Why Dog Limit Laws Are Bad For Dogs, America and Your Family

Posted on 04/02/2009

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Understanding the Limits on Limit Laws

Kelly Crouch

Limit laws place arbitrary limits on the number of animals that an individual may own or that can reside at a location. Sometimes limit laws will affect only one species, other laws place limits on the total number of animals regardless of species. These laws might be found in the animal control laws, land use laws, or regulations involving permits and licensing. Private restrictions such as rental agreements and homeowners associations can also restrict the number of animals and place other animal restrictions upon the renter/owner of the property.

            Introduced as a solution to the animal control woes of euthanasia in shelters, nuisance, abuse and neglect; limit laws are rarely effective and are frequently add to the problem they were intended to solve. More than half of all households own pets. Yet only a small percentage of households contribute to the problems seen by animal control.

            Limit laws attempts to address irresponsible pet ownership but fails miserably. An owner who is irresponsible will be irresponsible whether they own 10 pets or one. An abuser doesn’t need numbers to abuse. The laws are difficult and expensive to enforce. Certain limit laws have been struck down by courts but limiting the right to own animals has not been held illegal.

What Limit Laws Really Do

  • Artificially restricts the available homes for animals and deter adoptions increasing the imbalance between adoptable homes and homeless animals.
  • May add to the number of animals in shelters when owners must choose between their pets and breaking the law.
  • May force owners to avoid compliance with regulations and avoid taking their pets to veterinarians for vaccinations and treatment which is contrary to public safety concerns.
  • Eliminates the personal choice of people to determine how many animals they have and may remove their privacy as well.
  • Methods of enforcement can be expensive and invasive. If the law is enforced only by complaint, neighbor is turned against neighbor and such laws may be used to leverage a completely unrelated complaint between neighbors.
  • Unfairly treats responsible owners, rescuers and breeders by targeting all owners because of the actions of a small minority of pet owners.

What Limit Laws Don’t Accomplish

  • Eliminate the imbalance between available homes and adoptable animals in shelters.
  • Prevent hoarding which is caused by a psychological problem and unlikely to be cured by legislation.
  •  Prevent nuisances which is a responsible pet ownership problem. A wide variety of animals can be kept without creating a nuisance at all.
  • Prevent abuse. Abusers will find victims without respect to ownership issues.
  • Grandfather all violators. This is the choice of the jurisdiction implementing the laws and there is no guarantee of exemption of excess numbers existing prior to enactment of the limit law.

Effective Alternatives

  • Enhance and enforce animal controls laws, nuisance regulations and cruelty laws that require owners to treat others and animals in a respectable manner.
  • Develop and enforce leash and confinement laws to prevent or penalize roaming dogs.
  • Develop public education programs to teach people about the laws and responsible pet ownership.
  • Sentencing in the form of mandatory responsible pet ownership classes or community service at an animal shelter rather than fines.

Having effective, enforceable laws on the books is much more valuable than passing ineffective laws that merely give the appearance of a solution. Many effective alternatives are already laws on the books. Such laws usually just need beefing up to make them both effective and enforceable. Very few municipalities have the manpower and fiscal resources to effectively enforce limit laws. Ordinances that are not both effective and enforceable are failures.

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