Animal laws and pet rules

The USA has certain laws people must follow for owning an animal. Learn about pet rules. Find information on having farm animals.

Pet rules in apartments

Many apartment managers or landlords do not allow pets. If they do, they may have specific pet rules you must follow or they will charge a large security deposit or extra rent to discourage animals on their property. Before getting a pet of any kind, check with your landlord. Some will allow a cat, but not a dog, Others will allow small dogs. Some will allow a caged bird, a hedgehog, a tank of gold fish, an ant farm, or even a grass snake, but not a dog or cat. Poisonous or vicious animals of any kind are not acceptable. Violating a landlord’s rules on keeping pets can void your contract and result in the loss of your home.

If you enjoy the company of animals, but aren’t allowed to keep them in your home, consider volunteering for an animal shelter or starting a small business as an animal walker, trainer or groomer.

Animal breeding is restricted in many locales, so check with your local government before letting your dog or cat have babies; the sale of pets is also regulated in some areas. There is more about pet shops, shelters and sanctuaries below.

Pet rules about therapy, service and assistance animals

Some people in the USA have animals to assist them, including:

  • guide dogs and horses for the blind and deaf
  • «alert» dogs for people with seizures and diabetes
  • comfort pets like rabbits, birds, cats, and dogs to combat anxiety
  • protection or watch dogs (and even pigs) to guard against other risks

Don’t be surprised to see dogs in hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, shopping malls, airports and parks. Most are quite gentle, but never pet a dog without first getting permission from the handler.

If a doctor has prescribed for you a therapy or assistance pet, and you have been trained in the care of that pet, the landlord usually has to accept it. But you must have official paperwork proving the animal is qualified and required to keep you safe, and it must never be a threat to anyone else.

Police and rescue personnel often use dogs and horses to find lost people or to control dangerous situations. When you see someone working with a dog or horse, it is best to obey any orders and not interrupt or get in the way.

Licensing and other pet rules

Most communities have pet rules that require you to keep animals healthy. They ask that companion animals like dogs and cats be vaccinated for rabies and licensed, so they can be presumed disease-free and returned if found running loose. Some cities require pets to be neutered, or «fixed,» so they cannot reproduce. Large fines can be charged and animals taken away from you if these requirements are not met.

The law says pets must have shelter from the heat, cold, rain and snow. Check with your police department or animal control office for details. If you notice your pet is missing, check the neighborhood, call police or animal control, put up notices, and monitor «found pet» websites.

If your pet is collected by police, you will have to prove it is yours by producing registration and vaccination certificates, and you may have to pay a considerable fine, sometimes as much as $100, to get your pet back. If you do not claim your pet within a few days, the pet may be killed (euthanized, «put down» or «put to sleep»).

In rural areas, pet licensing might not be required, but domesticated animals of all sizes and types still must be vaccinated, supervised or contained. If an animal gets out of an enclosure and causes an accident, the animal’s owner can be charged with paying for all the damages. This is particularly serious with large animals like horses and cows, but even smaller animals can cause drivers to swerve and crash. If you are driving and encounter an animal in your path, keep the wheel straight and slow down. Signal and move to the side of the road if you hit an animal. Read more about this below, under «Livestock and farm animals.»

Pet expenses

It is best to pay for neutering, vaccinations and licensing up front. Those costs typically run about $400, depending on the size and sex of the animal. Thereafter the cost of feeding and caring for the average pet is about $600 per year. Shop around for low-cost veterinary clinics and seasonal events that promote low-cost animal adoption.

Good pet protocol

Not everyone likes animals or approves of them living in homes and riding in cars. Some people are afraid of or allergic to them. Let guests to your home know you have pets and ask if they have any problems before they arrive. It’s polite to put animals in another room when guests are visiting, and if the pets dislike strangers, it’s doubly recommended. Many people keep dogs for security, so don’t presume to visit someone without an invitation. If you or someone else is bitten by a dog, get prompt medical attention and report it to police so they can guard against a potential threat to public health.

Most communities require both dogs and cats be leashed or restrained when outside the home or yard to prevent them from bothering others and for their own protection.

Pet rules for injuries and abuse

If your pet has been hit by a car, bothered livestock, or bitten someone while wandering unsupervised, the police may have to kill it to protect the public. Sometimes an injured animal is put down if there is no one to pay for medical care. You probably will be charged for any damages and expenses. A runaway pet can also become the victim of a coyote or other prey animal, or taken in by someone who never reports it.

Companion animals must not be abused, hurt or injured in the USA, and it is a serious crime nearly everywhere to have sex with an animal. A good rule followed by many pet owners is never to do anything to a companion animal that you would not do to a child. Another consideration is to realize that if you are hungry, thirsty, hot or cold, your companion pet probably is, too, so whatever comfort you provide for yourself should be extended to a pet.

Livestock and farm animals

Many different animals are raised on farms and ranches in the USA, including cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits, ostriches, llamas, bison, and fish and shellfish. Most animals are kept to produce food, but some are kept for education or pleasure. Others live in refuges or shelters where the animals cannot be killed and eaten.

Eating animals

Most Americans are meat eaters, but up to 10% of the population either have strong religious, environmental or health reasons for eating only vegetables. Some people will eat fish and poultry but no «red» meat (beef or veal from cows, pork from pigs, or lamb and mutton from sheep). Some city-dwellers keep chickens for eggs, where allowed.

Due to the preference for goat meat among many refugees, a number of goat farms have been established. Eating horse meat is generally frowned upon in the USA, and it is illegal in most communities to eat horse, dog, cat, or any other animal generally or traditionally kept as a pet or companion. Pigeons or squirrels caught in the wild may be OK to eat, but never catch such animals in a public park.

Farm animals

In rural areas, you may see herds of cows or sheep being being moved along roads by people on foot and in vehicles, with dogs working at their sides. Give these herds the right of way. Stop and wait for the herders to wave you through, and proceed slowly. Don’t honk your horn or you could cause a stampede. If stuck in a throng, keep your windows rolled up, and don’t be too surprised if a sheepdog climbs over your car to do its job.

Farmers have long depended on cats to keep mice out of their grains and seeds. Snakes also like to eat mice (though most native snakes are not fond of cats), so a farm cat can keep away both mice and snakes. It is best to make sure even farm cats (or «mousers» as they are sometimes called) are vaccinated and neutered.

Racing and fighting

Both horses and dogs are raced for sport, but only in a few states. Many people think this is cruel to the animals and risky for the people betting on the races, so they are regulated by governments. Nowhere is dogfighting legal, and severe criminal penalties exist for those caught putting animals and people at risk. Cock-fighting is illegal everywhere except Louisiana and New Mexico, and it is not widely supported even there.

Exotic animals

Twenty states have pet rules that ban exotic animals, such as large reptiles, tigers etc. In the places where they are legal, these «exotics» must have permits and licenses and be carefully supervised to prevent them from getting into the natural environment or creating problems for existing animals and their owners. Burmese pythons, for example, brought into the USA by collectors and released or escaped, have been known to eat neighborhood pets and local wildlife.

Buying a pet

Some shops sell pets, mostly dogs, cats, small rodents and birds, but also whatever is the latest fashion. Some new pets are being bred in cruel conditions to satisfy the latest whim created by a movie or other trend. Meanwhile pets are being put down in shelters for lack of caring homes. If you want a pet, think about going to your local animal shelter instead of to a pet shop.

Shows and exhibitions

Some people in the USA who are really proud of their cats, dogs, exotic birds, and horses meet regularly to show their animals. They have associations and magazines promoting their hobby. Students can be actively involved in showing farm animals and livestock. Many people like to demonstrate the talent of their hunting and sheep-herding dogs at competitions called «trials.» If you go, watch how others behave around the animals, and notice that most owners do not want strangers touching their animals.

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