Dog Law

Our dog law practice offers a full range of services and counsel to owners, breeders, trainers and businesses in the dog industry. Our knowledge of the dog industry, combined with our experience in other major areas of U.S. law makes Somma Law PLLC particularly adept at protecting the diverse needs of the dog professional, owner, and business. Our representation includes dog-related advice and representation on litigation and dispute resolution, contracts, financing and corporate transactions, real estate acquisition and leasing, zoning and employment related issues.

Our practice spans the many aspects of dog law, including the following:

Injury or death.

The law also provides for the recovery of damages if your dog is injured or dies because of a deliberate or careless act of someone other than your veterinarian. Dogs have suffered or died due to product defects, tainted food, attacks by another dog, and mistreatment and mishandling by groomers, trainers, dog walkers, kennels, dog sitters, and transport services.

Keep in mind that, the monetary damages you may receive in a court case may not even cover the costs of going to court. Working out a settlement is quicker and less expensive. Pet care professionals as well as transport services, including airlines, often have liability insurance. You may be able to reach a settlement directly with the insurance company.

Tenant/landlord disputes.

Policies regarding pets are often unclear in leases or homeowners association agreements. Even when polices are clearly spelled out, they may not be uniformly applied or enforced. For example, you may move into an apartment or buy a home where dogs are welcome and later be told that they are not allowed. If you do not know your legal rights your options are limited to moving out or getting rid of your dog. We can assist in finding a workable solution with your landlord or homeowners association and even work to stop an eviction or being ejected by a homeowners association. There may be avenues to protect you and your dog with local laws and ordinances regarding pets in rental properties, homeowners association agreements, and state housing and disability laws for people with service dogs.

Contractual disputes and consumer claims.

Contractual disputes and consumer claims involve the purchase of animals or products and services related to their care. Fewer than 20 states currently have “Lemon Laws” for dogs, allowing buyers to return an unhealthy dog to the seller (breeder, broker, or pet store) for another dog or a refund. Several of these states require the seller to provide the consumer with written notice of their rights under the law. Other examples of consumer fraud and contractual disputes involve misrepresentation (your puppy is not purebred as claimed), defective products, or services contracted for but not provided as specified (pet cremation or burial). We represent your interests if you are a victim of fraud or are treated unfairly in the marketplace.

Custody and ownership disputes.

Pet custody disputes have become increasingly common in divorce cases. The bonds that people form with their dogs can make an already emotionally charged situation even more volatile. When you and your spouse decide to split up, you may not love each other anymore but your dog loves both of you. If you are unable to reach an agreement as to who will get custody of your dog, the courts will have to decide for you. Sole custody, joint custody, sole custody with visitation, no ongoing relationship, and splitting up pets between partners are all up for consideration in custody disputes. Current laws provide for companion animals to be treated as personal property, and the home determined based on property laws as part of the marital estate. While current societal attitude is moving away from this treatment, and some judges make exceptions to the property model, the laws do not yet reflect this trend.

There is no standard in law for what is in the best interest of the dog. The best case scenario with a divorce is when you and your spouse put aside emotion and resentment and focus on what is truly best for your dog. If you can come to a decision on your own, the most the courts will have to do is review the settlement agreement that you have reached. If you are unable to do this, an animal law attorney who understands the bonds that people establish with animals, and what caring for them entails, can be your advocate.

Custody and ownership disputes are not limited to divorces. Legal representation may also be of benefit in cases of breakups of live-in relationships, a bailment (when a dog is left in the temporary care of another), a dog’s pregnancy, or a breech of a sales agreement.

Dog bites

Millions of people are bitten by dogs every year. We know that any dog can and will bite given the right (or wrong) set of circumstances. What is your liability as an owner if your dog bites someone? Dog bite laws vary greatly from state to state. There are three basic types of dog laws that may make you liable for damages or injuries caused by your dog. Strict liability laws hold the dog’s owner liable for just about any injury your dog causes. The only possible exceptions to strict liability laws are bites to a veterinarian, a trespasser, or someone who provokes the dog.

“One bite” laws basically allow your dog one “free” bite but hold the owner liable for a second bite. An exception is if you knew, or should have known, that your dog could hurt someone.

Negligence laws are common in most states; if the owner is unreasonably careless in controlling their dog, and this negligence results in injury, the owner is liable. In addition to addressing dog bites, there are state statutes that cover other types of injuries or property damage caused by dogs where the owner may be held liable.

If your dog bites someone and you are sued, how will you pay the victim’s damages? If the victim wins in court you may be paying not only for medical costs, but also for lost wages and pain and suffering. Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance is your best protection. However, sometimes insurance does not cover you. This is where we can assist.

Dangerous Dog Litigation.

The definition of “dangerous dog” usually refers to dog behavior that imperils public welfare. By increasing severity level, they tend to fit within categories that include: 1) repeatedly chasing or approaching a person in either a menacing, vicious, or terrorizing manner or fashion in an apparent attitude of attack; 2) killing or severely or seriously injuring a domestic animal; 3) killing or severely or seriously injuring a domestic animal more than once; 4) “causing” injury to a human being; 5) injuring a human being; 6) severely or seriously injuring a human being; or 7) killing a human being. Far too often animal control officers or select boards make orders to muzzle, restrain, confine or euthanize that are not based on facts. We get involved early to prevent local hearings from becoming side shows. We want to make sure that whoever has the power to make decisions about our dogs, gets to the right decision the right way. The loudest voice from the public should not control the outcome. We work to build a consensus and reach a logical outcome that will protect the dog and the community. Whenever the local police, animal control or government board seeks to take someone’s liberty or property, they can only do so through a fair hearing. Dogs are still considered property and being notified well in advance of a hearing and being able to put forth an adequate defense are fundamental rights for pet owners. Many times dog owners are told to just surrender their dogs or “do the right thing” and put the dog down. There are so many other options available for dogs and their owners before every giving up. Knowledge of the controlling state and local law is crucial at dangerous dog hearings.

Dog Litigation.

We can handle every aspect of litigation that may arise in the dog industry. These issues can include litigating and settling handling accidents and negligence claims, agency issues, sales and ownership disputes, and contractual claims.

Dog Contracts and Releases.

We can assist clients with negotiating and drafting dog contracts, including boarding agreements, breeding contracts, purchase and sale agreements, commission agreements, and liability releases and waivers.

Corporate Advice.

We regularly advises start-up and existing companies at every stage of their evolution and on a full spectrum of their legal issues. We can assist clients on the formation of the appropriate structure for their equine operations, as well as issues related to capitalization, contractual agreements, labor and employment, and regulatory issues.

Zoning and Agricultural Land Use.

We can assist dog owners to obtain appropriate land use permits and approvals needed to develop their property for their dogs, ensuring compliance with all applicable local, state, and federal laws. We can assist owners and those tending dogs with securing and maintaining suitable property. We handle all aspects of site development, including zoning variances, special and other land-use permits, tax abatements, and economic development initiatives. Our attorneys can also provide strategic counsel related to purchase and financing of undeveloped land, transfer of development rights, and planning for future expansion.