Every Dog's Legal Guide
A Must-Have Book for Your Owner
Mary Randolph, J.D.
December 2012, 7th Edition
Everything you need to keep your pooch (or the neighbor's) on a legal leash!
America's estimated 50 million dogs are governed by many things: The stomach, the nose and the law -- laws that you as a dog owner, or as the neighbor of a dog, need to know.
Every Dog's Legal Guide is a newly revised, up-to-date practical guide to the legal issues that affect dogs, their owners and their neighbors every day, including:
- dog owners’ liability for injuries
- dogs that bite or create a nuisance
- animal cruelty
- landlords, tenants and dogs
- traveling with dogs
- providing for pets at death
- dealing with veterinarians
- your rights when buying or selling a dog
- restrictions on dangerous dogs
- vaccinations, licenses and other local laws
- guide, signal, service and therapy dogs
The latest edition of Every Dog's Legal Guide is completely updated with the latest laws of your state that affect your canine.
Mary Randolph earned her law degree from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The Executor's Guide: Settling Your Loved One's Estate or Trust, 8 Ways to Avoid Probate, Every Dog's Legal Guide: A Must-Have Book for Your Owner, and Deeds for California Real Estate. She is also a coauthor of the legal manual for Quicken WillMaker Plus. She has been a guest on The Today Show and has been interviewed by many publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and more. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.
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1. Dogs and People
- A Little History
- The Dog's Place Today
- Dogs in the Law
2. State and Local Regulation
- How Many Dogs Can You Keep?
- Leash Laws
- Off-Limits Areas
- Impounding and Destroying Dogs
- Lost and Found Dogs
- Spay and Neuter Requirements
- Pooper-Scooper Laws
- Dogs in Vehicles
- Animal Burial Restrictions
3. Buying and Selling Dogs
- Regulating Sellers
- Putting a Sale Agreement in Writing
- Special State "Lemon Laws"
- Warranties: What Did the Seller Promise?
- What to Do If You're Unhappy After the Sale
4. Landlords and Dogs
- Negotiating a Fair Lease
- Elderly or Disabled Tenants
- Enforcing No Pets Clauses
- Condominiums and Planned Developments
- Landlord Liability for Illegal Evictions
- Landlord Liability for Tenants' Dogs
- The Owner-Veterinarian Relationship
- Health Insurance for Dogs
- If a Dog Injures a Veterinarian
- Veterinarians' Duty to Treat Animals
- Complaining About a Vet
- Veterinary Malpractice
- Other Lawsuits Against Veterinarians
6. Traveling With Your Dog
- The Not-So-Friendly Skies
- Special Hawaii Rules
- International Travel
- On the Road
- Buses, Trains, and Ships
7. Barking Dogs
- Talking to Your Neighbor
- Mediation: Getting Another Person to Help
- State and Local Laws
- Animal Control Authorities
- Small Claims Court
8. Assistance Dogs
- Types of Assistance Dogs
- Access to Public Places
- Rental Housing
- Assistance Dogs in the Workplace
- Traveling With Assistance Dogs
- Exemptions From Local Regulations
- Income Tax Deductions for Guide Dogs
- Public Assistance
- Assistance Dogs and Creditors
- Penalties for Injuring Guide Dogs
9. If a Dog Is Injured or Killed
- When Killing a Dog Is Justified
- Unjustified Injury to a Dog
- Dogs Hurt by Other Dogs
- If the Dog Owner Is at Fault, Too
- Compensating the Dog Owner
- If Your Dog Is Hurt or Killed
- Claims Against the Government
10. Providing for Pets
- Why You Can't Leave Money to a Dog -- And What Happens If You Try
- Strategies for Taking Care of Pets
- Arranging for Veterinary Care
- Will Provisions That Order Animals Destroyed
11. Dog Bites
- For Dog Owners: How to Prevent Injuries
- If You're Hurt by a Dog
- Dog Owner Liability
- A Dog Owner's Legal Defenses
- Who Is Liable: Owners and Keepers
- What the Dog Owner Must Pay For
- Liability Insurance
- Negotiating With the Owner or Insurance Company
- Bringing a Lawsuit
- A Small Claims Court Case
- Injury to Livestock
12. Dangerous Dogs
- Dangerous Dog Laws
- Criminal Penalties for Owners of Dangerous Dogs
- Breed-Specific Restrictions
- What to Do If You Suspect Mistreatment
- Cruelty and Neglect
- Organized Dog Fighting
- Scientific Research
- Killing Animals for Religion or Food
1. Legal Research
- Finding a Statute or Ordinance
- Finding a Case
- Background Research
- State, Local, and Agency Websites
2. State Statutes
- Dog-Bite Statutes
- Assistance Dogs: Access to Places of Public Accommodation
- Assistance Dog Access: Housing
Dogs and People
A Little History.................................................................................. 4
The Dog’s Place Today................................................................... 6
Dogs as Companions.................................................................. 6
Dogs as Therapists...................................................................... 8
Dogs in the Law............................................................................. 12
First as scavengers, later as companions, servants, and protectors, dogs have been with us a long, long time. But the fate of dogs in the crowded modern world is uncertain. Dogs fit easily into past human societies based on hunting and gathering, and later on agriculture, but less room is left for them in today’s cities. Forty percent of U.S. households have at least one dog, according to the American Pet Products Association. But dogs are now outnumbered by cats. Writer Cullen Murphy summed up, only half-facetiously, the broader implications of this shift:
Consider an America congenial to the dog: it was a place of nuclear or extended families, of someone always home, of children (or pets) looked after during the day by a parent (or owner), of open spaces and family farms, of sticks and leftovers, of expansiveness and looking outward and being outside .... Consider an America conducive to the cat: it is a place of working men and women with not much time, of crowded cities, of apartment buildings with restrictive clauses, of day-care and take-out food, of self-absorption and modest horizons.1
Increasing intolerance for dogs is shown in more and more laws, which regulate when dogs must be confined, where their owners may take them, and even how many may live in a house. But before getting into the legal rules, here’s a brief look back at the shared history of people and dogs, and how they’ve come to play such a ubiquitous role in our society.
A Little History
Only two animals have entered the human household otherwise than as prisoners and become domesticated by other means than those of enforced servitude: the dog and the cat.
—Konrad Lorenz, Man Meets Dog
Most people think they know how dogs came to be part of the human family: someone living in a cave took in an orphaned wolf puppy and tamed it. Or wolves hung around human encampments looking for scraps and gradually got tame, learning how to interact with people. Or wolves started hunting in cooperation with humans and were rewarded with a share of the kill. Probably none of these theories is accurate. But luckily for all of us who like to speculate, we may never know for sure.
Experts differ on just when dogs were domesticated. Some say the evidence indicates domestication as far back as 14,000 years ago. Almost all agree that the dog was the first—by as much as several thousand years—domesticated animal.
What wild animal metamorphosed into the modern dog—an animal we now know so well that its Latin name is Canis familiaris? With the advent of DNA sequencing, there is no longer much doubt that the gray wolf (Canis lupus) is the ancestor of the modern dog. Some biologists even consider them the same species, and dogs have almost certainly been cross-bred to wolves since domestication.
Dogs are biologically suited to domestication, says one writer, because of their tendencies toward curiosity, a willingness to move, and the ability to learn throughout life. These traits (which are shared by humans, by the way) allowed them to approach human settlements and enter into a symbiotic relationship with people.2
After agriculture replaced hunting and gathering, and permanent settlements replaced the nomadic way of life, selective breeding of domestic animals began in earnest. It is that breeding—the human tinkering with canine evolution—that eventually led to today’s astonishing variety of domestic dogs. People bred dogs to emphasize certain desired characteristics and, over the years, developed breeds with the traits they needed. Thus the coursing hounds—salukis, greyhounds, and others—got the long legs, good eyesight, and slender build they needed to chase prey long distances over open terrain. (Believe it or not, the original idea was not to have them chase mechanical rabbits around a track.) Other hounds—bassets, beagles, and bloodhounds, for example—got their extraordinarily keen noses, which enable them to trail prey. Herding dogs such as collies and sheepdogs were bred for intelligence and the herding instinct. Toy poodles, Chihuahuas, and other tiny dogs are scaled-down versions of full-sized ancestors. The list goes on.
The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, in St. Louis, Missouri, contains paintings, photographs, sculptures, and prints of dogs. Visitors are encouraged to bring their dogs with them—if the dogs are leashed and obedience trained. If they get tired of the art, they’ll find doggy treats, water, and a place to exercise.
The museum is located in Queeny Park, at 1721 South Mason Road, St. Louis, MO 63131, 314-821-3647. For more information, see www.themuseumofthedog.org.
The Dog’s Place Today
Dogs still herd sheep, sniff out drugs, help owners with disabilities, and guard buildings. But the main contribution of most dogs these days is companionship. Dogs make people smile and laugh, give them uncomplicated and unconditional love, and stick with them when others have gone.
Dogs as Companions
Dachshunds are ideal dogs for small children, as they are already stretched and pulled to such a length that the child cannot do much harm one way or the other.
Studies and surveys of dog owners consistently reach a simple but important conclusion: Pets make their owners happy. Fifty-seven percent of pet owners, if stranded on a desert island, would prefer to be with their pet than another person, according to the American Animal Hospital Association.3
Hurry Up, Boy, or We’ll Be Late for Work
Almost 20% of American companies let employees bring their pets to work, says the American Pet Products Association. Looking for one of those companies? Try www.SimplyHired.com/DogFriendly. A study at the Virginia Commonwealth University business school—conducted by Professor Randolph Barker—found that dogs in the workplace reduced employees’ stress levels. Researchers measured the levels of stress hormone (cortisol) in 76 employees’ saliva four times a day. Among the people who had brought their dogs to work, stress levels fell 11% by the end of the day; among others, they went up as much as 70%. The researchers also noted that having dogs around increased interactions among coworkers, as people volunteered to walk the dogs.4
Many parents get a dog “for the children,” because they believe that growing up with a dog gives a child companionship and teaches responsibility, gentleness, and compassion. They’re right, according to several studies. For example, a group of preschoolers allowed to care for a puppy at their school became more cooperative and sharing, according to the researchers who studied them. “They have to put themselves in the pet’s position and try to feel how the pet feels,” explained one researcher. “And that transfers to how other kids feel.”5
On a standardized personality test (the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), graduate students who had owned dogs as children showed significantly higher self-esteem (“ego strength”) than those who had not had pets. The researcher theorizes that having a dog lets a child form attachments without fear, because of the unconditional acceptance the dog gives the child. The dog’s trust helps the child trust himself. (They may also be healthier physically. A study of 400 Finnish children found that those raised with dogs were less susceptible to respiratory infections. In their first year, babies with dogs in the home were 44% less likely to get an ear infection, and 29% less likely to need antibiotics, than babies whose households didn’t include dogs.)6
And perhaps children should consider getting a dog “for the parents.” According to one study of 454 new parents, men who are attached to their pet dogs also make better fathers. The dog-owning dads consistently scored higher on tests geared to measure their perceptions of happiness about their relationship with their babies, their marriages, and their role as fathers.
Those Brits and Their Dogs
The French may take their dogs to restaurants, but no people love their dogs more than the British. (Witness all those photos of Queen Elizabeth with her corgis.) The tens of thousands of pet owners who responded to an unscientific survey by the BBC in 2004 reported that:
65% of pet owners buy birthday presents for their pets
59% of dog owners let pets sleep in their bedroom, and
59% of pet owners miss their pets most when they go away, compared to 27% for partners, 11% for children, and 3% for friends.
Dogs as Therapists
A psychotherapist would have much to learn from watching the way a dog listens.
—Dr. Victor Bloom7
Four out of five people who responded to a Psychology Today survey said that when they were lonely or upset, pets were often their closest companions. One woman in a difficult family situation wrote that without her dog, she “could not tolerate life.”8
This finding explains why the most striking benefits of an animal’s companionship are reaped by people who lack close human relationships: neglected or disturbed children, lonely older people, or prison inmates. For example, a study of fifth-graders found that for children who were emotionally neglected, pets served as confidants and friends—in essence, substitute parents.9
Therapists and administrators now routinely use animals to treat or manage such patients. But for the most part, animals entered into the world of psychological therapy serendipitously. One psychiatrist, for example, happened to have his dog in his office when a young patient came early for an appointment; the dog became an integral part of the child’s therapy. In the 1970s, an entire course of research was triggered when troubled adolescents in an Ohio State University hospital—many of whom had refused to communicate with the staff—asked to play with dogs used for behavioral research, which they had heard barking in a nearby kennel. Even the most withdrawn patients improved after contact with the dogs.
More and more groups are looking for volunteers to take animals to visit hospitals, nursing homes, adult day care centers, and special children’s treatment centers.
For more information, contact a local humane society or check out Therapy Dogs International at www.tdi-dog.org, or www.dogplay.com/Activities/Therapy/index.html.
In one study of children with severe emotional problems, half were given traditional therapy, and the rest were allowed to play with a dog during their therapy sessions. The children who received conventional treatment got worse (as measured by standard tests of ability to control themselves and empathize), but the children who played with dogs got better.
It is not an exaggeration to say that pets can give people a reason to live. Often, people institutionalized in prisons or hospitals, for example, have no goals, no responsibility, no variety in their lives. Animals, either as visitors or residents, make the atmosphere more home-like and can have a wonderful, enlivening effect on morale.
Pets Are Good for You
Pet Partners (formerly the Delta Society) has put together a long list of the health benefits of owning a pet that have been documented by scientific research. Here are just some of them:
People with borderline hypertension had lower blood pressure on days they took their dogs to work.
Seniors who own dogs go to the doctor less than those who do not.
Pet owners have lower blood pressure and lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than nonowners.
Contact with pets develops nurturing behavior in children, who may grow to be more nurturing adults.
Pet owners have a higher one-year survival rate following coronary heart disease.
Having a pet may decrease heart attack mortality by 3%. This translates into 30,000 lives saved annually.
Children exposed to pets during the first year of life have a lower frequency of allergic rhinitis and asthma.
Children who own pets score significantly higher on empathy scales than nonowners.
Owning a pet can enhance children’s cognitive development and self-esteem.
You can see more at www.petpartners.org.
And for more information on the human-animal bond, check out the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine (www.rechai.missouri.edu) and the Human-Animal Interaction Research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/crmc/cdb/prog_hai).
An institutionalized person who is allowed to care for a pet may become more alert, involved, and sociable. As one prison psychiatric social worker put it, “the therapeutic results are nothing short of miraculous.”10 Take the story of Jed, who had been in a nursing home for 26 years after suffering brain damage in a fall. He was believed deaf and mute. When he saw Whiskey, a German shepherd-husky dog that had just been placed in his nursing home, he spoke his first words in 26 years: “You brought that dog.” He began to talk to the staff and other residents, and to draw pictures of the dog.11
Dog owners go to the doctor less than people who don’t own dogs, concluded another study of 1,000 elderly Californians. Dog owners had 21% fewer contacts with physicians than did participants who didn’t own dogs. The researcher, UCLA professor Judith M. Seigel, surmised that the dogs were a “stress buffer,” which lessened the need of their owners to seek out physicians in times of psychological stress.12
If you do get sick, a pet can help you get better faster. One study compared postcoronary survival of pet owners versus nonowners; among the pet owners, 50 of 53 lived at least a year after hospitalization, compared to 17 of 39 nonowners. Even eliminating patients who owned dogs (whose health might have been improved just from the exercise of walking the dog), the pet owners still did better. In a follow-up study, the same researcher found that pet owners’ worry about their animals actually speeded their convalescence by providing “a sense of being needed and an impetus for quick recovery.”
Now that scientists in the medical and psychiatric communities have accepted what pet owners have always known—that animals make people feel better—they have set about documenting the physiological effects animals have on people. When people pet dogs, especially ones they have grown attached to, their blood pressure drops. The same happens when people talk to a dog—although talking to another person usually raises blood pressure. Friendly interactions with dogs release the hormone oxytocin in both the person and the dog. Oxytocin is involved in all kinds of human social bonding, including between mothers and infants.13
Even the presence of a dog is comforting. In one study, people who took a standardized anxiety-measuring test when the experimenter’s dog was in the room scored lower than those who took the test with only the experimenter present. Another experiment showed that women attempting a difficult task felt less stress and fared better when their dogs were nearby than when a human friend was close.14
Don’t Prescribe a Dog for the Taxpayer’s Blues
You may know your dog helps keep you healthy, but don’t try to tell the Internal Revenue Service that. The IRS doesn’t allow you to deduct the cost of a pet as a medical expense, unless the dog is a guide dog or other specially trained service dog. (See Chapter 2, State and Local Regulation.)
You can’t claim your dog as a dependent, either: the IRS said no to a woman who wanted “head of household” rates because she lived with 25 dogs and cats.15
Let’s let that old dog-lover Freud have the last word on the psychology of dog-people relationships. Here’s how he described the “extraordinary intensity” with which he loved his dog, Topsy: “Affection without ambivalence, the simplicity free from the almost unbearable conflicts of civilization, the beauty of an existence complete in itself … that feeling of intimate affinity of an indisputed solidarity.”
Dogs in the Law
Dogs occupy their own odd niche in American law and its principal predecessor, the “common law” of England. Common law is what has evolved as judges decide cases, one by one, over hundreds of years. Unlike statutes, the common law is not written down in one place, but instead is deduced from the judges’ writings. The English common law came to this country with the colonists, and forms the basis for the law of every state except Louisiana (which took its law from France’s Napoleonic Code).
Under English common law, dogs were not considered to have any intrinsic value. They were kept, in the eyes of the law, merely for pleasure. Only “useful” domestic animals (ones you could eat or put to work), such as cows, horses, sheep, and chickens, were considered to have value. This reasoning seems especially odd when you look at how many dogs were kept to catch rats, herd sheep, or guard houses, but that’s the way it was.
Because dogs weren’t “property,” it wasn’t illegal to steal them under the common law. It took an act of Parliament (or a state legislature, in this country) to make stealing a dog a crime. And even when a legislature did act, the result wasn’t always a paragon of logic: in England at one time, it was a felony to steal a dog’s collar but a misdemeanor to steal the dog.16
Nowadays, the law in most places and for most purposes treats dogs just like other kinds of property. Because a dog is property, it has no legal rights of its own. So a dog can’t inherit property or sue in its own name. Those rights are reserved for its owner.
But cracks are appearing in this doctrine. Sometimes, courts just cannot ignore the fact that dogs aren’t items of property in the way that, say, appliances are. One refrigerator is pretty much like all the others that rolled off the same assembly line. But every dog is unique. They are the subject of custody disputes by divorcing couples, and owners sue for emotional distress when their pets are injured.
It’s been proposed that dogs be treated more like children than like property, so that instead of owners they would have guardians. (A few places, including Boulder, Colorado, Berkeley, California, and the state of Rhode Island, now refer to pet owners as guardians.) But a radical departure from traditional law—which would, among other things, allow pets to own property—is extremely unlikely to happen anytime soon.
“Going to the Cats,” by Cullen Murphy, Atlantic Monthly (August 1987).
“In From the Cold,” by Stephen Budiansky, New York Times, Jan. 1992, adapted from The Covenant of the Wild: Why Animals Chose Domestication (Wm. Morrow).
Cited in Health Magazine, October 1996.
“Bringing your dog to work can ease stress, study finds,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 31, 2012.
“Loving a Pet Is Good Kid Therapy,” San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 11, 1990.
“Babies With Pets Not Dogged by Colds: Study,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Jul. 10, 2012.
Quoted in Slovenko, “Rx: A Dog,” Journal of Psychiatry and Law, vol. 11, no. 4 (1983).
“The Pleasure of Their Company,” by Horn and Meer, Psychology Today (August 1984).
“Loving a Pet Is Good Kid Therapy,” San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 11, 1990.
“The Pleasure of Their Company,” by Horn and Meer, Psychology Today (August 1984).
Ethology and Nonverbal Communication in Mental Health, Corson and Corson, eds. (Pergamon Press 1980), quoted in Guidelines: Animals in Nursing Homes (California Veterinary Medical Ass’n).
“Pet Owners Go to the Doctor Less,” New York Times, Aug. 2, 1990.
“Made For Each Other,” by Meg Daley Olmert, Psychology Today, May 5, 2010.
Science News, Nov. 2, 1991.
Davidson v. Commissioner, Tax Court Memo. (CCH) Dec. 34, 524, 1977-232.
Law Without Lawyers, by Two Barristers-at-Law (John Murray, London, 1905).