Legal Issues for Pet Owners

a happy german shepherd mix breed dog is hanging is tounge out of his mouth with his ears blowing in the wind as he sticks his head out a moving and drving car window.

The United States is a country of pet owners! In 2017, 68 percent of households owned pets, up from 56 percent in 1988. And, Americans don’t just OWN pets. They love them, with the Los Angeles Times saying that, “We’ll do just about anything to make our animal companions happy.” So, when a pet-related legal issue arises, this can cause significant problems for owners.

Examples of Legal Issues for Pet Owners

Pet Custody
When a couple is planning to divorce, pet custody can become a significant challenge. Our legal system has long considered pets to be property, “no different from a couch or a car,” according to a National Geographic article on the subject. That’s hard for pet owners to accept—and, in fact, that’s starting to change. For example, judges are beginning to determine what would be in the best interests of the pet, something not done with an object that is literally a piece of property. The problem for pet owners? As interpretations of laws evolve, plenty of gray areas come to the forefront.

Loss of Companionship
The same article brings up another pet-related legal issue where the decisions by courts are evolving: when a pet is killed, perhaps being hit by a speeding car. In the past, when a cat or dog was considered strictly to be property, an owner could not sue for loss of companionship and/or mental anguish. But this is starting to change.

Lost Pet Issues
Perhaps your dog broke off his leash and ran after a squirrel, and someone found him and claimed him as her dog. What then? If you have a dog license, that document will identify who registered the pet, but that strategy doesn’t work with a lost cat. You can also microchip your pets and register your pedigreed ones, strategies useful for both dogs and cats (and other small companion animals). But what if someone claims that the pet you lost was actually abandoned? That raises all sorts of additional legal intricacies.

Dog Bite Liability
What if your dog bites someone, and that person sues you? What if that person is demanding the dog be euthanized? State laws vary, and many situations fall into a gray area. You can find more information here about state laws about dog bites. Be sure to keep up to date on your dog’s vaccinations, especially for rabies. If your dog bites someone and doesn’t have a current rabies vaccination, your troubles will multiply. Here are relevant state laws.

Estate Planning
In your will, what provisions are you making for your beloved pets? Where will they go? Do you have a pet trust set up so that funds will be provided for their care? Most states now allow pet trusts to be created, with a caregiver named, and funds and guidelines for care set.

Group Legal Services

Since 68 percent of people in the United States own pets, it’s extremely likely that a significant percentage of your employees do—and so they would appreciate having the ability to have access to legal services when relevant issues arise with their pets.

If you have questions about how group legal services will help, contact us online, email us at or call 1-800-356-LAWS (5297) today.