Dogs and the Law

There are many laws associated with our canine companions. Some of them benefit dogs, some of them harm dogs. Some are for the protection of humans or other animals; others are for the protection of dogs. Canine laws have been among the most controversial aspect of our relationship with dogs be- cause they affect where and how we interact with dogs.

Banned Dog Breeds

Breed bans are laws that have arisen in recent years in response to actual or perceived threats by certain breeds of dogs. These laws have especially targeted the Pit bull and pit bull–type dogs, but other guardian breeds have been targeted as well. Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds have all been banned by breed laws, whether by countries, states, cities, counties, or even neighborhoods.

Germany has been at the forefront of the movement, banning all bully breeds from Miniature Bull Terriers to American Staffordshire Terriers. The majority of the breed bans have been in response to specific incidents involving severe attacks. Although fatal dog attacks are rare, they receive a great deal of media attention and often incite public support for severe consequences.

Proponents of breed bans say that certain breeds have a propensity for violence toward people, so banning these breeds will reduce the incidence of fatal or severe dog attacks. Opponents of breed bans argue that dog bites are unrelated to breed— all breeds of dogs are capable of biting. And although larger, stronger dogs are capable of inflicting more severe bites than small dogs are, it’s not the type of dog that leads to severe attacks but rather the training and treatment that the dog receives.

For example, many of the powerful guardian breeds have become popular among those seeking a dog for protection, fighting, or projecting a macho image. Dogs owned by these types of people generally receive substandard training and may even be trained to harm people or other animals. Often, aggressive dogs are bred to aggressive dogs in order to increase the likelihood of aggressive offspring. In addition, dogs who are mistreated, neglected, or abused are far more likely to bite than are dogs who are not. Opponents of breed bans say that a well-bred, well-trained, and well-socialized American Pit Bull Terrier is just as friendly as an equally well-bred and well-trained Labrador Retriever.

In addition to outright breed bans passed by municipalities, many breeds are banned from certain apartment buildings or housing complexes. A more subtle form of breed ban has arisen with insurance companies that will not insure homeowners with certain breeds of dogs. These companies claim that the new bans stem from a rise in lawsuits over bites. The opponents of breed bans argue that the rise in dog-bite lawsuits is not exclusive to specific dog breeds.

Dogs and Noise Ordinances

Most cities have noise ordinances, and dog barking falls under those ordinances. Dogs left outside all day and night or while their owners are at work often bark excessively. This can be extremely irritating to neighbors and may prompt them to complain to the local police department or animal control agency. Owners of barking dogs are usually given a written or verbal warning, followed by cash fines if the barking continues. Sometimes dogs are even impounded for excessive barking.

Leash Laws

Leash laws work to protect citizens from dog bites and the threat of communicable diseases such as rabies, and to protect livestock from attacks. They also work to protect dogs from traffic, becoming lost, and theft. In most cities in the United States, laws require that dogs be on a leash less than 6 feet long and under their owner’s control when in public places. People who don’t keep their dog on a leash or who allow their dog to roam are subject to warnings, fines, and even confiscation of the dog. In the majority of urban areas, dogs are allowed off leash in public places only in specially designated off-leash areas. These off-leash areas have become increasingly popular in recent years. Most of them have certain requirements: dogs must be current on all vaccinations, licensed, and friendly with other dogs and people. Poop scoop laws apply within off-leash areas, and dogs must be kept on leash until they are within the fenced or designated off-leash area.

Livestock and Dogs

In agricultural and rural areas, dogs at large are considered a predation threat to livestock. For this reason, dogs can be legally shot for harassing or injuring livestock, including poultry. Often the laws are written so that peace officers have no alternative but to euthanize a dog if he is seen killing livestock. In the case of licensed dogs, some rural communities have laws that require livestock owners or peace officers to notify the dog’s owners before euthanizing the dog. Dog owners may also be asked to compensate a rancher or farmer for their losses.

Animal Cruelty Laws

Although the majority of dog laws are enacted to protect property and people from dogs, animal cruelty and neglect laws protect dogs from the harm humans can and do bring upon them. The first animal cruelty laws in the United States were enacted in the mid-1800s to prevent the abuse and mistreatment of working animals, including dogs, who were commonly used for drafting labor at that time. Animal cruelty laws vary widely. In some cities, animal cruelty or neglect can lead to felony convictions with stiff penalties and jail time. In other areas, animal cruelty is a misdemeanor with minimal penalties. The definition of animal cruelty may range from intentionally injuring or killing an animal to not providing adequate food, water, or shelter or, in some instances, chaining an animal. Dogs are protected from abandonment in most counties and cities. Perpetrators are subject to fines and imprisonment. Recent studies that have connected the torturing and killing of animals with the torturing and murdering of children have helped to establish and strengthen animal cruelty laws.

Chaining and Tethering Dogs

Chaining or tethering a dog makes the animal vulnerable to attack by predators and other dogs; encourages him to behave aggressively toward other animals and people, especially children; and subjects the dog to a poor standard of life with limited exercise and social interaction. In recent years, many municipalities have created laws restricting or barring the use of chains or tethers as a means to confine a dog. They may bar tethering or chaining a dog to a stationary object altogether or provide a time limit – anywhere from one to five hours. These laws do not apply to leashes held by a person or to overhead trolleys that are at least 10 feet long. Some laws also provide a minimum enclosure for confining a dog – usually about 150 square feet.

Dog Bite Laws

Dog bites are a national epidemic. Estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the number of dog-bite related emergency room visits at 386,000 annually, with an additional 414,000 people seeking non-emergency medical treatment. There are approximately 12 dog-bite-related deaths each year. Legislators have resorted to many methods to address the problem. Suggested solutions have ranged from breed bans to imprisonment for owners of dogs who bite. Dogs who bite are subject to confiscation, quarantine, and euthanasia. Their owners may also be subject to lawsuits or criminal prosecution and may be held responsible for medical bills as well as compensation for pain and suffering.

Many communities have a one-bite rule, which states that owners of previously gentle dogs cannot be held criminally liable for the dog’s first bite. The dog is also exempt from consequences for the first bite. There may be exceptions, however, if the bite is severe. In first-time cases involving bites that draw blood but are not severe, dog owners may receive a warning or be fined. The dogs are sometimes quarantined, particularly if the bite is serious. Second bites may lead to additional fines as well as confiscation and quarantine of the offending dog. Depending on the severity of the bite, the dog may be euthanized or the owner may be required to provide additional security to ensure that the dog does not come into contact with people. Severe or multiple instances of bites generally lead to euthanizing the dog and criminal prosecution of the owner if negligence or intention is shown.

Dog bite laws are not restricted to attacks on humans only. Dogs who attack other dogs or other domestic animals causing injury or death are also subject to confiscation, quarantine, and euthanasia. Owners may be held criminally or civilly responsible or both.

Poop Scoop Laws

The poop scoop law, which is in effect in most urban areas within the United States, is a fairly recent phenomenon. Until 20 years ago or so, it was not a requirement to clean up dog feces in most places, and this continues to be unusual in most other countries and in many rural areas in the United States. But now it’s recognized that aside from their unpleasant sight and odor, animal feces create both public health and environmental hazards. Most urban areas impose cash fines on owners who do not pick up feces in public areas. These fines can range anywhere from $25 to $1,000, depending on how serious a municipality deems the infraction. Some cities have also passed laws that require dog owners to remove dog feces from their own properties within 24 hours. The reasoning behind such laws is that feces pollute groundwater and attract disease-carrying pests.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 brought a new level of acceptance for the use of service dogs in public. The ADA requires that all public places be accessible to disabled people, including those people who use a service dog. This means that people with service dogs are granted access to public places just as are people confined to wheelchairs. Although many restaurants and hotels post signs allowing only guide dogs into the establishment, in fact all service dogs are covered under the ADA. This includes dogs who assist people in areas of mobility, hearing, seizure detection, and mental illness support. Under the ADA, dogs are not required to wear vests nor are service dog users required to carry papers registering their dogs as service dogs. However, most service dog users do carry both papers and outfit their dogs in vests or collars indicating their work. Other than accessibility, service dogs are subject to the same laws as other dogs are: they must be leashed, cleaned up after, and they cannot be aggressive.

Laws for Working Dogs

Working dogs are subject to the same laws that apply to companion dogs, including bite and leash laws and neglect and abuse laws, but they have additional laws that protectthem. Working dogs are protected from being overworked or abused in the course of their training or work. Dogs cannot be used for drafting work within urban areas. Some states have banned Greyhound racing as well as some forms of hunting. Law enforcement dogs are also protected in their work: they cannot be willfully distracted or prevented from doing their jobs. They and their handlers are also protected from prosecution if a dog bites in the course of his work.

Licensing and Spay/Neuter Laws

Almost every U.S. government, county, or municipal requires the licensing of dogs. The owners of unlicensed dogs are subject to monetary fines. To be licensed, dogs must be up-to-date on their rabies vaccination. The cost of licensing often depends on whether an animal is spayed or neutered. The owners of unaltered dogs pay more to license their dogs. Licenses protect dogs. Lost unlicensed dogs are at greater risk of being euthanized. In many rural areas, peace officers must contact the owner of a licensed at-large dog before euthanizing him. In urban areas, shelters are required to attempt to find the owners of licensed dogs before euthanizing them or placing them up for adoption. The spay and neuter laws arose in response to the crisis of pet overpopulation. They appear to be having a dramatic effect in reducing the number of adoptable dogs and cats euthanized by animal shelters each year. In addition to laws that require owners of unaltered dogs to pay a higher license fee, some governments require all shelter dogs to be altered before they are placed into adoptive homes. Additionally, some cities now prohibit breeding within their boundaries.

The Animal Welfare Act

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was first passed in 1966 and then revised in 1970, 1976, 1985, and 1990. Administered by the USDA and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the AWA was enacted to protect commercially used animals from mistreatment. These include animals sold in commerce, used for exhibition purposes, and used by laboratories for scientific testing. The AWA also regulates the dealers who sell animals for scientific research. Laboratories that use animals and the dealers who supply them are required to record the names and addresses of all their animal sources to discourage these dealers from stealing companion animals and selling them to laboratories. They must hold animals for at least five days to give owners the opportunity to claim lost or stolen animals.

Pet Theft

The theft of a dog is prohibited and punishable by monetary fines, imprisonment, or both in most areas. The laws covering pet theft are enacted at the city or county level. In most instances, dog theft is considered the same as theft of personal property, although there are many who argue that the theft of a pet should be punishable under more stringent laws. The thefts of animals by dealers – who supply animals to animal testing laboratories – are covered by the Animal Welfare Act.

Antifreeze Laws

Antifreeze is an extremely toxic and usually fatal substance that causes the kidneys to fail. Unfortunately, thousands of dogs die from antifreeze poisoning each year because the substance has a sweet taste that they’re attracted to. In some states, including California, there is a law requiring antifreeze manufacturers that include more than 10 percent ethylene glycol in antifreeze to add a bitter agent that makes the toxic substance less palatable to dogs. Wholesale antifreeze, however, is exempted from the law, meaning that most mechanics do not use the new antifreeze.

Dog Laws for Airlines

The USDA imposes several restrictions for transporting dogs by airplane cargo. They must be in adequately sized and ventilated kennels with clear markings and handles. They must be provided food and water, regardless of the length of flight, and the airline must feed and water adult dogs at least once every 24 hours. Young puppies must be fed and watered once every 12 hours.Puppies under eight weeks old are prohibited from airlines. In response to publicity surrounding the dangers of animals flying as cargo on commercial airlines, the U.S. Congress passed legislation requiring airlines to report any and all injuries, deaths, or incidents that occur to pets when they are being transported by passenger airline.

If you are concerned about what would happen to your dog if you died or were incapacitated, take steps now to ensure that he would be cared for. You can name a guardian in your will or set up a pet trust that will be funded by some of the proceeds from your estate. Speak first to the person you choose as guardian to make sure that he or she is willing and able to take on the responsibility of your dog. Name an alternate guardian as well, in case your first choice is no longer in a position to care for your dog. Your lawyer can advise you on the best way to word your wishes to ensure your dog’s comfort and happiness. The Humane Society of the United States also offers information on writing a will to protect your dog. You may wish to look into the possibility of placing your pet in a retirement home for animals whose people have died. These include the Pet Survivors Life Care Program, managed by the SPCA of Texas and the Perpetual Pet Care Program, administered by Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Other programs exist as well. Costs usually range from $10,000 to $25,000. The laws governing companion animals change often and range widely depending on whether you live in the South or the North, the East or the West, or the city or country. To learn what your specific rights and responsibilities are as an animal caretaker, contact your local animal control facility.