The Lawyer's Guide to Pet Care

A Legal Guide to Pet Care

Pets provide a great deal of love and companionship to people, and are treasured members of many families. Most of the staff here at Kurtz & Blum, PLLC are proud pet owners. However, owning a pet comes with certain responsibilities that can be enforced legally. If you are a pet owner or are interested in becoming a pet owner, there are many laws and ordinances that you need to know about. Failure to follow the rules can result in that your pet being sent to the pound and you facing criminal charges in court.

Proper Veterinary Care:

Any dog, cat, or ferret over four months of age must be vaccinated against rabies [NCGS §130A-185]. Furthermore, state law also requires that dogs shall wear vaccination tags at all time, while cats and ferrets must wear vaccination tags unless they are exempts from wearing tags by local ordinance [NCGS §130A-190]. An animal control officer may impound an animal that is not wearing its required vaccination tags [NCGS §130A-192].

The Need for Supervision:

Like children, pets require supervision. Allowing a dog over six months old to run at large at night unaccompanied by human supervision is a Class 3 misdemeanor [NCGS §67-12]. It is also a Class 3 misdemeanor to knowingly allow any female dog to run freely while she is in heat [NCGS §67-2]. Although a pet does not have to be on a leash when on the owner’s property, there are city and town ordinances that have “Leash Laws”. For example, City of Raleigh and Town of Cary requires dogs and cats to be on a leash if they are not on the owner’s property.

With the expansion of dog parks, day care centers, and pet friendly restaurants, pets are increasingly becoming passengers in our cars. However, since pets are not welcome inside all establishments, the need to leave your pet in the car may arise. Under state law, government officials like EMTs, police or animal control officers who have probable cause to believe that an animal is confined in a motor vehicle under conditions that are likely to cause suffering, injury, or death to the animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or under other endangering conditions, may enter the motor vehicle by any reasonable means under the circumstances after making a reasonable effort to locate the owner or person responsible for the animal [NCGS §14-363.3(a)].

On a smellier note, many cities and towns require the owner to remove their dog’s feces. For example, Raleigh and Cary have ordinances that obligate the owner to remove their pet’s feces deposited on private property of another or public property [Raleigh City Code §12-3011; Cary Code of Ordinances §6-64].

Around the Home:

Tethering your pet on your property is still an option for pet owners, however many cities and towns have restrictions regarding the practice. For example, Raleigh prohibits a person from tethering a dog to a tree, fence, post, dog house, or other stationary object for more than three hours total in any twenty-four hour period. Furthermore, the tether must comply with the following restrictions: must be at least ten feet long; must not weigh more than 10% of the animal’s body weight; must allow access to food and water; and must be attached in a manner that will prevent strangulation, injury, and entanglement with other objects. Violating this ordinance can cost you a civil penalty of $100.00 per day for each day of violation [Raleigh City Code §12-3007(b)]. North Carolina state law says that a person who maliciously, meaning with malice or bad motive, restrains a dog using a chain or wire grossly in excess of the size necessary to restrain the dog safety is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor [NCGS §14-363.3(a)]. You can always bring your dog into the home or fence in the yard.

There can be serious consequences if you don’t adequately care for your pets – the law requires that companion animals have certain basic needs satisfied. Any person that intentionally overdrives, overloads, wounds, injures, torments, kills, or deprives of necessary sustenance any animal is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor [NCGS §14-360(a)]. This prohibits any act permitting unjustifiable pain, suffering, or death to an animal. Many cities and towns enacted ordinances that specifically define adequate feed, water, and shelter. For example, Raleigh defines “adequate shelter” as an enclosure of at least three sides, a roof and a floor. The enclosure must be ventilated and have sufficient room for the animal to move around freely and lie down comfortably. The code specifically states that the following are not adequate shelters:  underneath outside steps; decks and stoops; inside vehicles; underneath vehicles; inside metal or plastic barrels or cardboard boxes, or any place that does not have proper ventilation [Raleigh City Code §12-3009].

A pet can bring a lot of joy and happiness into your life. To be fully satisfied that you are taking care of your pet appropriately, research your local city or town ordinances for specific restrictions and requirements of your community.