Did you know that keeping a ferret as a pet is against the law in California, but legal in Illinois? And are you aware that you may be required by state law to spay or neuter your cat or dog? Since laws vary from state to state, it can be difficult and frustrating to get accurate information on animal-related issues. By educating yourself on the laws that affect your animal companion, you will help to ensure the safety and welfare of your pet and the public.
The first step in obtaining information on animal-related legislation is contacting your state’s Department of Agriculture. If you have access to the Internet, a good place to start is the department’s website, where you can find answers to many animal-related questions (to narrow your search, look under “Animal Industry” or “Laws and Regulations”). You may also send an e-mail or call your state’s Department of Agriculture, usually located in your state capital, with your questions about animal laws. Remember to be specific: It’s easier to get an answer to the question, “Are iguanas legal in Ohio?” than to the question, “What reptiles are legal in Ohio?” Your state’s Department of Agriculture should also be able to provide regulatory information, such as pet licensing and vaccination requirements, in addition to your legal inquiry.
If your initial search proves unsuccessful, turn your attention to your state’s Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), which can help answer questions about companion animals as well as exotic animals and livestock. Although the names may vary from state to state, there are two departments you’ll want to contact for information on your pet’s legal status and relevant regulations: the Game Management and Law Enforcement divisions. Once you’ve determined that your animal companion is legal within your state of residence, you must determine that he is legal in your city or town. In the case of domesticated animals, such as cats and dogs, contact your city or local animal division; local governments usually determine things like spay/neuter and leashing laws, or bans on breed-specific animals like pit bulls or Rottweilers.
Read the Fine Print
If you live in the suburbs, you might encounter some unexpected legal problems. For instance, many suburban neighborhoods have specific codes that govern which animals may be kept as companions. There may be clauses in your neighborhood ordinance stating that livestock of any kind cannot be kept on residential property. However, the term “livestock” may or may not be defined. Having a clear understanding of any ordinances will help you gauge your pet’s legal status. Apartment complexes and co-ops may have even stricter rules about which animals may be kept on the property.
Many states require that companion dogs be licensed and have a yearly rabies shot in order for their guardians to renew their license. Other laws include clauses on sterilization. New York, for example, requires that all dogs and cats adopted through an animal adoption agency be spayed or neutered. Exotic animals usually require a license that can be obtained from your state’s DWC. This license is needed to regulate these animals and to protect the public. If you keep exotic animals, you might get a visit from a representative of your state’s DWC who will evaluate the animal’s living space and ensure that you’re providing a proper environment.
If you’re moving to another state, you’ll want to find out ahead of time your new state’s regulations for animal importation. While an animal may be legal within a state, he may not be allowed to enter the state. States regulate their borders because of the diseases that many animals carry, and try to protect their state from the spread of such diseases. Hawaii, for example, is a rabies-free state that requires a quarantine period for all cats, dogs and carnivorous animals who enter.
Whether you’re the parent of a toy poodle or a six-foot-long iguana, you can ensure that you and your animal companions live in legal harmony. The information you need is just a phone call or a click of the mouse away.
Kelsey Pyle, a native of Cashion, Oklahoma, is a freelance writer currently living in Los Angeles.
© 2002 ASPCA
ASPCA Animal Watch – Winter 2002
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