Your pets and the law

The following information was discussed by Attorney Whitney Hughes on the May 8, 2007 edition of Legal Briefs on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live Show.

In Pennsylvania, pets are viewed as personal property, therefore you may not be able to file a claim for loss of companionship, emotional distress, or things of that nature. You may only be able to recover the market value of the pet.

My veterinarian may have injured my pet. What can I do?

Veterinarians are not a class of specialist covered by state malpractice statutes.

If you feel that your veterinarian has injured your pet, you may file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of State (the agency that licenses veterinarians) on-line at or by calling them at 1-800-822-2113 to have a complaint form sent to you

My pet has run away and has been taken to an animal control facility. How can I get him back?

ACT QUICKLY!! The first 1-2 days are the most critical when you lose your pet.

State law requires animal control facilities only hold a stray or lost dog without a current license for 48 hours. After that, they are free to place the dog for adoption or euthanize it. Cats have no protection and can be euthanized immediately.

If a dog has a license (keep in mind all dogs three months of age or older are required to be licensed), the facility will attempt to locate the owner, but if it cannot do that or you abandon your dog, the facility is free to place or euthanize the dog after the waiting period.

Make sure your pet is licensed and if possible have them micro-chipped.

Animal bites — Rights and Responsibilities

The general rule of thumb is that you are responsible for any cost of medical treatment if your pet injures someone without provocation.

For dog bites, the victim is entitled to file a complaint with the local magistrate to have you charged with harboring a dangerous dog. To succeed, the victim needs only to prove that the dog has injured someone or another animal, and that it has a history of attacking or a propensity to attack.

The victim may also file a claim against your homeowners insurance policy as well.

Make sure you disclose the type of dog you have to your insurance carrier, as well as the number of dogs you have. You may pay an increased insurance premium, but it is worth it to ensure that you are covered in the event a claim is made.

How can I avoid losing my pet in the event of a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina?

Keep in mind that emergency shelters and/or temporary housing facilities are not required to take animals.

Planning is EVERYTHING!! Have a disaster emergency plan and make others aware of it.

Essentials to have:

  • A family member, friend, or associate who is willing to take your pet in the event you are facing an emergency and have to evacuate, or the number of pet friendly hotels/motels in a safe area
  • Current license and vaccination tags
  • Contact numbers for your vet
  • An emergency kit with leash/harness or carrier, and enough food, water, and medicine for several days

If you need to speak to an attorney, call our Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555.