Pet law deals with how the law relates to, or impacts, animals and their guardians. Although pet law cases typically involve cats and dogs, this area applies to other companion animals, including birds, rabbits, and horses etc.  Additionally, the broader term of “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. With approximately one in every two households in North America sharing their home with a dog or cat, there is no doubt this is an important area of law that is rapidly evolving.

Pet law combines several different legal areas and deals with issues that can affect even the most diligent pet owner. Examples of when an owner might need to retain a pet lawyer include:  pet custody disputes, alleged dog bite incidents, veterinary negligence claims, damages claims for the wrongful death or injury to their pet, breeder disputes, wills/estate matters for surviving pets, housing disputes with “no pets” or size restrictions, breed discrimination, and more.

For example, a situation in which pet guardians may require legal assistance is in pet custody disputes of divorcing or separating couples. However, these types of 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 these cases, it is important to have legal representation assist in the custody determinations of these beloved companions. In Canada, courts were originally dismissive of such claims however the tides are beginning to change as more pet related cases are litigated.

Mediation of pet disputes is an alternative to litigation that is more cost-effective, less time consuming, and pet mediators will consider the ‘best interest’ of the pet, can craft a pet custody agreement with the parties that leaves them more satisfied and often results in an amicable resolution rather than leave the decision of the pet custody dispute solely to the courts.

Although pets are treated as property in the eyes of the law, most pet owners would agree they are integral members of families. In fact, there is growing recognition of pets as sentient beings rather than property in the law as Quebec recently passed legislation which states that “animals are not things. They are sentient beings and have biological needs.” However, as long as the law in Ontario and other provinces continues to treat pets as property, guardians need to know their legal rights and obligations associated with pet ownership to ensure the well-being and protection of their beloved companions.


Suzana Gartner

Gartner & Associates Animal Law

Sam Galway

Summer Student



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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