What is Animal Law?

The question, “What is animal law?” has become increasingly popular, both in the pet-owner and legal worlds. Inquirers are often surprised to find that this area has been on the rise for years. With approximately one in every two households in North America sharing their home with a cat or dog, this development comes as no surprise.

In a nutshell, animal law deals with how the law relates to, or impacts, animals and their guardians. Although animal law cases typically involve domesticated animals, such as cats and dogs, this area can apply to other species of animals, ranging from birds to lizards to horses. In fact, there is an entire sub-category of animal law for horses called Equine law! Animal law encompasses companion animals, as well as wildlife, animals used for entertainment, those raised for food and research, and animals used in professional settings such as the horse racing industry.

One of the unique things about animal law is that it combines several different legal areas and deals with issues that can affect even the most diligent pet guardian. Examples of when an owner may need to retain a lawyer include the following situations: alleged dog bite incidents, veterinary negligence claims, determining what will happen to a pet upon the death of their owner, establishing pets in wills, insurance claims, breed discrimination, condominium disputes, and so much more.

An example of breed discrimination is the Pit Bull Ban, which came into effect in Ontario in 2005. The implementation of this law means that if a dog in Ontario is found to be a “pit bull” or has “substantially similar” characteristics, unless the owner can prove otherwise, the dog can be relocated out of the province, or worse, euthanized. In cases like these, a lawyer can assist in contesting the “breed” determination that has been made and/or fight to ensure that the dog is not seized.

Another situation in which pet guardians may require legal assistance is in pet custody disputes. According to an American study, more than fifty percent of pet parents would prefer the company of their pet to that of a human if they were stranded on a desert island. In fact, a San Diego court case gained fame in 2000, due to the two-year custody battle and over $100,000.00 in legal fees spent by a divorcing couple over a Pointer Greyhound dog named Gigi. These custody disputes are not restricted to marriage. Courts have dealt with pet custody cases between family members, former partners, boyfriends and girlfriends and even roommates. In Canada, pet custody disputes typically arise when one guardian claims the other gave the pet to them as a gift. Although Canadian courts were originally dismissive of such claims, the tides are beginning to change as more pet-related cases are brought forward. In these cases, it is important to have legal representation with lawyers with expertise in animal law to properly assist in the custody determinations of people’s beloved animals.

Although pets are still treated as property in the eyes of the law, there is a consensus amongst both animal advocates and legal practitioners that this needs to change. To many guardians, pets are as important as children and as society’s values change, animals are increasingly being viewed as sentient. It is imperative that legal guardians are made aware of their legal rights and obligations associated with pet ownership to ensure the well being of their companions.

Gartner & Associates has specialized knowledge to assist you with your animal law concern. You can schedule a consultation to discuss your legal concern with our legal team.


Animal Law has many aspects. The links below lead to discussions of common issues and of the expertise Gartner & Associates can offer you if you are facing such issues.

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