Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

So How Many Companion Animals Can I Have?


There has been a surge of cases involving animal rescuers turned hoarders, and Virginia is no exception.  Recent cases have revealed hundreds of animals on a single person’s property, or dozens and dozens of animals living in a single townhouse.  People who criticize this type of animal hoarder need only point to often atrocious conditions that the animals live in and suffer through.  Nonetheless, these hoarders often have loyal supporters, who think they are saints whose “hearts are in the right places.”

But this begs the question of how many animals the law allows a person to have.  Once you take on a certain number of animals, you are limited by the type of housing you have, as well as the amount of time and money that you have to dedicate to your companion animals.  As the saying goes in The Little Prince, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

First and foremost, Virginia law requires you to provide adequate food, water, shelter, space, exercise, care and veterinary care for each companion animal.  [For more on this, see my previous post, So What Are My Responsibilities as a Pet Owner?]

Foster homes for rescues are governed by Virginia Code Section 3.2-6550, which sets a fifty-animal limits for foster homes.  [Shockingly, the penalty for violating this law is only a $250 civil fine!]  If you are a foster, be aware that you do not automatically have the right to keep up to fifty animals in your home.  You still need to comply with zoning laws and other laws in your local jurisdiction, which will likely have a much more stringent limit on the number of animals you can keep.

Take a look at these examples.  Arlington County and the City of Alexandria allow residents to have three dogs, but require a kennel license for any additional dogs.  If you would like more information, consult Section 2-12 of the Arlington County Code and Section 5-7-57 of the City of Alexandria CodeFairfax County residents can have two dogs on any sized lot, and additional dogs based on minimum lot sizes.  But Article 20 of Fairfax County’s Zoning Ordinance will start to consider your property as a kennel if “dogs are kept in numbers greater than ten (10) per 40,000 square feet,” or if the lot constitutes a “place or establishment in which dogs are kept, trained, boarded or handled for a fee.”  Prince William County requires kennel licenses for households with more than four dogs.

Author: Heidi Meinzer

Attorney and Animal Lover, not necessarily in that order

5 thoughts on “So How Many Companion Animals Can I Have?

  1. Great post. Los Angeles has recently been entertaining raising the limit from 3 to 5 dogs I think. I hope that doesn’t happen. As a trainer, I find my clients have just about enough trouble dealing with 3 or less.

    • Agreed! Let alone when you factor in the cost for vet bills, proper socialization and training, etc…. The dynamics of more than two or three dogs can be well beyond the average person’s ability to handle. Although getting a kennel license is a pain in the neck, it’s a good mechanism to make people think before they get that fourth dog. I can’t imagine a limit of five in an urban setting like L.A.!

    • The problem is that there are some people who ARE able to handle either having more than 3 themselves, or fostering more than that, and laws like this punish them and/or prevent them from helping more animals. I’m not talking about hoarding, but about having 5-8 well cared for animals. I would rather see laws that speak to the conditions that must be met to have ANY animals, and then go after violations, rather than a generic law that is a one-size-fits-all approach. I have lived in both urban (San Francisco) and semi-rural (currently in Placerville, CA) environments, and with the right group of dogs, I *could* handle between 6 and 8 comfortably. Currently, I have a kennel license and have 2 dogs of my own plus dogs I board and/or train; because of zoning restraints I’m still limited to 5 including my own, despite my 3 acre property with excellent fencing, large home, years of experience and training, careful assessment of who can stay here, and full-time devotion to dog care. In San Francisco, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to get a kennel license, and most urban settings are the same, so that is not even an option.

      • Definitely good points, Eden! It can be incredibly difficult to get a kennel license around here (Northern Virginia) also. Where I live is very urban, but it doesn’t take long to get out far enough in the neighboring counties to own a good sized piece of property. Some of the best trainers around have four or five dogs, which is great when they work with clients, for instance, who have reactive dogs. I agree that the analysis should be different for a professional like you versus the ordinary pet owner. I think that local jurisdictions tend to be pretty flexible with rescues and fosters, in deference to the work they do and the fact that the foster dogs’ stay is (hopefully) very brief.

  2. Pingback: Happy New Year! Looking Back at 10 Posts from 2010 « Companion Animal Law Blog

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