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Animal Law

Whitney Hughes, Director of the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, frequently appears on the “Legal Briefs” segment of Pittsburgh Today Live on KDKA-TV. Following is a transcript from a KDKA appearance.


What recourse do pet owners have?

In the majority of states including PA pets are viewed as personal property. It takes a specific statute and act by the legislature to classify pets as companions for them to be covered by any statute which could give rise to a malpractice claim. As such you would only be entitled to recover the market value of the pet – what someone else would pay for the identical pet of the same age, breed and condition. The only thing that can change that is for pet owners to become proactive and contact their state legislatures.   Usually not much money and a lot of attorneys fees to do that. The alternative is…

Class Action Suits – have been filed in our area.

Things to Keep in Mind About Class Actions:

  1. The Class Action suit is being filed under the consumer protection laws, specifically unfair trade practices and breach of warranty, but again, the consumer is the pet owner – not the pet

  2. Even though there may be several thousand potential claimants, once an attorney files the initial paperwork, you must still wait for a court to certify the class (basically a judge makes a finding that an entire “class” of people have been affected by this particular issue)

  3. The only thing that you need to do to preserve your rights under a class action suit are to make sure that you are able to document that you have in fact purchased the product ( ie keep receipts, packaging, etc) and also keep copies of all vet bills.


Again, given that in PA pets are viewed as property, there's not much that you can recover. Only the market value if anything.


You may file a complaint with the Department of State (the agency that issues veterinary licenses) by either going to their website or calling them to have a complaint form mailed out to you.

What if my pet is lost or runs away and is taken to a shelter?

The first 24 to 48 hours are the most critical when you lose your pet. State law requires that animal control facilities only hold a stray or lost dog without a current license for 48 hours and PA law has no such waiting period for cats – they can be euthanized immediately. So you must have a current license for either the county or the city. Also if you can financially afford it, consider the microchipping as well.

When Your Pet Injures Someone Else

The general rule is that you are responsible. PA law says that owners are responsible for any dog (not just loose or dangerous ones) injuring someone without provocation. This is the liability for any cost for medical treatment – the owner of the dog is responsible.


Also, the victim can go to the local magistrate and file a complaint to have you charged with harboring a dangerous dog. They simply have to prove that the dog has injured someone or another animal and that the dog has a history of attacking or a propensity to attack.


Bottom line is that you are responsible for your dogs. It’s a common sense test if the dog has bitten once it will bite again. Confine them. Watch who you allow around your pets  - especially small children.

Something else to keep in mind as well is that usually when taking out a homeowner’s insurance policy the carrier will ask if you have a dog and what kind of dog it is.  If you have a dog which can typically be considered a “riskier breed” those may result in higher insurance premiums. You must still disclose the type of dog you have.


If your dog injures someone they can make a claim against your homeowner’s policy. Making sure that you have notified the insurance company of the specific type of dog you have increases the likelihood that you’re the loss will be covered.

Planning for Your Pets in the Event of an Emergency

In light of the response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many people have questions about what they can do with their pets in the event of an emergency.


Planning is everything. Keep in mind that in the event you must evacuate, many times shelters and other temporary housing may not be able to accommodate your pet.

Make sure you have:

  • If possible, a family member, friend or associate who is willing to take your pet in the event that you are facing an emergency.

  • Current license and vaccination tags.

  • Contact numbers for your vet.

  • An emergency kit with enough food and water and medications for several days.


Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006


Law states that in order to receive FEMA funds, a city or a state is required to submit a plan detailing its disaster plans and how they will accommodate households with pets or service animals.

The Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service can help you find an attorney equipped to handle this specific type of case. To speak with an attorney or for more information, call 412-261-5555 or click here.

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