A few months back we had “recovering lawyer” Robyn Hagan Cain do a guest post about the tensions that exist between dog people and non-dog people in state parks, and she put together such a lovely post that we’ve invited her to come back and do another. This time she tackles state dog laws and encourages you to know yours. –Janine Kahn, Dogster Managing Editor
I grew up in South Louisiana, a land that lacked leash and scoop laws. It was a surprisingly civilized place, despite the canine chaos that resulted from a void of dog laws.
In 2006, Braxlee, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and I moved to Alexandria, Virginia, a place ruled by dog laws. There were mandatory dog licenses, dog park ordinances, leash laws, and scoop laws — all the regulations I knew existed somewhere, but had never experienced firsthand.
Over the years, Braxlee and I made our way from Virginia to New York, and from New York to California. In each new city, we had to brush up on local dog laws and secure new dog licenses.
I would like to say that each license was procured with the utmost haste within the mandated time period, but that simply was not the case.
My husband and I procrastinated in getting a new dog license in each new city because we falsely believed that animal control officers only seized dogs in cases of abuse or neglect, not for a lack of licenses. I recently learned that was not the case, thanks to this recent lawsuit I read about at my day job:
A Louisville couple advertised a litter of American Bulldog puppies for sale. Louisville Metro Animal Services (LMAS) took note of the ad because it didnt include a breeder license number, as required under local laws, and sent two undercover officers to pose as prospective puppy buyers and investigate.
That visit led to a second group of uniformed LMAS officers entering the couples home without a warrant and seizing all nine dogs. The couple had to pay LMAS more than $1,000 to get their dogs back after LMAS spayed and neutered the adults, and microchipped the entire bunch. The couple later claimed that the dogs contracted infections at LMAS that required veterinary attention.
In most cases, the law bars people from suing law enforcement officers for wrongdoing under a doctrine called qualified immunity. In extreme cases, however, a court can deny officers qualified immunity if the court decides that they reasonably should have known that their conduct violated a persons civil rights. And thats what happened here.
A federal appeals court — one step below the U.S. Supreme Court — said that LMAS officers were not protected by qualified immunity in this case because the officers should have known that the second, uniformed group of officers needed a warrant to enter the home and seize the dogs. (If youre interested, details complete with legal jargon are available here.)
From an anti-dog-confiscation legal perspective, this seems like a decent ending to a really unfortunate tale, but the frightening fact remains that animal control offices are seizing healthy animals based on their owners ignorance of the law, instead of just issuing citations.
What does that mean for dog owners?
Brush up on your local dog laws. Most cities and animal control offices will include pet ordinances on their websites. If you want to check out your local laws, try running a search for your city and dog laws.
If you want to ensure that your best friend stays out of the pound, keep him on a leash, and make sure that all necessary vaccination medallions or licenses are on his collar and up-to-date. (Its important that you keep the tags on your dogs collar. In New York City, for example, you could get hit with a $200 fine if your dogs license isnt displayed on its collar.)
Losing your dog — even temporarily — to animal control is a traumatic experience for both the pet parent and the dog. Spare yourself the drama, fines, and lawyers fees by taking the time to comply with the law before you get cited for breaking it.
Dogster readers: Have dog laws in your home state ever bitten you?
About the Author: Robyn Hagan Cain normally blogs about the law for legal professionals. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and Braxlee, their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
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