
How does the presence of an endangered species affect my use of my property?
Can I get my dog back if someone else has taken it?
What can I do about a barking dog in my neighborhood?
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. The majority of states follow this rule. Strict liability also may apply to attacks by dogs that do not involve bites, although some states limit strict liability to bites. If strict liability does not apply, a dog owner may be held responsible for a dog bite if they failed to use reasonable care in controlling the dog, or if they reasonably should have known that the dog might bite.
You generally will not be liable to someone who taunted or otherwise intentionally provoked your dog if it bit them as a result. If a person provoked a dog unintentionally, when they did not expect their behavior to provoke the dog, a dog owner might not be able to use this defense. Situations involving children bitten by dogs may lead to liability even if the child intentionally provoked the dog. Some small children might not be expected to know that provoking a dog could cause it to bite.
A dog might be designated as dangerous if it attacked a person or another domestic animal without provocation and caused serious injuries. Even if a dog has not caused injuries, it may be designated as dangerous if its behavior would make it seem like an immediate threat to a reasonable person. No specific breed of dog is automatically classified as dangerous or non-dangerous. Some states have created multiple tiers of classifications for dangerous dogs, depending on the threat that they pose.
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. Sometimes a dog owner must request a hearing, while other jurisdictions provide a hearing automatically. You might be able to appeal an adverse decision to a local court.
You may be allowed to dock your dog’s tail or perform other cosmetic adjustments to your dog if you are breeding it for dog shows. Before entering the dog in a show, though, you may need to ask your vet for a certificate documenting that the cosmetic procedure was necessary. Some states generally prohibit procedures on dogs that are not medically necessary, such as tattoos.
Damages available in veterinary malpractice claims often include the cost of additional medical treatment that a pet needed to address the results of the malpractice. However, a pet owner generally cannot get compensation for the emotional distress that the owner suffered because of the malpractice. Damages for the death of a pet may account for the market value of the pet or the cost of its replacement, but an owner still cannot recover non-economic damages. As a result, an owner might consider bringing their case in small claims court.
A pet is considered property in a divorce, so a court usually will assign it to a spouse based on property division rules. If one spouse owned the pet before the marriage, the pet generally will be considered separate property and will be awarded to that spouse. However, a pet owned before the marriage by one spouse may be considered marital property if marital funds were spent on caring for it. If a pet was acquired during the marriage or is otherwise considered marital property, a judge may consider factors such as which spouse could provide better care for the pet, where the pet could live more comfortably, and whether the pet should stay with children of the marriage. Some states have laws for custody and visitation of pets that may allow each spouse to continue spending some time with the pet.
You can provide for the needs of your pet after you die by creating a pet trust, which is an estate planning instrument similar to other trusts. You can name a caregiver for your pet and a trustee to manage the trust, which will contain funds to be used for your pet. These can cover expenses such as medical treatment, food, and grooming. If your pet has certain health concerns, dietary needs or preferences, or specific routines or habits that should be accommodated, you can describe these issues in your pet trust document.
Yes, you probably can keep an emotional support animal if your landlord has a no-pets policy. With limited exceptions, a landlord must provide a reasonable accommodation to a tenant with an emotional support animal, and they cannot charge pet fees or deposits for the animal. To get an accommodation, a tenant will need to provide a letter from a licensed health care professional explaining that the emotional support animal is necessary. If a landlord refuses to cooperate, a tenant can ask an attorney to write a letter to the landlord before filing a fair housing complaint or suing the landlord in court.
If your use of your property might harm an endangered species or its habitat, you can pursue an incidental take permit and provide a habitat conservation plan. You would need to show that the harm to the species was incidental to your activity and develop a way to mitigate the impact on the species. For a more lasting solution, you might enter into a safe harbor agreement. This involves taking steps to facilitate the recovery of the endangered species, while avoiding responsibility for future additional steps. If a species on your property is at risk of becoming endangered, you might consider a candidate conservation agreement with assurances, which provides a similar solution.
Yes, you probably can get your dog back if someone else has taken it. Unless you abandoned the dog, your ownership rights generally take priority over someone in possession of your lost dog. You might need to prove your ownership of the dog, such as by describing distinctive behaviors of the dog or identifying marks that are connected to events during your ownership of the dog. However, the person in possession of the dog may have acquired ownership rights if they reported that the dog was lost, and a long time passed before you found the dog.
You can try to negotiate a solution with the owner of the barking dog, or you can pursue mediation if direct negotiations do not work. If the problem persists, you can consider calling the police or filing a complaint with animal control if they offer this type of program. As a last resort, you can file a nuisance claim in small claims court or regular court. Small claims court is a more efficient and cheaper option but offers only monetary damages, while a judge in a regular court may issue an order that requires the owner to curb the barking.
Animal and Dog Law Center Contents