4 Legal Issues Every Pet Owner Should Be Aware Of

pet legal issuesSome of the greatest joys in life can come from pet ownership.  Whether it’s a dog, cat, bird or even a farm animal, our pets can be a source of companionship, amusement and unconditional love.  However, with all of the positive benefits of owning a pet, there can also be some drawbacks.  In fact, there are some legal issues that every pet owner should take note of.

Dog Bites

If your dog bites someone, that person may likely file a lawsuit for damages such as medical costs and pain and suffering.  It may have been an accident, or the dog may have broken off of their leash.  Or it may even be a case of the person taunting the animal, thereby causing it to act aggressively.  But according to varying state laws, it may not matter what the reason behind the bite may be.  The owner or person in charge of the dog may be liable for damages regardless of the situation.  However, many states, such as Illinois, may provide for exceptions to the dog-bite liability statutes if you can prove that the dog was provoked.  Illinois’ statute 510 ILCS 5/16 covers dog bites and related injuries.

 Nuisance Claims

Many pet owners may wonder if it is actually illegal if their dog continuously barks outside.  Likewise, the issues may come up in the case of barnyard animals, like roosters making excessive noise at sunrise.  Specific ordinances and fines regarding animal noise, or simply noise levels in general, vary by city and county.  Most do reference violations for excessive animal noise, and fines tend to increase for each subsequent offense.  Additionally, neighbors filing nuisance claims for loud animals can sometimes bring other violations to light, including animal vaccination violations, fencing violations or prohibited animal violations.  Overall, keeping your pets reasonably quiet will keep the peace in your neighborhood and help you to avoid additional legal trouble.

Pet Custody Issues

Pets can definitely become like family members.  Unfortunately, if a couple separates a legal battle can ensue for custody, especially if there are no actual children involved.  Sadly, many states view pets solely as “property”, treating them no differently than a piece of furniture.  In Illinois, pets are technically considered to be property, but are also viewed as companion animals.  Therefore a judge can take a pet’s well-being into consideration when determining sole or joint custody.  Additionally, the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 (750 ILCS 60/214) allows a judge to award temporary legal custody of an animal to one partner if there is evidence of domestic abuse that also presents a danger to the animal.

Estate Planning Considerations

On the same note regarding pets being members of the family, provisions should be made for their care in the event something happens to their owners.  It is a great idea to specifically mention your pet in your will so you know they are going to be cared for by the person of your choice.  However, you cannot legally leave actual money or property to your pet.  So if you want to provide a monetary allowance for the caregiving of your pet, it is best to leave it to the person who will assume custody.  Another legal consideration for short-term pet care, in the event that you are unable to care for your pet due to illness, is to prepare a Power of Attorney for Pet Care.  This document would provide a caregiver the legal authority to act on your behalf to make decisions for your pet according to your directives.

Our Attorneys are Skilled in a Variety of Practice Areas

At Churchill, Quinn, Richtman & Hamilton, Ltd, we are here to provide legal guidance in many different aspects of your life and business.  From minor consultations regarding ordinance violations to complete estate planning to major litigation services for individuals or corporations, we can make sure you are legally protected in times of need.  We have been a respected member of our community for over 100 years and we look forward to providing you with the personalized, high-quality representation we are known for.  Contact us at 847-223-1500 for more information or to schedule an appointment.