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Legal Tips Every Missouri Pet Owner Should Know

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, pet ownership is very popular in the United States.  The AVMA 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook indicates 36.5% of all households own a dog; 30.4% of all households own a cat; 3.1% of all households own a bird; and 1.5% of all American households own a horse.  When stated in total number of pets, the data is even more staggering:  69,926,000 dogs; 74,059,000 cats; 8,300,000 birds and 4,856,000 horses nationwide.

Along with the joy and fun pets bring to our lives, they also bring the occasional headache and potential liability.  This article explores some tips to help readers avoid those legal pitfalls.

  1. Protect others from the acts of your dog or pay the consequences. Generally, most dog control and regulation ordinances are created to protect public health, safety and welfare of citizens.  For example, section 273.036 of the Missouri Revised Statutes indicates that a pet owner of any dog that bites, without provocation while on public property or lawfully on private property is strictly liable for damages suffered by those bitten up to $1,000.00 regardless of the former viciousness of the dog and regardless of the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.  Strict liability is defined as absolute legal responsibility for an injury without proof of carelessness or fault.  For example, if Fluffy escapes from your backyard and bites the neighbor in the public street although having been quite calm and loving her entire life you could be writing checks for up to $1,000.00 in damages.  Dog owners are also strictly liable for any damage to livestock caused by their pet under the same statute.
  2. Obey all municipal laws including leash ordinances. The Missouri General Assembly grants municipalities wide discretion in dog control matters, apparently because they believe local authorities are better equipped to address those concerns.  Missouri courts have uniformly held that owning a dog is a property right that can be regulated by local government units and subject to that authority, most Missouri municipalities impose a general prohibition against dogs running-at-large.  More specifically, section 77.510 RSMo relating to third class cities, provides that municipalities may “tax, restrain, and prohibit the running-at-large of dogs.”  Cities also have broad betterment powers granted by the state including the power to suppress all nuisances, the power to make regulations for the protection of health of the suppression of disease, and the power to enact ordinances for the overall good of their city.  Ordinances against barking, waste matter, and property destruction all fall within these broad powers.
  3. Obey all laws regarding the breeding of pets. With few exceptions, section 273.327 RSMo requires all animal shelters, pounds kennels, pet shops, and exhibition facilities to obtain an annual license.  Recent highly publicized cases of animal cruelty and neglect have heightened the state’s regulation of pet breeders.  Annual inspections of these facilities are also par for the course.  In addition to state regulation, cities can also impose laws on pet breeders.  If you plan to breed your pet, make sure you also understand the laws or rules in your locality.
  4. Finally, if you rent a home or apartment, make certain your lease allows the presence of your pet. Most landlords require an additional amount be paid for a pet deposit because statistics indicate pets cause more damage to residences on average.  Those property owners that do allow pets often limit their size, activity, or type.  Understand the terms before you sign a lease or acquire a pet so as to avoid eviction or litigation for damages to the premises.  If you live in a home or apartment governed by a homeowners’ association (HOA), read those provisions carefully as they often limit pet ownership privileges as well.

Todd Miller is a Partner with the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999.  He was recognized as Golf Tax Consultant of the Year by Boardroom Magazine three times and candidate for the “10 Best” attorneys for the State of Missouri by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys and “10 Best” attorneys for the State of Missouri by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys.  He formerly hosted a radio talk show entitled the “Mid-Missouri Legal Advocate” on KRMS News Talk 1150AM and 97.5FM.  You may also find him on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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