15 MINUTE CONSULTATION CALL.
Frequently Asked Questions
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE:
From the Desk of Benjamin Katz:
I receive 50-100 calls a month involving pet related legal matters. As you would expect, callers ask many of the same questions. Here are the four (4) I receive most often, followed by a number of Qs and As, listed by subject matter.
– B. Katz
Four most frequently asked questions:
- Can I sue for the death of, or injury to my pet? How much can I get for compensation and/or for pain and suffering?
Whether your pet is injured or died due to the malpractice of a veterinarian, or the negligence of a pet sitter/walker, groomer, or any other person, you are entitled to sue; just as you can sue someone for damaging or destroying your property. However, as with property, you are generally limited to replacement value for your pet, taking into account its age and condition prior the negligence. You may also receive compensation for expenses used to save or heal your pet. The pain and suffering of your pet is not compensable in New York.
I accept clients on an hourly basis. Expect to spend between $7,000-$12,000 on average for negligence actions and $8,000-$15,000 for malpractice actions.
- My pet was taken to/by Animal Control in New York City. Animal Control will not release my pet without it first being neutered/spayed? What can I do?
If your pet is with Animal Control in New York City, the most likely reason is that it wandered away from home, or was taken due to some situation impacting your pet’s well-being. If it was done in connection with a criminal matter or as a result of domestic issues, a criminal attorney or Family Court attorney should be consulted. Regardless, once Animal Control takes custody of your pet, under NYC local laws, it must neuter or spay your pet before releasing it unless there is a certified medical reason not to do so. With proper proof, breeding animals, show dogs, and service animals may be exempt.
Under New York State law, all animals adopted from animal control, rescues, shelters, or humane societies must be neutered/spayed or an agreement signed that it will be done by the new owner.
If you pet is a well-documented exception to the rule, a court order may be necessary. I can assist with that. Expect to spend $3,500-$6,000 in most cases.
- I was sold a sick dog, or one with a genetic condition. What are my rights under the “pet lemon law”?
Under the section below entitled “Pet Dealer Licensing and Sales”, I discuss, in detail, New York State’s pet lemon law. The short answer is you may be entitled to either 1) return and replacement, 2) return and refund, or 3) retain and reasonable reimbursement for veterinary care to cure your pet. There are strict time and documentation requirements for the purchaser to make a claim with the seller. Read below for more about the process. Also, make sure to review your paperwork to determine what the seller agreed to do in such a situation.
A seller refusing to comply with the law may be subject to investigation by New York State.
- My ex took my pet, or broke an agreement to share our pet. Should I call the police? What can I do?
As confirmed by many of my clients, it is unlikely the police will become involved in these matters unless there is criminal activity. Your best legal option may be to mutually agree to mediation, if possible, or to litigate if no agreement can be made. Fully litigating a pet custody action will likely take between 6-12 months while the pet’s current residence will usually remain unchanged. Each of you will have to establish what outcome would be best for all concerned.
Expect to spend $8,000-$15,000 for a fully litigated action. I do offer a flat fee.
Animal Law Defined
1. What is Animal Law?
2. What rights do animals have?
As non-humans, animals do not possess Constitutional rights. Nonetheless, federal, state and local laws and rules exist to protect wildlife, to prevent cruelty and suffering, and to enforce property rights related to ownership and possession of animals.
3. What are some national organizations dedicated to animal rights and protection?
Here is a list of well-known organizations:
Federal Animal Laws
4. What are some Federal laws related to animals?
- Animal Welfare Act (AWA). This is the primary federal animal protection law. It covers both living and dead, warm-blooded animals to be used for research, exhibition, or as a pet. It also addresses animal fighting and the importation of certain dogs into the United States. Excluded from the definition are birds, rats, and mice bred for research as well as horses and farm animals. Covered entities must meet certain legal standards or be penalized.
- Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) – This law requires the humane treatment of food animals in how they are handled and slaughtered. It protects all livestock except poultry.
- 28 Hour Law – This law requires vehicles transporting livestock, other than poultry, to stop for 5 consecutive hours at least once every 28 hours to allow the animals exercise, food and water. There are many loopholes in this law.
- Endangered Species Act – This law protects fish, mammals, birds, and plants listed as threatened with extinction. It outlines procedures for federal agencies to follow, and authorizes criminal and civil penalties for violations.
- Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act of 2019 – This law makes some of the most egregious forms of animal cruelty a federal crime.
- Lacey Act – It bans trafficking in wildlife and plant illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold.
New York State Animal Laws
5. What are some New York State laws protecting animals?
Most New York laws meant to protect animals and to punish wrongdoing are contained in New York Agriculture and Markets Law (AGM) and New York Penal Law (PL). Laws related to wild animals are generally contained in New York Environmental Conservation Law.
6. How does New York State define an animal?
- Animal - every living creature except a human being
- Farm Animal - any ungulate, poultry, species of cattle, sheep, swine, goats, llamas, horses or fur-bearing animals (not dog or cat) , which are raised for commercial or subsistence purposes.
- Companion Animal (pet) – any dog or cat, and any other domesticated non-farm animal normally maintained in or near the household of the owner or a person who cares for the domesticated animal.
7. Can I sue for a refund, reimbursement or replacement if someone injures or kills my pet?
The short answer is Yes, you may sue, but it may not be worth it.
I receive inquiries from many people who are unhappy with services or products related to their pets. This includes issues with groomers, pet walkers, pet sitters, daycare, food products, etc. (purchases/adoption of pets and veterinary services provided to pets will be discussed later). If there was negligence causing injury or death to your pet, you may be able to sue for reimbursement of actual expenses or replacement of your pet. If you haven’t spent much, it may not be worthwhile to sue.
8. Should I hire an attorney?
In most instances, probably not.
The cost to hire an attorney to handle such matters will likely exceed what you are able to recover. Most attorneys will handle these cases on an hourly fee basis. Unless the amount in dispute is more than a few thousand dollars, it usually does not pay to hire an attorney. Instead, you should first determine whether the vendor will refund all or part of your money, reimburse you for your expenses, or otherwise compensate you. It is best to make all requests in writing so there is a “paper trail”.
9. What should I do if my requests are being ignored?
If you are unsuccessful in negotiating with the vendor, you may file a complaint with State or County consumer affairs departments, availing yourself of their process. Here is a list of some State and local departments:
10. Lawsuits against vendors?
If you are unsuccessful with the complaint process and your issue is related only to money, you may bring an action. If it is a small amount of money, you may file a claim in Small Claims Court, which provides a quicker and simpler process. Most claimants there are not represented by attorneys.
In New York City, you can sue for up to $10,000 in Small Claims Court. In Nassau and Suffolk Counties you can sue for up to $5,000. In Westchester County you can sue for up to $3,000. If your claim exceeds these limits, you may wish to hire an attorney. Depending upon the amount, you or your attorney may file an action in either local civil court or New York State Supreme Court.
11. What types of actions may be brought?
If you paid for and/or received, products or services, you may have cause to sue the provider or vendor of those services. The nature of the lawsuit may be as follows:
- Commercial – When there is a written contract or agreement, a court must consider it when making a decision. You will need to prove the vendor violated (breached) its terms.
- Civil – Most claims or actions are civil in nature. Two elements must be proven to recover -- liability and damages. Liability is established by proving the vendor did something wrong (e.g. being negligent, selling defective products, etc.). Damages means you have suffered actual harm, usually financial. Both elements must be shown for there to be a recovery.
- Products Liability – Where you are considering an action against the manufacturer of a product, you should consider contacting a products liability attorney and, possibly, joining a class action lawsuit where others are also seeking recovery for damages resulting from the same product.
12. How much may I claim in damages?
Since pets are considered property under New York State law, your claim is considered a property damage matter. Pain and suffering of pets are not compensable at this time. Damages will be limited to out-of-pocket expenses that have not been reimbursed by insurance. If your pet died as a result, your recovery will be based upon its financial value as determined by the Court. Do not expect to get back your attorneys’ fees.
Pet Dealer Licensing and Sales (including Pet Lemon Law)
13. Is it legal for pet stores to sell dogs or cats?
On December 15, 2022, New York passed a law banning the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits by pet stores. The law goes into effect on December 15, 2024. Until then, it is still legal for pet stores to sell dogs, cats and rabbits. Once the law goes into effect in 2024, pet stores will be allowed to lease space to animal rescues and shelters looking to adopt out pets.
14. Does New York require pet dealers to be licensed?
Yes. A person or entity is considered a pet dealer, requiring licensure, if it sells or offers to sell nine or more dogs and/or cats per year for profit. Pet dealers may include pet stores, pet brokers, breeders, and non-incorporated rescues.
15. Are there any exemptions to a pet dealer license?
Yes. There are two exceptions to the above requirements: Duly incorporated humane societies and rescues are exempt. Breeders who sell or offer to sell less than 25 dogs and/or cats per year that are born and raised on the breeder’s residential premises (hobby breeder) are also exempt from mandatory licensing.
16. How do I become a licensed pet dealer?
Rather than discussing all the requirements, I have included links if you are interested in learning more. Check with your local municipality for any additional requirements it may have.
17. What standards are pet dealers required to follow in caring for animals?
The New York State law entitled “Care of Animals by Pet Dealers” can be found at AGM Article 26-A. The sections of that article pertinent to the questions are broken down as follows:
Sec. 401 – minimum standards
Sec. 402 – records of purchase and sale
Sec. 404 – license refusal, suspension, revocation
Sec. 408 – exempt entities
19. Is there a minimum age to sell a dog or a cat?
Yes. No pet dealer shall knowingly sell any cat or dog younger than eight weeks of age.
Violations can result in suspension or revocation of their license.
20. What health requirements must be met to sell a dog or a cat?
• Within five (5) business days prior to the sale of any dog or cat, a pet dealer must have a licensed veterinarian conduct an exam and tests for presence of adverse medical conditions. For animals 18 months of age or older, the exam shall include screening for congenital conditions.
• All animals shall be vaccinated as required by state and local law and provided with appropriate veterinary care.
21. What happens if the pet dealer discovers a health issue before sale?
A pet dealer cannot sell any animal it knows has a diagnosed congenital condition or contagious disease without first informing the consumer, in writing.
22. What disclosures must be made prior to sale?
1. A pet dealer must disclose, on a form signed by both the dealer and the purchaser:
i. Breeder’s and/or broker’s name and address,
ii. date of birth, immunizations, health history and treatments, medication, and origins of a cat or dog, and
a signed statement, indicating the cat or dog has no known disease or illness and no known congenital or hereditary condition adversely affecting its health,
a record of any known congenital or hereditary condition, disease, or illness that adversely affects the health of the cat or dog at the time of sale.
2. A pet dealer must conspicuously post a notice stating:
“Information on the source of these dogs and cats and the veterinary treatments received by these dogs and cats is available for review by prospective purchasers.”
3. A pet dealer must provide appropriate pedigree documentation and additional disclosures if the animal is advertised as being registerable. Failure may require a significant refund.
4. No contract for the purchase of a dog or cat where there is financing can include a provision for repossession by the seller or lender in case of default in making payments.
5. Every pet dealer who sells an animal to a consumer with a list of rights under New York law.
23. What law gives me rights if I buy a sick or genetically compromised animal?
The “pet lemon law” is designed to provide purchasers of dogs and cats (sometimes other animals) protection by requiring the seller to make certain disclosures about an animal that is offered for sale, while also affording the purchaser a remedy if a diseased or otherwise defective animal is obtained from the seller.
24. What would trigger rights under the pet lemon law?
There are two triggers:
- Illness or presence of symptoms:
Within 14 business days after the sale of an animal subject to this article or receipt of the required written notice, whichever occurred last, a veterinarian of the consumer's choosing, licensed by a state certifies such animal to be unfit for purchase due to illness or the presence of symptoms of a contagious or infectious disease (does not include parasites or giardia), or
- Congenital Malformation:
Within 180 calendar days following the sale or receipt, whichever occurred last, due to a congenital malformation which adversely affects the health of the animal, or the presence of symptoms of a contagious or infectious disease.
25. How do I show the animal is unfit?
A Certificate of Unfitness signed by a veterinarian must be provided to the dealer/breeder within 14 days of purchase or receipt of the disclosures discussed in 22, whichever is later, in the case of illness; or 180 days of purchase or receipt of the disclosures, whichever is later, in the case of congenital malformation.
26. What are my rights under the pet lemon law?
If the animal is certified as unfit for purchase, the consumer may choose from one of the following options:
1. Return, Refund, and Reimburse: The right to return the animal and receive a refund of the purchase price including sales tax and reasonable veterinary costs directly related to the veterinarian's certification that the animal is unfit for purchase pursuant to this section;
2. Return, Exchange, and Reimburse: The right to return the animal and to receive an exchange animal of the consumer's choice of equivalent value and reasonable veterinary costs directly related to the veterinarian's certification that the animal is unfit for purchase pursuant to this section; or
3. Retain and Reimburse: The right to retain the animal and to receive reimbursement from a pet dealer for veterinary services from a licensed veterinarian of the consumer's choosing, for the purpose of curing or attempting to cure the animal.
The dealer must refund or reimburse the consumer within 10 business days of receipt of the signed veterinary certification.
27. What if I don’t provide the proper certification in time?
A consumer will not be entitled to remedies under this statute if the consumer does not obtain the certification within the time discussed and provide it to the per dealer/breeder within three business days following receipt of the certificate of unfitness. However, you may still attempt to do so.
28. What conditions are not covered under the pet lemon law?
Parasites such as intestinal worms or fleas are not covered unless the infection with such parasites causes severe clinical illness such as flea anemia or malnutrition. Since the condition must have been present at the time of sale, illness or injury occurring subsequent to taking possession may not be grounds to declare the pet unfit.
Contagious diseases covered include, but are not limited to, parvovirus, giardia, mange, kennel cough, pneumonia, herpes, mycoplasma, viral gastroenteritis,
Congenital defects that can severely impact pet health include, but are not limited to, liver shunts, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. other hereditary conditions, lateral luxating patellae, enlarged heart, feline leukemia (FeLV), and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
29. What if the dealer/breeder fights my claim?
A pet dealer/breeder may contest a demand for a refund, exchange or reimbursement and has the right to require the animal be produced for examination by their own licensed veterinarian. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement within 10 business days of the examination you may bring action in a court for relief.
30. Who do I contact if the dealer is not complying with the law?
Complaints may be filed with the New York State Attorney General’s office. That agency is charged with enforcement of the pet lemon law. If you choose to proceed civilly, depending upon the amount spent, you may consider Small Claims Court.
Crimes Involving Animals
31. What actions involving animals are considered criminal?
Below is a list of laws imposing criminal penalties in matters involving animals. They are contained in New York’s Penal Law (PL) and Agriculture and Markets Law (AGM).
- PL §130.20 - sexual conduct with animal
- PL §195.06 - killing/injuring law enforcement animal
- PL §242.10 and 242.15 - harming service animal
- AGM §351 - fighting animals - breeding, selling, offering for sale, owning, possessing or being spectator
- AGM §353 - overdriving, torturing and injuring animal*
- AGM §353-a - aggravated cruelty to animal*
- AGM §353-b - failure to provide appropriate shelter for dogs left outdoors
- AGM §353-c - electrocution of fur bearing animals
- AGM §353-d - confinement to hot car
- AGM §353-e - certain practices in grooming facilities
- AGM §353-f - tattooing or piercing pet
- AGM §354 - sale of baby chicks and rabbits
- AGM §355 - abandonment of animals
- AGM §356 - failure to provide proper food and drink to impounded animals
- AGM §357 - selling or offering for sale a diseased animal
- AGM §358 - selling disabled horses
- AGM §358-a - giving live animals as prizes
- AGM §359 - transporting animal in cruel manner
- AGM §359-a - transporting horses in cruel manner
- AGM §360 - poisoning or attempted poisoning of animal[horse, mule or cattle
- AGM §361 - interfering with or injuring animal used for racing or breeding
- AGM §362 - throwing substances injurious to animals in public places
- AGM §363 - unauthorized possession considered larceny
- AGM §364 - running horses on highway
- AGM §365 - clipping or cutting dogs’ ears by non-veterinarian
- AGM §366 - stealing a companion animal
- AGM §368 - docking horse’s tail
*Exceptions to §353 and §353-a for research animals and hunting.
Note: Although not a crime, declawing a cat, if not medically or therapeutically necessary, is a violation of statute. [AGM §381]
Laws to Protect Pets in Criminal or Domestic Matters
32. What law enforcement tools can be used to prevent neglect and cruelty?
The following laws give power to police and animal control authorities when appropriate.
- AGM §369 - interference with officers investigating animal cruelty is a crime
- AGM §371 - police or humane society agents can intervene and arrest offenders to prevent cruelty
- AGM §372 - police and humane society agents can issue search warrants
- AGM §373 - seizure of animals not properly cared for is authorized
- AGM §375 - seizure if used for fighting is authorized
- RPAPL §749 - proper care for companion animals is required when law enforcement enforce eviction warrants
33. Do Orders of Protection cover pets?
Yes. Orders of Protection may be issued to require individuals to refrain from intentionally injuring or killing, without justification, any companion animal known to be owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by the victim or a minor child residing in the household.
34. Can the police or animal control take my dog without my permission?
Yes. A dog control officer, peace officer or police officer may seize a dog whose presence is in violation of any local law or ordinance relating to the control of dogs. Additionally, there are four circumstances where a dog must be seized. They are:
1) an unidentified dog not on the owner's premises;
2) an unlicensed dog, whether on or off the owner's premises;
3) a licensed dog believed dangerous not in the control of or on the premises of its owner or custodian; and
4) any dog which poses an immediate threat to the public safety. [AGM §117]
This one of the main reasons to license/register your dog with the municipality and/or State.
35. What happens once the dog is seized?
Once a dog is seized by a peace, police or control officer,
1. the dog must be properly sheltered, fed and watered;
2. the dog must be checked, as soon as possible for all forms of identification (i.e. tags, microchips, tattoos or licenses);
3. if identifiable, efforts shall be made to provide actual notice to the owner by any means reasonably calculated to do so. If notice is personally given, the dog may be redeemed for seven (7) days after the day of notice. If notice is by mail, the redemption period is nine (9) days from mailing;*
4. if not identifiable, a photograph, and a general description of the animal, including the breed or breeds, if known shall be posted to the public on the internet on a website or social media, or through other available means. The owner will be given no less than five (5) days from date of seizure to come forward with proof of ownership, licensing and payment of the impound fees;
5. if a dog is believed to be dangerous, a dangerous dog proceeding must be commenced immediately.
*Municipalities may pass local laws to shorten the redemption but not to less than 3 days for personal notice and 7 days for mail notice.
36. What will happen if I do not redeem my dog in time?
An owner forfeits title to any dog unredeemed at the expiration of the appropriate redemption period. The dog will then be made available for adoption, transferred to an organization that may place the dog in an adoptive home, or euthanized.
37. Is there a redemption period for cats and other animals?
Yes. If not redeemed by the owner or if forfeited due to the actions of the owner, any companion animal may be made available for adoption or may be humanely destroyed after five (5) days.
38. What is a dangerous dog ?
A dangerous dog is one that:
- without justification attacks a person, companion animal (pet), farm animal or domestic animal and causes physical injury or death, or
- behaves in a manner which a reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to one or more persons, companion animals, farm animals or domestic animals or
- without justification attacks a service dog, guide dog or hearing dog and causes physical injury or death.
Note: Police dogs are exempt from the definition
39. What should I do if I or my pet is threatened or attacked by a dog?
File a complaint with your local police precinct or call animal control.
40. What happens after a complaint is filed?
After a complaint is made, either you or the dog control/police officer will go before the judge. The judge will determine if there is sufficient reason (probable cause) to believe that the dog is a dangerous dog. If the judge finds probable cause, the judge will issue an order requiring seizure of the dog immediately.
Whether or not the judge orders that the dog be seized, the judge must hold a hearing within 5 days regarding the complaint. The owner must receive written notice of the hearing at least 2 days prior to the hearing.
41. What happens at the hearing? Who has the burden to prove that a dog is dangerous?
The person making the complaint has to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the dog is a dangerous dog. The person making the complaint will do this through testimony and evidence. The testimony and evidence may, for example, consist of descriptions of what happened by those who witnessed the attack or by those who were attacked.
42. How can I prevent my dog from being declared dangerous?
A dog cannot be declared dangerous if:
1) the attack occurs while a person is committing a crime against the owner or on the property;
2) the person was tormenting, abusing, assaulting or physically threatening the dog or its offspring, or has in the past;
3) the dog was responding to pain or injury; or
4) the dog was protecting itself, its owner, custodian, or a member of its household.
Testimony by a certified expert may be helpful in determining whether the dog’s behavior was justified.
43. What happens if a judge determines a dog is dangerous?
If the dog is found to be dangerous, the judge MUST order:
1) neutering/spaying the dog, and
2) microchipping the dog.
The judge MAY also order one or more of the following to protect the public:
1) evaluation by a certified behavioral expert, paid for by the owner,
2) secure humane confinement for an appropriate period of time and manner,
3) restraint of dog on leash by adult whenever on public grounds,
4) muzzling the dog whenever on public premises,
5) maintenance of liability insurance policy in amount determined by the court, up to $100,000 for personal injury or death resulting from attack.
When there are “aggravating circumstances,” (e.g. serious injury or death to a person, or serious injury or death to an animal by a dog found by a court to be dangerous ) the court may order humane euthanasia or permanent confinement of the dog.
44. Are there financial penalties if a dog is declared to be dangerous?
Yes. In addition to ordering compensation for the victim, if a dog bites a person or service animal, there may be a civil penalty of up to $400. If the dog bites a person and causes serious physical injury, the civil penalty can be up to $1,500. If the dog was previously determined to be a dangerous dog and causes serious physical injury, the owner may be found guilty of a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by a period of imprisonment up to 90 days, or both.
45. How long do I have to appeal if I disagree with the judge’s finding that a dog is dangerous?
You have 30 days to appeal from the final order. If an appeal is filed, euthanasia, if ordered, is stayed until a judge makes a decision regarding the appeal.
46. Can specific breeds be considered dangerous under the law?
No. Although breeds such a Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherd, American Bulldogs, and Bullmastiffs can be aggressive and potentially dangerous, they are not genetically predisposed to violence and may not be treated as such under the law.
Animal Shelters and Pet Rescues
47. I want to start an animal shelter or animal rescue. How do I get started?
Legally, it is not difficult to form an entity for the purpose of establishing a shelter or rescue. Starting any business has challenges. Despite a desire to help, you should be careful not to take on responsibilities you are not ready to handle, thereby neglecting or harming the very animals you seek to assist. Do your research, write a mission statement and make a business plan. You should also consider:
- Nonprofit status – seeking tax exempt, nonprofit 501(c)(3) status with the IRS can be very useful in receiving donations, and purchasing supplies and services. It also lends credibility to your organization.
- Licenses – some municipalities may require a license to operate (e.g. kennel license).
- Insurance – liability insurance and, if there are employees, workers’ compensation insurance are a necessity to protect your organization from trouble.
- Professionals – it is always a good idea for any business to have access to an attorney and accountant. This is especially true for nonprofits. They may be able to assist you in drafting forms to keep you organized and to comply with state and local law.
- Food and Shelter - you must be able to house and feed the animals appropriately and enNsure there are no zoning issues with that location.
- Medical Care – having a close relationship with a competent local veterinarian is important. Should illness occur, it has the tendency to spread. Knowing what to do and where to take your sick animals is one of the most important responsibilities. If you are using their service regularly, they may be willing to discount their fees for vaccinations, medications, spay/neuter, etc.
- Fundraising – it is very expensive to maintain a shelter or rescue. Raising funds and receiving donations is a necessary part of the process.
49. Are shelters and rescues considered pet dealers?
No. Although they once had the same requirements and restrictions of pet dealers, shelters and rescues are now exempt. However, they must register with the Department of Agriculture and Markets and provide certain information annually.
51. What services do shelters and rescues offer?
Shelters and rescues accept dogs and cats, providing them with shelter, food, and veterinary care. They provide adoption services, rehoming, re-unite pets with owners, vaccinations, and prevent animal population from getting out of control through spay/neuter programs.
52. Does the government make agreements with shelters and rescues?
Yes. ACC, a non-profit corporation, has a contract until 2052 with the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to run the City’s animal shelter program. It provides shelter, examine, test, treat, spay, neuter and assure the humane care and disposition of animals in shelters located in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island, along with drop-off centers in Queens and the Bronx. Many other municipalities have similar contracts with local humane societies.
Lost or Surrendered Pets
53. Who do I contact if my pet is lost or ran away?
You may report a lost pet as follows:
- NYC – 311
- Westchester Health Dept. – 914-813-5000
- Westchester County Animal Services – 914-995-2175
- Westchester County Animal Welfare – 914-320-5991
- Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SCPA) – 516-843-7722
- Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SCPA) – 631-382-7722
54. What are kill shelters v. no-kill shelters?
a) A no-kill shelter is an animal shelter that does not kill healthy or treatable animals even when the shelter is full. It reserves euthanasia for terminally ill animals or those considered dangerous to public safety. However, not all animals are accepted since it must be able to rehome them as quickly as possible.
b) A kill shelter is an animal shelter that accepts all animals. There are no restrictions, no age limitations, no health standards or behavioral requirements. All animals are accepted here and there are no appointments necessary before surrendering a dog or cat. However, while this sounds good in practice, kill shelters or open admission shelters do not have room for all the pets they accept. They are forced to euthanize animals based on their duration of stay to have enough cage space available to accept all animals.
What happens if I take my pet to a shelter or rescue because I can’t take care of it or pay for veterinary care?
55. What happens if I take my pet to a shelter or rescue because I can’t take care of it or pay for veterinary care?
In NYC, Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC) will accept pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits, and other animals kept as pets, for a fee. They will not pick up unwanted pets from the homes of pet owners. If the pet cannot be adopted or placed with a rescue, it may be humanely euthanized. Other municipalities have similar rules.
Once you surrender a pet, the shelter or rescue is not obligated to give it back to you. They may ask you to go through the same application process as anyone else or they may refuse to give you a pet based upon the fact that you gave one up already.
Pet Ownership Laws
56. Does my dog need to be licensed?
Yes. Except cities in New York with a population above 2 million, the owner of any dog reaching the age of four months shall immediately make application for a dog license with the State. It is accompanied by a license fee and certificate of rabies vaccination or a statement in lieu of the certificate. Cities with larger populations may impose their own licensing requirements. Below are some links providing licensing information for New York City and cities in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester.
New York City
Nassau Towns and Cities
- Town of Hempstead Dog License
- Town of North Hempstead Dog License
- Oyster Bay Dog License
- Long Beach Dog License
- Glen Cove Dog License
57. Does my dog need to wear a tag?
Yes. Each dog licensed under state law must have the identification number on a tag affixed to a collar on the dog at all times. Dogs participating in a dog show may be exempted during such participation.
58. Am I required to have my dog microchipped?
No. Although microchipping is a good idea to ensure your pet can be found, it is not mandated by New York State. Veterinarians, animal shelters, and animal control officers are required to check for microchips to aid in reuniting pets and owners.
59. What are my obligations my dog is lost, stolen or dies?
If any licensed dog is lost or stolen, you must notify the municipality within ten (10) days of the discovery of loss or theft. If you licensed dog dies, you should notify the municipality prior to or at the time of license renewal.
60. Are vaccinations necessary?
Yes. Vaccinations for rabies are compulsory. The first one must be given no later than four months (4) after birth. The veterinarian immunizing or supervising any person authorized by law to immunize such animal shall provide the owner with a certificate of immunization. Failure to have your pet vaccinated may result in a fine of up to $200 for each offense.
61. Am I required to spay or neuter my pet?
No. Although it is a good idea to do so, there is no requirement to spay or neuter a pet. However, unless you plan to breed or compete in animal shows, there are many health benefits to doing so. It also prevents unwanted pregnancies leading to overpopulation as well as aggression and other behavioral issues.
62. Can the local government impose leash requirements?
Pet Custody Litigation
63. How may I get custody of my pet, who is being kept from me?
Under New York State law, pets are considered personal property. Actions to recover property are sometimes referred to as actions for replevin. These types of actions usually requires a party to demonstrate a right to the property superior to the other party. Legal ownership, financial contribution and contractual rights are common ways to demonstrate such a right. However, unlike other types of personal property, courts may also consider the interests of the pet as more important in determining who should have custody. For that reason, legal ownership alone may not be enough. The standard utilized is what is “best for all concerned”.
In determining what is best for a pet, the court would consider the involvement, or absence, of each party in the pet's day-to-day life; the availability and willingness of each party to care for it; each party's involvement in health and veterinary care decisions; the quality of each party's respective home environment; the care and affection shown towards the pet; and each party's fitness and caretaking abilities.
Service Animals/Emotional Support Animals
64. How does New York define a service animal?
A “service animal” is any animal that has been partnered with a person who has a disability and has been trained or is being trained, by a qualified person, to aid or guide a person with a disability.
65. What types of animals may be service animals or emotional support animals?
Only a dog or a horse can be a service animal. Any species can be an emotional support animal (ESA).
A “guide dog”, “hearing dog” or “service dog” is a dog which is properly harnessed and has been or is being trained by a qualified person, to aid and guide a person with a disability.
66. Is there a difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal?
Yes. Only a dog or a horse can be a service animal. Any species can be an emotional support animal. While service animals are trained to perform one or more specific jobs for their handler (the disabled person), emotional support animals do not require any training and may be prescribed by a mental health professional to anyone needing emotional support or comfort. Service animals are covered under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and are awarded a specific set of rights. Emotional support animals (ESAs) are not.
67. What are some examples of services provided by service animals?
- Guiding people who are blind
- Alerting people who are deaf
- Pulling a wheelchair
- Alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure
- Reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications
- Calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or autism during an anxiety attack
68. What training is required?
Service dogs typically undergo rigorous training that can take years to complete. This training varies depending on the type of service dog, since each type assists their handler in specific ways. Some of the common types of service dogs include: visual and hearing impaired, seizure disorders, autism, psychiatric needs such as PTSD.
69. What rights do owners of service animals have?
1. No service dog can be denied entry into public spaces—including buses, airports, planes, restaurants and workspaces—even if the establishment has a “no pets allowed” policy. Those establishment may ask what tasks the animal performs for the disabled individual.
2. Both service animals and ESAs are also allowed to stay in your residence regardless of your landlord’s or building’s pet policies. In addition, housing providers may not charge any pet fees or deposits for service dogs.
3. In the past, service animals and ESA were exempt under federal Department of Transportation (DOT) rules from flight travel conditions. However, that changed in 2020. Now, airlines may require supporting documentation for service animals 48 hours prior to flight. They may inquire as to the nature of the service animal’s training and function. They may also refuse to offer special accommodations to ESAs.
70. Does my service animal need to be registered?
No. Although some people choose to register their animals with organizations providing official looking paperwork, there is no requirement to do so. People and businesses cannot ask what your disability is, require medical documentation, training documentation, or ask that the dog demonstrate their abilities. The only exception is in the case of flying on airplanes, which is part of new rules by the Department of Transportation (DOT). You should check the policy for your particular airline.
71. Do dog trainers have any rights?
Yes. Persons qualified to train dogs to aid and guide persons with a disability, while engaged in such training activities, have the same rights and privileges set forth for persons with a disability in this article.
Veterinary Negligence and Liability
72. Why did my veterinarian report me to animal control?
A veterinarian must report suspected cruelty to a pet. A veterinarian who reasonably and in good faith reports is immune from liability in the form of damages in any civil or criminal proceeding.
73. Can I sue a veterinarian for malpractice?
Yes. However, it is not simple to establish a vet committed malpractice resulting in injury or death of your pet. Since you are claiming professional negligence, it will be necessary to hire a veterinary expert to confirm a deviation from accepted standards of care. Even if such a deviation exists, you would need to establish that it caused the injury claimed. If that is also proven, your financial recovery will be limited to actual out of pocket expenses and the financial value of your pet. Since few, if any, attorneys will take a vet malpractice case on contingency, you can expect to spend several thousands of dollars.
74. Does New York have a one bite rule?
In New York State, an owner will only be liable for injuries resulting from an animal’s actions if the animal, to the owner’s knowledge, has shown prior vicious propensity. If that is shown, the owner will be held strictly liable (100%) for the injuries suffered. Strict liability requires the claimant to prove only that the bite or attack occurred and that defendant is the owner. If prior vicious propensity is not shown, the action will likely be dismissed. That standard is known as the Collier Rule since it was established by the New York Court of Appeals in the case of Collier v. Zambito, 1 N.Y.3d 444 (2004).
If the action is against someone other than the owner, negligence will be the standard to be applied.
75. What actions are considered vicious propensities?
Prior actions leading to liability may include:
76. What rights do I have if I am disabled and need an animal for assistance?
You are entitled to keep a service animal or emotional support animal. Denying an individual a reasonable accommodation, such as an assistance animal, is considered discrimination under federal fair housing laws and under New York State Human Rights Law.
A “no pets” policy does not apply to assistance animals. If the tenant has a disability, and can provide the proper documentation that the assistance animal eases the symptoms of the disability, a landlord must allow the animal as a reasonable accommodation. This applies to shelters and other forms of temporary or supportive housing as well.
77. Can my landlord ask for proof that I need an animal for assistance?
Yes. If not apparent, a landlord is allowed to ask for medical information and documentation to 1) confirm you are disabled and 2) the animal relieves the effects of those limitations. The information and documentation do not need to come from your physician. A letter from a service provider or therapist explaining the need for the assistance animal will be sufficient. You are not required to disclose your specific disability and cannot be rejected for not providing a specific form or informing the landlord within a certain time.
78. May I have more than one assistance animal at a time?
If you can provide proper documentation that each assistance animal eases the symptoms of the disability, you may have more than one assistance animal.
79. Can my landlord require my assistance animal to be certified or trained?
No. The fair housing laws do not require an assistance animal have any sort of certification or training to be considered a reasonable accommodation.
80. Can I be forced to pay additional security or fees for my assistance animal?
No. A landlord cannot impose extra charges because a tenant has an assistance animal. Even if the landlord charges additional an additional security deposit or requires insurance for pets in the building, it is prohibited for an assistance animal since it is not considered a pet. However, you may still be required to pay for actual damage or excessive wear and tear caused by the assiatnce animal.
81. What happens if I am violating my building’s “no pets” policy?
If you keep a pet in a building that does not allow you to do so, you are in violation of your lease and may be subject to legal action by your landlord. You must first be given an opportunity to remove your pet from the apartment. Typically, a landlord will serve you with a “Notice to Cure”, giving you a deadline to do so. If you don’t comply, the landlord may commence eviction proceedings.
In New York City, renters living in buildings with three or more apartments, co-op apartment owners in all five boroughs, and condo owners in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island can overcome the no pets policy and keep their pets. If they live in the apartment for three months without the landlord citing them or seeking eviction, they will avoid the policy. Condos in Manhattan and the Bronx may still enforce the no pets policy even after the three months.
This exception to the building’s no pet policy is dependent on the tenant not concealing the dog and being open about its presence. If the pet is being hidden, it will not apply.
Please also be aware that do the large number of units and limited resources to monitor all activity, NYCHA is exempt from this law.
81. How can I provide for my pet if I should die or become disabled?
Until recently, it was difficult to provide for pets in cases of death or disability since trusts were only available to provide for humans. Now New York has passed a law which allows pet owners to create a trust fund for their pets and to have a trustee (which may be more than one person) to manage those funds. In the event of their death or disability, money and resources may be reserved for the care of their beloved pet. The trustee of the trust will control the resources and the pet’s guardian will provide the care. This can be the same person.