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Companion Animal Issues

Companion animals, also referred to as pets, are the animals we are most familiar with. They share our homes, provide companionship and become members of our families. Dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, birds and fish are just some of the creatures who find a place in our hearts and homes. As our society has evolved to reflect our ever more complex relationships to these family members, the laws that define our responsibilities as well as our limits also change. And the laws also change to address the tragedies when cherished animals fall victim to cruelty, abuse and neglect.

As companion animals have become such as an integral part of our society, many laws have been passed to deal with conflicts between humans and animals—or more specifically, humans and humans with pets. There are also many more laws that deal with how we must care for companion animals, making them unique among our “possessions”. The law still considers animals as property, but now they are, in some jurisdictions, considered living property which looks at the needs of the animal and not just the human owner.

But laws that address animals vary greatly from state-to-state and town-to-town. Different state or local laws can take vastly different views of the same interactions. There are local rules governing the establishment and use of dog parks as well as local rules prohibiting dogs in the park. Some municipalities and states have laws banning the ownership of particular breeds of dogs while others ban breed discrimination altogether. It is important to know the laws of the community and state you are in when you make decisions concerning your companion animals, whether you are moving to a new home (even condo associations have rules), or you are deciding to adopt a particular type of animal.

All states have laws protecting companion animals against cruelty, including felony provisions for animal torture.

And most states now allow owners to provide for the care of their companion animals when they die or are no longer capable of providing for their care through the use of pet trusts.

There are many different laws that affect companion animals, including the necessity of providing food and shelter, veterinary services and rabies vaccinations. There are laws governing pet shops and animal shelters, boarding or kenneling facilities and doggy daycare and pet grooming operations.  Hot topics also include things as simple as not locking your companion animal(s) in a car in extreme weather and as complex as the valuation of companion animals when there is veterinary malpractice or someone injures or kills your pet.

A 2016 Texas Supreme Court decision highlights the many ways that laws are applied. This decision reversed an existing policy regarding the disposition–adoption and other disposal—of stray dogs and cats that find themselves in a local animal control facility.

The more important companion animals become in our lives, the more ways we, as a society, find to create laws concerning them.

The Animal Law Resource Center has a searchable database of state and federal laws from around the country. Local laws may take a call to your local city hall or county office or online research to discover them.