Dogs are the most commonly owned domestic animal, and because of that they are also the focus of many of the pet restrictions in effect today. There have been more lawsuits involving injuries by dogs than any other animal, and restrictive laws (e.g., leash laws) are necessary for the protection of the general public.

Does the law treat dogs any differently than other pets and animals?

Yes. From a legal standpoint, dogs are considered to be somewhere between domestic animals and wild animals-they are more dangerous than ordinary domestic animals but they are not exactly wild. They are different from any other class of animals, yet there is no characteristic common to the entire breed. Thus, the law imposes special rules regarding their behavior.

My dog never leaves the yard. Why should I bother to buy a dog license?

A dog license will identify and protect your dog in the event it is ever found away from home. The application procedure generally involves filing required forms with the required agency and paying a fee for the license. A tag is then issued, which must be affixed to the dog's collar. The license typically lasts for 1 year and must be renewed upon expiration. Failure to register your dog may result in a fine; however, if your dog is found without a tag, it may be impounded or killed.

TIP: Licensing may be required by your city ordinance or state statute. You can check whether any such requirement exists in the city or state in which you live by contacting your local Humane Society.

I was fined for violating a leash law. Do I have to pay it even though my dog was near my side at all times?

Yes. A leash law requires your dog to be on a leash, and some laws even restrict the length of the leash. For example, the dog must be on a leash that is no longer than six feet. If your dog was not on a leash, you are in violation and are responsible for paying the fine.

My lease prohibits dogs. Is that permissible?

Yes. It is permissible and if you breach the provision you will be held liable and the lease may be terminated. Prior to terminating the lease, the landlord must give you written notice requesting that you either move out or find a new home for your dog (you usually have 3 to 10 days). However, if the landlord did anything to make you think that it would be acceptable to keep your dog (e.g., accepted rent after knowing you had the dog in your apartment), then you might be able to argue that he consented to the dog's presence in the apartment.

Is there a "lemon law" for buying puppies?

Yes. A few states have lemon laws for pets, which are designed to protect purchases of puppies or dogs (and sometimes other pets) from pet shops and hold the pet shops liable for selling sick dogs. Pursuant to the lemon law, the seller may be required to disclose facts about the dog's health, history and age, and to provide a health certificate for the dog signed by a veterinarian or a health guarantee signed by the seller.

If you find that your new dog is sick, or if it becomes ill within a certain number of days after purchase, you have the following options:

  • Return the dog and obtain a refund;
  • Exchange the dog for another; or
  • Keep the dog and receive reimbursement for veterinarian expenses, up to the purchase price.

The time limit for returning the dog is usually 1 to 2 weeks and must be accompanied by a certificate from a veterinarian stating that the dog has a serious disease or congenital defect that existed when the dog was purchased.

The following states have enacted lemon laws for dogs: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia. Check your state's particular statute to find out specific provisions.

My neighbor's dog wakes me every morning at 5:00 a.m. What can I do about it?

The first thing you can do is bring the problem to your neighbor's attention; she may not know that the dog is causing any neighborhood disturbances. If she fails to do anything about it, check to see whether your city has any ordinance regarding barking dogs (some do) or noise, and proceed under that. Otherwise, you can sue your neighbor for the nuisance and seek to have an injunction issued. A nuisance occurs when someone uses her property in a way that interferes with the property or enjoyment of another. In this instance, you would argue that your neighbor's dog is a nuisance because its noisy barking disturbs your quiet enjoyment of your property. The issuance of the injunction will prohibit the neighbor from allowing her dog to bark so early in the morning, perhaps by keeping it inside during the early morning hours.

Sidebar: You do not need to show that the dog's barking annoyed other neighbors. It is enough to show that the barking bothered you and that the barking dog would have bothered any ordinary person.

Injuries from Animals; Dog Bites

Thousands of people sustain injuries from animals every year, and the majority of the injuries are dog bites. What can the injured person do? Will the person responsible for the animal be liable for the injury?

What does it mean to have a "vicious" or "dangerous" animal?

Most states define a vicious or dangerous animal as one that has killed or injured another person or animal, has acted in a manner that leads a reasonable person to believe that it may injure or kill a person or animal, or has been involved in or trained to be involved in animal fighting.

My Great Dane has never bitten anyone, so he cannot be considered dangerous, right?

Not exactly. Classifying an animal as dangerous is not solely dependent on whether the animal has bitten anyone. Your dog can be considered dangerous if it has acted in a way that could harm others. Although Great Danes are very friendly dogs, they are also very large dogs-their average height is 33 inches and they weigh as much as 150 pounds. Thus because of their size, an untrained and overly playful Great Dane can be dangerous.

My friend's dog bit me and I suffered serious injuries. What action can I take?

First, check to see if your state has a dog-bite law. If so, then your friend is "strictly liable" for your injury, which means that she is liable even though your injury is not her fault (unless you provoked the dog). If your state does not have a dog-bite statute, then you will have to work harder to establish liability-you will need to prove that your friend knew or should have known that her dog was dangerous. If this is the first time that the dog has bitten anyone, it will be difficult to prove that your friend knew her dog was dangerous. Here are some factors that may establish that she knew the dog was dangerous:

  • The dog is a pit bull (which is known to be vicious);
  • She keeps the dog in a cage or sometimes keeps a muzzle on it;
  • There is a "Beware of Dog" sign on the property; or
  • The dog has fought with another animal.

My niece was bitten from a horse during a tour of a local stable during a horse show. Can she recover damages from the stable?

No. This is covered by the Equine Activity Liability Act, which has been adopted in all but a few states. The act protects horse owners, sponsors and professionals against liability for an injury or death caused by a horse during an "equine activity" (i.e., a horse-related activity). Generally, your niece cannot recover because her injury occurred during her tour of the stable during a horse show, which is considered to be a horse-related activity. However, if your niece was injured while she was watching the show, she could probably recover as long as she did not place herself in danger.

A dog was attacking my sister. I tried to help, but then the dog bit me. Is the dog owner liable?

Yes. Under the "rescue doctrine," if the dog owner's negligence caused the dog to attack your sister, then he is liable for any injuries to you resulting from your rescue attempt. The reason he is liable is because it was foreseeable that someone would have tried to rescue your sister from the dog. This theory will also protect a pet owner who is injured while protecting his pet from an attack by another animal.

Caution: If a dog bites you, seek immediate medical attention to prevent any serious complications, such as infection.

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