Overview of Pet Law In Pennsylvania

Asbestos Litigation

Latin Lovers

Queen's English - - Some Capital Suggestions

Driving To and From Work

Latin Lovers Redux

What is a Writ of Certiorari?


Grandparents' Visitation Rights

Changes to the Pennsylvania Mechanic's Lien Law

What is a Subpoena?

Seven Reasons to Update Your Will

Anti-Retaliation Provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964


Queen's English; Using the Colon

The First Monday In October



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Competency to Drive

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Damage to Your Car in Automobile Collision Cases


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Pension/Profit Sharing Update

The Queen's English -- Banished (As Well They Should Be)

The End of Common Law Marriage

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The State of Eminent Domain in the State

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The Queen's English -- Parenthetically Speaking

New Resident Obtaining Driver's License and Registration

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Steak Wit, por favor?

Pennsylvania Realty Transfer Tax and New Construction

Jury Duty

Kevin Palmer Addresses PBI Seminars

Dramshop Concept Stretched

Queen's English -- Those Pesky Capitals (and even Peskier Relatives!)











 Overview of Pet Law In Pennsylvania

Take a quick look at Pet Smart, Inc. (trading on NASDAQ under symbol "PETM").  Pet Smart's stock price has more than tripled in three years, has a market cap of almost $4 billion, and pays  a dividend of $.12 per share per year.  Pet Smart provides products and services for the lifetime needs of pets in North America.  The National Institute of Health has concluded that there are more pets in the United States than people, and in most American households the pet business is big business. 

  With one possible exception pets have no legal rights of any kind. Under Pennsylvania law animals are classified as tangible personal property, for which non-economic damages are not available.  An animal cannot be sued, cannot sue, and cannot own property.  This means that the owner cannot recover for personal distress, pain and suffering, or loss of companionship.  The only exception is that an owner of a pet may, in some circumstances, be entitled to recover damages if intentional infliction of emotional distress occurs, such as where the animal is killed or seriously injured because of reckless, wanton or malicious conduct of a third party.  Otherwise, the animal owner may only collect the value of the pet.  Pets in Pennsylvania are no different from a table or an automobile.  Can you believe it?

  Ownership of an animal can be established by possession, by a sales receipt, by a bill of sale, or another type of transfer document such as the record of birth from another owned animal.  Breeders are now inserting a micro chip in the ear of the pet which, when triggered, would identify the original owner.   

  In order to hold a pet owner liable for the actions of a pet, the claimant must prove that the owner was negligent.  A plaintiff must show that the dog had unmistakable vicious tendencies and that the owner knew or should have known these tendencies.  The "one free bite rule" is not accepted as a defense in civil cases in Pennsylvania.  There exists a "Pennsylvania Dog Law" which contains other statutory rules and requirements pertaining to injuries and damages inflicted by dogs.  This Act provides for fines and penalties up to one year of imprisonment.  The provisions of this Act are beyond the scope of our limited review.

  There are  pet owners who desire to provide for long-term care for their pet if the animal survives the owner.  Unfortunately, a valid trust cannot be established under Pennsylvania law.  Under basic trust law, a trust does not exist unless it has a trustee, assets, and a beneficiary.  Because a pet is considered personal property in Pennsylvania, a pet does not qualify as a proper beneficiary of a trust. 

  As a part of our estate practice, we recommend to our clients that they establish a durable power of attorney to provide for continuous care and comfort if a person becomes incompetent, and a healthcare power of attorney to provide for matters concerning life support.   Although a pet cannot be a beneficiary of a trust, a pet owner may give a power of attorney to another person.  Provisions in a power of attorney relative to authorizing the agent to make decisions with respect to the custody and preservation, and the money for food, veterinary costs, and upkeep, should be enforceable.  Upon death of the owner, the power of attorney could provide for transfer of ownership of the pet.

  Pets are becoming increasingly involved in conflicts between parties who are divorcing.  Recognizing the concept that pets are personal property, the courts in Pennsylvania generally will not enforce an agreement between a husband and wife as to the "custody" of a pet.  Courts will not enforce shared custody agreements and may not undertake to award title to a pet to one of the divorcing litigants.  If one spouse escapes with the family dog in breach of an agreement, the courts probably will not act.  This area of law is in flux, however.

  It is a felony of the third degree if a person willfully and maliciously kills a pet.  It is a misdemeanor of the first degree if a person willfully and maliciously kills, maims, tortures or poisons a dog or cat.   It is a felony of the third degree if a person maintains animal fighting or receives money for animal fighting, or owns, possesses, keeps, trains and promotes and knowingly sells an animal for animal fighting.  It is a felony of the third degree to wager on the outcome of an animal fight.

  Pennsylvania has adopted the Dog Purchaserís Protection Act, otherwise known as the "Puppy Lemon Law."  The seller of an animal is required to provide both a health record and either an affirmation of good health supplied by the seller himself, or a health certificate issued by a veterinarian.   The seller is required to post a copy of the health records of the animal and to provide the purchaser with written notice setting forth the consumer's rights under this Act.  If the seller is advertising a registered or registerable animal, the seller is required to provide other information, such as the breederís name and address, the name and registration number of the dam and sire, and the name and address of the pedigree registration organization where the dam and sire are registered. 

  In order to seek relief from the Puppy Lemon Law, the purchaser must obtain verification from a veterinarian that the animal was unfit for purchase as a result of a clinical illness or death occurring from any contagious disease, infection or similar illness.  The examination must be conducted within 10 days of purchase.  The  purchaser has the ability to return the animal for a complete refund, return the animal for a comparable replacement of equal value, or retain the animal and receive reimbursement for reasonable veterinarian fees.

  Pennsylvania's pet laws are undergoing change in two particularly two areas: in divorce cases and in the treatment of pets who survive their owners.  We will keep you advised of developments in this unusual field of law.

- Mike Beausang



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