Basic Legal Advice Every Pet Owner Should Know

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on June 07, 2016 | Last updated on February 14, 2022

Hanging around with animals is said to be good for human health, reducing heart rate, decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol, improving emotional wellbeing, and even warding off the development of allergies in children. Pets can help people feel better and deal better.

But there are certainly some risks to owning an animal, and there are some responsibilities you will have to accept. And you do have certain rights. So before you pick up your next pet, let's talk about basic legal advice every pet owner should know.

Pet Adoption and Purchase

Many people adopt pets from animal shelters, which means going through the shelter's screening process and legally accepting responsibility for your new furry friend. Shelter pets can make great buds, and they cost less to adopt than purchasing a dog or cat from a breeder (although there are still costs associated with animal adoption). But you're likely to know a lot less about their origins and have little guarantee that your animal is healthy or friendly, which could lead to liability issues.

When you purchase a pet from a certified breeder or a shop, you have more information and options, although just how much depends on where you live. Fourteen states guarantee returns of pets found to be infected with disease or who have hereditary defects. But states may cover different pet purchases and they have different time frames for uncovering the information.

For example, in Florida a pet owner has a year to uncover a hereditary defect whereas in New York the owner has only 14 days. In Florida, a pet shop may be subject to minor criminal charges for such a sale whereas in New York there is no penalty for pet dealers in violation of regulations.

Liability for Bites and Scratches

A big issue to consider is liability for harm to another caused by your pet. When you adopt or purchase a pet, you become responsible for the animal's actions. That means you can face criminal or civil liability for a dog bite or a cat scratch or any other animal action that harms another.

For people adopting pets from shelters, there is a particular risk that your once-abandoned animal has emotional issues. Be careful about where you go and who you let pet your furry friend, especially in the beginning when you're just getting to know Fido.

Note too that your neighbors can call local authorities if they are unhappy about how your pet behaves when you are not home or if there is a negative encounter. Some locales charge pet owners with infractions for dangerous dogs, and dog owners with multiple infractions do risk losing their best friend.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you are concerned about liability for your pet or anything else, get help. Many attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case.

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