By: Patti Strand  Date: 01/8/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation | Canine Issues | Shelter Issues |

Over the course of the last decade, members of NAIA's board and staff have served on national, state and local task force bodies, on blue ribbon panels, and on animal welfare and fish and wildlife committees aimed at improving public policy affecting animals, animal ownership and the natural environment. In many cases, NAIA and its members have succeeded in launching precedent-setting initiatives. We have helped draft good dangerous dog laws, created reasonable standards for dog parks, removed limit laws, improved consumer protection laws, and generally helped make animal welfare legislation more reasonable.

NAIA has worked with scores of jurisdictions throughout the US helping county commissioners; private citizens; dog, cat and horse fanciers; rescue groups and others improve legislation, ordinances, and policies in their communities. We have achieved great success in many areas and learned a lot along the way. Our library of articles chronicles many of the specific issues we've addressed and many of our related activities and accomplishments.

Because of our successes, we have been inundated with requests for information about specific animal control issues and we have found that our articles need to be distilled into more user-friendly downloadable formats that are better suited for distribution. Below, you will find the beginning steps of developing those materials. We hope they will be of benefit to you as you live, work and enjoy animals.


Animal Control Laws

The National Animal Interest Alliance supports animal control laws that encourage people to become more responsible pet owners, i.e., to license, identify, confine, vaccinate, train and humanely keep and enjoy their pets.

Getting people to take the first step to license their pets is not an easy task. Throughout the US, compliance rates for pet licensing are notoriously low, with few jurisdictions achieving even a 30 percent rate. In many cases the fees raised from licensing are not enough to cover staffing and reporting, let alone enforcement of the license code. A major challenge for animal control agencies everywhere is overcoming the public's unwillingness to comply with animal control laws generally and licensing laws in particular. If Richard Avanzino and Pam Rockwood are right in saying that caring can't be mandated, and licensing mandates only punish those who care, then animal control agencies need to rethink some of their fundamental beliefs, attitudes and approaches - and they are!

Today, animal control agencies recognize that they cannot achieve their mission without public support and good will. As a result, they are moving away from coercive and punitive mandates and toward incentive-based programs designed to help people become better pet owners.

Ed Boks, the highly-respected executive director of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control in Phoenix, an animal control agency that handled 62,000 animals in 2001, advocates value-added programs such as "the free ride home" and "extended stay" programs for licensed pets rather than coercive laws that offer only punishment. He believes that pet owners license their pets and comply with animal control laws only when they believe that animal control services and laws benefit pets, pet owners and the community at large. Boks states flatly that there is an inverse relationship between punitive measures such as high license fees and licensing compliance rates: generally speaking, the higher the license fee, the lower the compliance rate. This is a key issue because licensing is the doorway for most other animal control programs, rabies vaccinations, and neutering and public education campaigns.

Unfortunately, many animal control laws are passed in response to a specific problem or crisis, by well-meaning citizens who are unaware of the many competing interests and issues that impact animal control laws and enforcement. Drafting laws in an emotionally charged environment guarantees the worst kind of regulations, ones that are unrealistic, unenforceable and in some cases unconstitutional. Of greater importance, laws that appear to be unfair or at odds with public values or common sense erode public support, reduce license compliance and assure non-stop conflict.


Pet Limit Laws Drive A Wedge Between Responsible Pet Owners and Animal Control Agencies 

Limit laws are high on the list of well-intended pet laws that result in unintended consequences.

The National Animal Interest Alliance opposes pet limit laws because:

Limit laws are virtually unenforceable and worse, they drive a wedge between animal control agencies and many of the citizens they serve who responsibly keep more than the allowed number of pets. Such laws drive owners underground, lowering license compliance rates.

Animal control agencies are charged with protecting public health and safety from free roaming, dangerous and diseased dogs, and to protect the welfare of homeless pets. Licensing is the primary mechanism for getting pet owners to vaccinate their dogs against rabies. When dog owners fear reprisals from animal control, like being forced to give up a beloved pet because they are over their limit, they hide from animal control and the agency loses the opportunity to fulfill its most basic responsibility, that of assuring rabies vaccination.

Limit laws are not successful in addressing neighborhood nuisances or in identifying inhumane activities such as hoarding, irresponsible breeding or negligent rescue operations.

Instead of limit laws, NAIA recommends thoughtfully written nuisance and cruelty laws. Nuisance laws should require pet owners to be considerate of their neighbors. They should require pets to be confined to their own property or on leash when off their property; set and describe standards for acceptable levels of barking; mandate how often yards must be picked up and how often dog runs must be cleaned. Approximately 50 percent of all households keep pets, so it is also imperative that nuisance laws are written using "reasonable man" standards so that unreasonable or hypersensitive individuals cannot hold an entire neighborhood hostage by trying to enforce irrational or overreaching demands.

Likewise, cruelty laws should be written using clear language about what is considered acceptable behavior and what is not. The care that pet owners are required to give and the conditions under which they are required to maintain their animals must be spelled out.

Pet limit laws are arbitrary and have been found unconstitutional when challenged in the courts. In a landmark decision regarding pet limit laws in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, the judge cited Kadash vs City of Williamsport, 1975: "What is not an infringement upon public safety and is not a nuisance cannot be made one by legislative fiat and then prohibited. Even legitimate legislative goals cannot be pursued by means which stifle fundamental personal liberty when the goals can otherwise be more reasonably achieved."

NAIA believes that the reasonable way to achieve the goal sought by pet limit laws is through enactment of nuisance laws that address the specific conduct that is desired or opposed.

The bottom line is that people who maintain any number of pets responsibly and humanely and do not present a nuisance to their neighbors should not be prevented from keeping them because other pet owners might not be as responsible. Irresponsible pets owners, whether they own one or 10 pets should be the focus of animal control nuisance laws, not people who do things right but have a certain number of animals.

Limit laws often exist in both animal control ordinances and zoning laws. Under-funded animal control agencies should not be required to enforce limit laws, many of which are outdated or ill-conceived, for building, planning and zoning departments. Pet limits found in zoning codes are usually attempts to mitigate nuisance complaints but are addressed through zoning restrictions - the only way available to a planning or zoning department without jurisdiction for animal control enforcement. These limits often evolved from building code restrictions intended to prevent the construction of kennel buildings, especially large boarding facilities, in developing neighborhoods. Today, "kennel" means multiple dogs, whether a building is involved or not, and the restriction against kennel buildings has been interpreted and expanded to limit multiple dog ownership.

If necessary at all, determinations about how many pets people should be allowed to keep in a given area are better addressed through codes, covenants and restrictions (CCRs) for specific subdivisions rather than on a county-wide or city-wide basis through unenforceable limit laws. Neighborhoods vary from small lots in densely populated areas to tracts where large lots and acreages exist, all in the same county. Home buyers can find CCRs by reviewing title searches and deeds before acquiring a new property to enable them to make educated and appropriate decisions about their pets before their purchase, rather than falling victim to arbitrary and intrusive limit laws afterwards.

Homebuilders should also do their homework before adding pet limit CCRs to their developments. The goal should be to limit specific nuisances, property destruction and neighborhood degradation. While limit laws may appear to offer a quick fix, they seldom accomplish the most important or intended goals and they are painful to enforce. Also, because 50 percent of American households keep pets and a sizeable number of them keep multiple pets, it also may be better business to deal with potential problems directly, rather than through limit laws that penalize good behavior along with bad.

Pet limit laws discourage volunteers from rescuing and providing foster homes to pets, when doing so puts them over their legal limit. Through these efforts, volunteers contribute invaluable services to animal control agencies, humane shelters and their communities. Pet limit laws that discourage these activities discourage kindness and cost taxpayers money.


Pet Lemon Laws Have A Dual Purpose: Protect Buyers and Sellers and Educate the Public

he National Animal Interest Alliance supports laws that promote the responsible breeding, rearing and selling of well-bred, healthy pets to educated and responsible consumers. Accordingly, NAIA supports the concept of pet lemon laws, also known as consumer protection laws, so long as they are enforceable, promote reasonable objectives and pre-sale consumer education.

Consumers need protection from unscrupulous and irresponsible pet sellers. They should be protected from fraud, unsound business practices and the purchase of unhealthy animals. And, because most pet consumers are inexperienced in purchasing a dog, educational materials and disclosures should be made available prior to completion of the sale.

Unfortunately, most lemon laws fall short of these goals. They attempt to mandate "perfect world" solutions aimed at protecting consumers from every conceivable problem. They miss opportunities to educate pet buyers before they purchase a pet, and they are often difficult to enforce. In addition, lemon laws often place all of the responsibility on the seller whether the animal is obtained through purchase or adoption, even though the acquisition of a dog or puppy is a two-way street. To be effective, lemon laws should reasonably reflect the obligations of both parties.


Reasonable Protections and Guarantees

Consumer laws should offer protection from fraud, misrepresentation and breach of contract and require sound business practices.

In order to assure that purchasers receive what they are promised, sellers and adopting agencies should provide purchasers with a detailed bill of sale or adoption or a contract describing the animal and the terms of the sale.

That information should include:

  • The names; the home, business and e-mail addresses; and the phone numbers of buyers and sellers;
  • The date of sale;
  • The purchase price;
  • The conditions of the sale, including warranties and disclosures and the responsibilities of both parties;
  • The age of the pet (estimated if a shelter animal);
  • The sex of the pet and its breeding status, i.e., whether it can be bred, must be altered, or has been altered;
  • The pet's color and distinctive markings; and
  • The breed, if applicable.
  • In the case of a purebred dog purchased from a private breeder or a pet store, the seller should provide in writing, prior to the consummation of the sale:
  • A pedigree showing at least three generations of the animal's lineage;
  • The name of the registering organization if the pet is sold as registered or eligible for registration (i.e., the American Kennel Club); and
  • A guarantee that the registration papers will be delivered within three months of the sale if they are not available at the time of the sale and transfer.
  • Consumers have a right to expect that they are purchasing a healthy pet. To assure this, the seller should provide:
  • A guarantee stating that the pet is healthy and free of parasitical infestation at the time of sale;
  • A health record warranting that the pet has received all appropriate vaccinations and treatments for parasites along with a medical history showing all relevant veterinary check ups, procedures or treatments;
  • A reference to parent club contacts for educational information about the breed; and
  • A checklist enumerating these items for the buyer to sign.


Health Screenings

Consumers have a right to know and an obligation to discover the background of a particular dog regarding congenital or hereditary conditions and diseases if they are known. With regard to fail-safe warranties, dogs are not manufactured goods like toasters or automobiles. Although the relative uniformity of purebreds makes them more predictable than mixed-breeds in skeletal structure, size, temperament, coat type and certain characteristics related to longevity and health, they possess practically infinite genetic variation and potential and never produce identical phenotypes.

Some genetic diseases run in breeds as they do in some human families. Mixed breeds suffer from the same array of maladies as purebreds, but they do so in a less predictable manner. Nonetheless, the degree of variation that makes dogs infinitely more complex than a machine also renders them absolutely impossible to unequivocally guarantee. As such, there is some degree of risk that must be recognized and knowingly undertaken in the purchase or adoption of a pet.

The good news is that the degree of predictability found in purebreds allows conscientious breeders to perform health screening tests on potential breeding stock and identify carriers before using them in their breeding programs. This enables responsible breeders to reduce the incidence of certain genetic diseases in their puppies and in their breeds. For diseases with simple modes of inheritance, genetic testing allows breeders to totally eliminate some diseases. In some breeds, responsible breeders routinely x-ray their stock before allowing them to breed. Others screen potential breeding stock for heart or eye diseases and other disorders that are sometimes found in their breed.

The bad news is that no screening test yet exists for many diseases and for some, the mode of inheritance is so complicated, the tests that have been developed are not very useful in predicting outcomes for individual progeny. The inheritance of diseases such as hip dysplasia is so complex that, in many breeds, even the most conscientious breeders will find its total elimination virtually impossible. HD occurs in large and rapidly growing breeds and mixes; even when the parents showed no outward or clinical signs of the disorder, it can still crop up. With new genetic findings and the improvement of screening tests and selection methods, the number of affected offspring can be greatly reduced, but similar to human medical progress, animal husbandry is not a perfect science and total elimination is not always possible.


Buyer Responsibility

Unlike some consumer advocates, NAIA deems that the public is better protected by lemon laws that educate consumers prior to the sale - thus enabling purchasers to distinguish between responsible and careless breeders or sellers - than by laws that attempt to protect customers from every conceivable possibility after the sale.

NAIA also believes that buyers have some level of responsibility to discover the nature, medical background and tendencies of the animal they are purchasing. Achieving this goal is possible through the parent club network of the American Kennel Club and other resources.

The AKC is a club of clubs. AKC-recognized breeds are represented within the organization by a parent club for each breed. Parent club members have a special interest in and love for their breed and actively work to improve it. They are breed advocates prepared to share important breed information with the public. Buyers can obtain breed-specific information and expertise by contacting the parent breed clubs or visiting their websites. They can locate parent clubs through the AKC website.

The most useful lemon law would disclose that such resources exist and encourage potential buyers to read up on the breeds they are considering before purchasing. Knowing the right questions to ask is half the battle for uninformed consumers. The answers they receive will help them make an educated purchase and enable them to draw distinctions between responsible and casual breeders. For instance, if the purchaser is considering a breed that is known to have a higher incidence of hip dysplasia than others, they will know to ask if the parents were x-rayed and to see the OFA number and rating. Simultaneously they will learn if they are dealing with a conscientious breeder or someone who is just trying to make a quick buck. In many cases, disclosure alone will provide the informed consent necessary for all parties to go forward in an ethical and businesslike way. In other cases, knowledge of a higher incidence of a specific disease in a particular background or breed may encourage the parties to initiate warranty language covering the possibility of its development.


In addition ...

Beyond these considerations, sellers and adopting agencies need to disclose their policies regarding preexisting diseases or parasites; congenital or hereditary diseases that developed later; or pre-existing temperament problems in the case of older dogs. Buyers should also inform sellers of any known situations that might affect the health of the puppy, i.e., that a previous puppy died of an infectious disease, other pets have been treated for an infectious disease or parasite invasion, or the buyer is fighting a flea, tick, or worm infestation on his property.

There are many issues to consider, and refunds, replacements and reimbursements play big roles in resolving problems. For example...

  • Are there any circumstances under which the purchaser can return the pet without cause and receive a refund? If so, for how much and for how long?
  • How soon after the sale must the purchaser obtain a veterinary check up for the pet? How long does he have to return the pet if a problem becomes evident?
  • Will the purchaser receive another pet or a refund if the pet is returned for preexisting illness?
  • What liability does the seller have (if any) if the pet has a serious flea or other parasite infestation?
  • What liability does the seller have (if any) if the pet develops a common, easily treatable condition such as puppy vaginitis or demodicosis?
  • What liability (if any) does the seller have if the pet has a preexisting illness and the purchaser decides to keep it and have it treated by a veterinarian? Are there limitations on the choice of veterinarian and treatments? Are there limitations on expenditures?
  • How will a congenital defect or hereditary disorder be handled if it develops later? Is such a problem warranted for life or only for a set period of time, up to 18 or 24 months of age, for example? If a refund, replacement or reimbursement is offered, is the purchaser forced to surrender the pet in order to get it?
  • What liability attaches to the seller or shelter if an older dog with a pre-existing temperament problem is purchased or adopted? For how long? Will they allow the purchaser to return the pet for a full refund or a replacement? If the dog attacks someone and medical bills are involved, under what conditions (if any) will the seller assume the liability and for how long?
  • Does the purchaser lose all warranties if he fails to follow the seller's instructions regarding future vaccinations, veterinary check ups, confinement, training, feeding, breeding and all other issues agreed upon in the contract?
  • Does the purchaser lose the right to refunds, replacement, or reimbursement if he fails to disclose known situations that could affect the health of the puppy?
  • Does a purchaser forfeit his right to a given pet if he does not live up to his contractual agreements?


But problems remain. No matter how reasonable a law might be when it is first passed, laws have a way of evolving over time, often with dangerous and unexpected consequences. Most people would not support consumer protection laws if their passage meant the end of well-bred purebred dogs and cats. Unfortunately, though, there are radical interest groups that actively oppose the keeping and breeding of companion animals, and these groups are not above disguising their true intentions by putting on the sheep's clothing of consumer protection or any other laudable goal to achieve their agenda.

Typically espousing animal rights philosophy and goals, these groups work zealously to eliminate the breeding and selling of purebred dogs through whatever means necessary. For these reasons and more, lawmakers and consumers, including many people who keep and love purebred dogs, should exert great care to make sure that unreasonable clauses are not added to pet lemon laws.

Lemon laws that mandate pre-sale education and disclosure and encourage sellers and consumers to write their own contracts and warranties are far superior to consumer protection laws that arbitrarily determine the problems and potential problems from which consumers should be protected. Treating an animal as a standard retail commodity by attempting to guarantee it against every potential problem encourages owners to treat it like any other disposable product. It also leads to the erroneous conclusion that perfect health and genetics are possible in companion animals, even though such is not the case anywhere else in the natural world.


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