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Pet Liability and Legal Issues

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Our cats and dogs are our best friends—they provide companionship and entertainment. Plus, they are with us through many major life events. Though being a pet parent is a fun and rewarding job, there can occasionally be more serious aspects of this role, such as pet liability and legal issues.

Thankfully these types of situations are not overly common. However, it can still be beneficial to be informed about laws regarding our pets, the consequences for breaking these laws, and your rights as a pet parent.

Liability Insurance and Pets

Liability insurance is often a part of general insurance that can help protect the insured from greater liability if they become involved in a lawsuit. Pets are a liability, and pet parents naturally have many questions concerning their pets and liability insurance. Frequent questions include:

  • Is a Pet Covered Under Personal Liability? And, Does Renter's Insurance Cover Pet Liability?

    Depending on your insurance policy, you may often find that your pet is included under personal liability in your homeowner's or renter's insurance. Still, these can often have a liability limit. You will also want to double-check what types of incidents are covered and if there are any exceptions for specific dog or cat breeds.

  • Do I Need Liability Insurance for My Dog?

    If you are worried that your personal liability limit is not high enough, you can get liability insurance specifically for your dog. This can also be a great option if your homeowner's or renter's insurance has some gaps or exclusions in pet-related coverage.

  • Does Liability Insurance Cover Dog Bites?

    Liability insurance typically covers dog bites (whether you're bitten or if your dog bites someone else), but the coverage limit can vary per insurance plan. If your dog is covered under your homeowner's or renter's insurance plan and they happen to bite someone, you may be charged a higher premium, or your insurance company may no longer cover your dog.

If you are concerned about any possible legal or liability issues with your pets, you can talk with your current insurance provider about your liability insurance and your options.

Aside from personal liability insurance, you can also get pet insurance for your best pal. This type of property and casualty insurance can help cover more routine veterinary bills and expenses related to health issues.

Pets can also be a financial responsibility. Are you aware of how much it costs to have a cat? Do you know how much it costs to have a dog?

Dog Bites: Legal Issues

Being a dog parent is a rewarding and fun title to have—plus, the pros of having a dog are endless. However, along with the pros of having a dog, a few cons can occasionally pop up, one of which is dog bites. Many precautionary steps can be taken to avoid such an issue, but the reality is that other dogs' behaviors can be unpredictable.

If you find yourself in such a situation, you may be wondering, "Are there legal issues of a dog attacking my dog?" Indeed, there are. In most states' legal systems, dogs are viewed as property, so when one dog attacks another, it may be considered as someone's property damaging your property. In this case, the other dog's parent may be the one being held responsible.

The person responsible may have to pay any veterinary expenses or related health bills for your own dog's recovery from the bite(s). In the instance that you have a service dog that has been bitten, not only may the other dog parent be responsible for medical bills, but they may also need to pay any additional costs for training and related costs.

Laws and legal issues around one dog biting another can vary from one state to the next, but many do allow a few exceptions where the dog parent will not be held responsible. Such instances include when someone and their dog are trespassing or committing illegal acts on your property. Another example is if others are abusing, taunting, or teasing your dog.

Do Beware of Dog Signs Reduce Liability?

These well-known signs have been around for centuries, and they are often posted on properties that don't even have a dog, with the hopes of deterring any possible burglars. However, this sign alone may not release a dog parent from liability if someone gets bit on their property.

As is usual for laws related to dogs, there is quite a bit of variance from one state to the next, so it is most helpful to look up your state's rules or defer to a licensed attorney. While in some states, a 'Beware of Dog' sign may be beneficial, in others, judges may state that by having such a sign, then you are already acknowledging your dog could be aggressive.

Depending upon your area's laws, a more neutral sign such as 'Dog on Property' may be a better solution. This can notify visitors that a canine is present without implying that your dog is dangerous. A 'No Trespassing' sign is also an option to consider. This notice may reduce liability if your dog bites someone since the individual was unlawfully on your property.

If a business has legitimate guard dogs on the property, laws and liability can once again differ based on your state.

Do you have a territorial dog? What about a territorial cat? Learn some tactics that can help you handle these unwanted behaviors.

Dog Barking: Legal Issues

As much as we love the companionship, friendship, and all other benefits that come along with having a dog around, it's no hidden fact that some dogs can be rather noisy. Whether yours barks at every person that walks by or howls whenever they hear another dog bark, our best buds can make quite the commotion.

For pet parents who live out in the country or have very few neighbors, a vocal dog isn't given a second thought. However, for dog parents who live in apartments or a neighborhood with close neighbors, a constantly barking dog could pose some issues.

Like many other pet-related laws, dog barking laws can vary from state to town to neighborhood and even individual apartment or condo buildings. If you have a pup known for woofing, it may be worthwhile to look up your area's rules.

On the other hand, though you may have zero issues with your dog's barking, you may have some neighbors with noisy dogs. If you always enjoy peace and quiet, then perhaps a property that doesn't allow dogs at all may be the best fit for your preferences. By living in a canine-friendly area, some barking should be expected, but within reason.

Causes for a complaint could include:

  • Early-morning barking. Although most neighborhoods do not have 'quiet hours,' it's typically common courtesy not to make excessive noise in the wee hours around sunrise. If your pup goes outside early, it's best to keep them as quiet as possible until it's an hour when most people will be awake.
  • Late-night barking. The same unspoken rule for early mornings applies to late nights. If you're a night owl, then perhaps 2 a.m. doesn't feel too late, but for your neighbors, they will most likely be asleep. No one enjoys getting woken up, especially right after they've just fallen asleep, and even more so when the barking comes from someone else's dog.
  • Excessive barking. Perhaps the most common issue, which can also occur early in the morning or late at night, is a dog with excessive barking. What constitutes as 'excessive' can vary per area.

If you deem your neighbor's dog's barking a genuine issue, you can seek legal action, and the same is true if a neighbor believes your dog is barking in excess. Before doing so, it is encouraged to try and talk with your neighbor first. In a neighborly manner, explain your concerns, why the barking is an issue, and perhaps a solution. Hopefully, next time your neighbor lets their dog out, they will keep your words in mind.

If the issue persists, the next step may be to contact your local animal control department, which might handle dog complaint programs. Some of these programs can be incredibly helpful by offering you step-by-step guidance on how to handle the issue and professionals who will follow up on the complaints.

As a last resort for severe issues, people can file a lawsuit, typically in small claims court. Although a small claims court can be cheaper and faster than a regular court, the judge may not be able to issue an injunction to request the neighbors to limit the dog barking. As an alternative, individuals can receive monetary damages, which may be enough to deter your neighbor from continuing to allow their dog to bark.

two happy dogs at a dog park

Dog Parks: Legal Issues

Dog parks can be a fun place to spend the afternoon, the perfect opportunity for your dog to burn off extra energy, and a great socialization opportunity. That said, dog parks still have guidelines that every visitor and dog must follow. Remember, dog parks are a shared community space, and rules are often put in place with everyone's best interest in mind.

Though each dog park's rules may vary from one to another, you can often find them posted at the park's entrance. Common rules include:

  • Clean up after your dog
  • Keep your dog on a leash until in the enclosed area
  • Do not allow your dog to become aggressive with other dogs or people
  • Don't bring food
  • Make sure your dog is vaccinated

These rules are often just acts of courtesy and proper dog park etiquette. However, breaking some of these rules could cost you a fine or possibly even a ban from the park.

Dog Leash Laws

Dog leash laws are relatively standard, though they differ quite a bit from one state, town, or even park to another. That said, walking your dog without a leash could be illegal.

Even in some areas where your dog is allowed off their leash (i.e., a dog park), there are most likely still rules in place that your pup needs to be on a secure leash until they are inside the fenced-in area.

Chances are you will also notice that in public settings such as parks, hiking trails, or dog-friendly businesses, dogs are only allowed under the condition that they remain on a leash at all times. Some towns or areas may allow exceptions to their leash laws for particular situations such as guard, herding, hunting, and working dogs.

Even if your dog is amazing at the 'heel' command, they have an unbeatable recall, and they are overall a well-behaved pup, it will still be necessary for you to follow your area's leash laws. Rules and guidelines are put in place for the betterment of the entire community.

For instance, although your dog may be well-behaved off-leash, another dog could be out of control if allowed off their leash. Some dogs may also get frightened or protective if a random dog runs up to them. Plus, keeping dogs on leashes can help protect them from running away, jumping out into traffic, or chasing another animal.

Dog Urination Laws

Some dog parents may already be aware, but there are laws concerning where your dog does their business. Like other dog-related laws, this one can also vary from one state to the other, with the consequence often being a fine. That said if it's technically illegal for your dog to do their business in someone else's yard, but the property owner doesn't mind, then you may not get fined.

Many people may have strong feelings against dogs going potty in their yard for many reasons. This could kill their grass or plants, contaminate the space where their kids play, create bad odors, and cause stress to their dog.

It is best to have your dog relieve themselves in the grass strip by the curb instead of in someone's yard whenever you are able. Some neighborhoods do not have a curb strip, which occasionally may result in your dog going to the bathroom on the sidewalk, in which case you will still need to clean up after them whenever necessary.

Don't forget that even after picking up your dog's waste with a poop bag, you will still need to dispose of the bag properly.

Dog Custody Laws

When a married couple decides to file for divorce, there is usually a process of dividing up the personal property between the two. Some of these everyday items can include the house, cars, furniture, and even a dog or cat.

In most states, dogs are considered personal property and thus do not have any legal protections. While in the court setting, during the process of legally divvying up your possessions, the judge may be the deciding factor on who may keep the dog.

However, most judges, who may be pet parents themselves, understand that this is not a decision to make lightly, and they will use discretion when deciding what will be best for the dog.

Factors that could influence the judge's decision include:

  • Whose name is on the adoption papers and license application
  • Whose name and payment information are on veterinary records
  • Who typically purchases the pet food and supplies
  • Which person exercises and plays most with the dog
  • Whose schedule will be most beneficial for the dog

Though each judge may handle dog custody issues differently, most judges do not look fondly upon individuals who try to use pets as a means of bargaining, leverage, or manipulation during divorce hearings.

Pet Microchip Laws

When your pet becomes microchipped, a tiny chip is implanted right under the skin. The chip can then be scanned if your pet runs away or somehow gets lost, giving authorities access to your contact information. This will allow them to reconnect you more efficiently with your best bud.

Although microchips are quite common, more so in dogs than cats, there aren't many laws in the United States requiring pet parents to microchip their pets. Mandating microchips for dogs has become more prevalent in other countries such as the U.K., France, Italy, Spain, and New Zealand, to name a few. Mandatory microchipping has been implemented in Belgium, Greece, and France for felines.

Despite the U.S. not requiring microchips (at least for the time being), many rescues and humane societies have microchipping policies. In other words, no animal will be adopted out of their facility until they are microchipped.

It's also worthwhile to note that microchipping doesn’t replace an identification and rabies tag on your dog's collar.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian. Further, this information does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information presented in this article is for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.

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