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Pet Ownership And Abuse Laws Continue To Advance

Pet ownership and abuse laws continue to advance

To keep you informed on pet-related laws being considered or enacted across the US, we have provided a few summaries. This edition of Pet Legal Briefs discusses new pet legislation concerning animal fighting and abuse, as well as breed-specific and general pet ownership, across the US.

Nationwide: Animal Fighting Focus of New PACE Act

A bi-partisan team of House lawmakers is proposing new anti-animal fighting legislation to close a loophole in federal law. The Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act (PACE) would extend the federal ban on animal fighting to US territories. US Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) introduced the measure, which he hopes will “close the loophole that, until now, has allowed this despicable practice to continue throughout our US territories.” Health risks—those particularly occurring in cockfighting—are also part of the rationale behind this new bill. Illegally imported game fowl was responsible for an outbreak of exotic Newcastle disease in the United States in the early 2000s, which ultimately spread to commercial poultry.

Nationwide: Animal Cruelty Awareness Is Evolving Pet Ownership Laws

More than half of all US State Courts have ruled to restrain the future ownership of animals by defendants convicted of animal cruelty offenses. The ongoing media coverage of animal abuses, the various agencies which report statistics of animal abuse cases, and many animal rights organizations have all contributed to the growing awareness among carious members of state legislatures and courts. As the branches of our government—both Federal and state—learn more about animal abusers and serial neglectors, a significant increase in new laws have been enacted to address the repeating, or recidivist, nature of these crimes.

Today, courts are moving to prohibit defendants from owning/possessing animals for 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, or even permanently. There now are 28 states which have enacted this new type of legislation, the majority of which provide courts wide discretion in defining what judges view as reasonable terms when deciding on restricted ownership. Several states including Maine, Michigan, and Washington enable courts to impose permanent relinquishment of the ability to own or possess animals. A few states even limit the ability of the defendant to work with animals in current or future jobs for certain convictions. See if your state has laws regarding animal cruelty and pet ownership.

Nationwide: Breed-specific Legislation Differs Across States

The local governments laws regulating dogs based on breed, commonly known as breed-specific legislation, are divided into two categories: (1) states that prohibit breed-specific legislation (BSL) in all animal regulation (5 states); and (2) states that only prohibit BSL in dangerous/vicious dog laws (15 states).

Altogether there are almost 20 states with some sort of anti-BSL legislation, there is a difference in some of these laws in the dangerous dog category: Some say that municipalities may not regulate dangerous dogs based solely on breed, while others say that breed cannot be used to prove a dangerous dog declaration. South Carolina has an even broader law that says, "[a]n animal is not a 'dangerous animal' solely by virtue of its breed or species." While this could include a more types and breeds than previously thought, the actual legal definition limits "dangerous animal" to "an animal of the canine or feline family." However, currently no state bans ownership or possession any of specific breed in its state laws.


David Chambers is a retired paralegal living in Chicago with his partner, Stephanie, and two fluffy cats, Jasper and Joy

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