The FAQs and the Facts
For nearly 50 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has enforced the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to protect certain animals from inhumane treatment and neglect. Congress passed the AWA in 1966 and strengthened the law through amendments in 1970, 1976, 1985, 1990, 2002, 2007, and 2008. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) administers the AWA, its standards, and its regulations.
The AWA requires that basic standards of care and treatment be provided for certain animals bred and sold for use as pets, used in biomedical research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. Individuals who operate facilities in these categories must provide their animals with adequate care and treatment in the areas of housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather and temperatures. Although Federal requirements establish basic standards, regulated businesses are encouraged to exceed these standards.
The AWA regulates the care and treatment of warmblooded animals, except those (such as farm animals) that are used for food, fiber, or other agricultural purposes.
Currently, cold-blooded animals, such as snakes and alligators, are exempt from coverage under the Act. Animal shelters and pounds are regulated if they sell dogs or cats to dealers or research facilities. Pets owned by private citizens are not regulated.
To help prevent trade in lost or stolen animals, regulated businesses are required to keep accurate records of acquisition and disposition and a description of the animals that come into their possession. Animal dealers and exhibitors also must hold the animals that they acquire from a pound or shelter for a period of 5 to 10 days to verify their origin and allow pet owners an opportunity to locate a missing pet.
The AWA prohibits staged dogfights, bear or raccoon baiting, cockfighting, and similar animal fighting ventures.
Licensing and Registration
The AWA requires that all individuals or businesses dealing with animals covered under the law must be licensed or registered with APHIS.
APHIS ensures that all regulated commercial animal breeders, dealers, brokers, transportation companies, exhibitors, and research facilities are licensed or registered. APHIS also searches for unlicensed or unregistered facilities.
Animal Care, APHIS-USDA
4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234
Telephone: (301) 851-3751 Fax: (301) 734-4978 Email: email@example.com
Web page: www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare
Animal neglect occurs when a person has custody and/or ownership of an animal and fails to provide adequate care or adequate control which results in substantial harm to the animal.
Animal abuse encompasses a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing. A person is guilty of animal abuse when a person:
- Intentionally or purposely kills an animal in any manner not allowed by or expressly exempted by law;
- Purposely or intentionally causes injury or suffering to an animal;
- Having ownership or custody of an animal knowingly fails to provide adequate care or adequate control.
Intentional abuse is knowingly depriving an animal of food, water, shelter or veterinary care or maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating, or killing an animal. State statutes provide definitions for the meaning of “adequate care and control.”
The phrase "puppy mill” is a general term used for a business that mass-produces puppies for sale. The term has evolved and currently is used to depict a substandard commercial breeding facility. This substandard facility is generally overcrowded, with animals underfed, asocial and in need of basic grooming and medical care. There can be anywhere from 25 to 1500 animals at one of these substandard facilities. Commercial breeding facilities, however, are legal provided they are appropriately licensed and meet the standard of care required by law. Unfortunately, after licenses are granted, inspections are few and far between.
“Dog guide” means a dog that is trained for the purpose of guiding blind persons or a dog that is trained for the purpose of assisting hearing impaired persons. “Service animal” means an animal that is trained for the purpose of assisting or accommodating a disabled person’s sensory, mental, or physical disability.
There are no legal requirements for service animals to be specially identified. Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or “certified” and/or have identification papers. A public entity cannot require any proof of a person’s disability, or identification or certification of the service animal’s status.
A housing provider may ask for a healthcare professional’s statement that an individual is a person with a disability and will be assisted by a service animal. A housing provider may not ask for details or the nature of an individual’s disability.
Legally, a service animal is not a pet. And, be aware that a service dog can be any breed or size.
There is no Federal requirement that the dog wear any special gear or identification. Also, there is no requirement that the handler carry any certification papers showing that the dog has been trained as a service dog. You may not ask the person about the nature or extent of his or her disability.
The simple way to determine if the animal is a service animal is to ask the handler that very question: “Is this a service animal?” You may also choose to ask what tasks the animal has been trained to do for the handler. Do know, however, that the handler is under no obligation to respond to any questions asked.
If your dog does not have a past history of violent behavior, and your dog is in a place that he lawfully has a right to be and bites another person you will not necessarily be liable. However, if your dog has a past history of violent behavior and you know of that behavior and your dog bites another person you likely would be considered liable. This means that you could be held liable for any injuries that your dog causes regardless of whether you were negligent in supervising your dog or whether there was any wrongdoing on your part. Simply knowing of your dog's past violent behavior is enough to impose liability if your dog bites someone. It is important to remember that liability laws do vary from state to state.
You can't actually bequeath your money or property directly to an animal, but you can put money in a trust fund to provide for food and supplies, veterinary checkups and emergencies, insurance, licensing and anything else your pet may need.
A Pet Trust is like any legal instrument, so it's important to contact a licensed attorney in your state concerning the particulars of your state’s pet trust laws.
If an animal is dying, can I put it out of its misery?
Generally, this act should be avoided by the average person. Legally being able to discern ownership, encountering a federally protected species, knowing approved methods of euthanasia, and the ability to know what illnesses or injuries are beyond treatment for recovery to occur are not general knowledge.
All states currently classify dogs as personal property. This means owners may be liable for damages caused by their dog, as noted above under certain circumstances, and that such damages may go beyond the actual physical damage incurred and may include, for example, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. In some extreme cases courts have been known to incarcerate owners and destroy dogs.
When a dog is injured or killed by a third party, the usual legal accord is to provide reimbursement of medical expenses associated from the injury, or reimbursement for the replacement value of the dog if killed. If a dog is used for an income generating commercial venture such as breeding, racing, hunting, movies, etc., the value can increase exponentially. Currently, no reimbursement is allowed for emotional damages.
It all depends upon the hospital or facility, and unless there is a pre-arranged (usually written) agreement, the owner is expected to pay for goods or services received prior to the release of the animal. This is the same custom as that with hotels and guests, restaurants and diners, and garages and vehicles. Do be aware that an animal hospital or boarding facility could legally choose not to release an animal until the bill is paid, thereby having additional charges for boarding accrue.
Licensing of domestic animals may be mandated at the either state or local level. All states require some sort of licensing for dogs. Cats, however, are not required to be licensed by state law in any state except Rhode Island. For example, in Colorado under the Control and Pet Licensing provisions, the requirements for licensing of dogs are specifically outlined, while anything specific to cats is left at the municipal level. Such is the case in most states.
But why is there such a disparity in dog vs. cat law? First, it needs to be understood that our legal system is largely based upon English common law of many centuries ago. Back then, cats were exempt from many laws, despite their relative importance within the household. This stemmed not from the disdain for cats, but rather due to their lack of commercial importance. Indeed, the penalty for stealing another person’s cattle under British common law was death; lawmakers felt such a penalty was not fitting for a creature of no economic importance. Thus, history has not endowed United States' state codes with many laws relating to cats.
It varies so significantly based on state and local law that a definitive answer can't be given; nonetheless, there are certain generalities to be considered.
Of course, if the pet has a collar with any ID that could allow you to locate the owner, this must be done. In most areas, however, if the pet is a stray (no collar/ID), you'll need to notify animal control that you've found a pet and even sometimes actually turn the pet over to animal control. If the stray has an ID microchip implanted, animal control, a local rescue league or veterinarian could assist in locating the owner using a handheld scanner.
In most cases, after a period of time and due diligence in attempting to find the owner, the finder may adopt the pet. In Arizona, for example, the law states that if you keep a dog or cat and care for it for six consecutive days, you automatically become the owner of the animal. If you desire to keep the dog or cat, it is important to contact animal control to report finding the animal. That way you have proof as to the length of time it has been in your possession should the original owner come along at a later date and want the animal back.