Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

Leave a comment

Do I Have To Keep My Dog On Leash?

The legal answer:  probably, and you had best check state and local laws very carefully.  The realistic answer:  even if you can let your dog off leash, ask yourself very candidly whether you should. 

Some states have statewide leash laws, and some allow localities to pass their own form of leash laws.  For a great overview of leash laws across the country, take a look at Michigan State University’s Overview of State Dog Leash Laws on its College of Law Historical and Legal Animal Center site

Here in Virginia, there is no statewide leash law or prohibition of dogs running at large.  But Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503 requires all owners to provide their companion animals with adequate space.  For a tethered dog, the definition of “adequate space” found in Section 3.2-6500 requires the tether to be at least three times the length of the animal, measured from the tip of the dog’s nose to the base of its tail, unless the dog is being walked on leash or is attached to a lead line.

Virginia Code Section 3.2-6538 allows localities to prohibit dogs from running at large, and Section 3.2-6539 allows localities to pass leash laws.  Localities typically prohibit dogs from running at large.   Local leash laws vary greatly – so much so that this will be the topic of another blog post.

For now, one good example of how a Virginia locality has chosen to handle leash laws is found in Alexandria.  Alexandria’s City Code Section 5-7-32 prohibits dogs running at large.  Section 5-7-33 prohibits dog owners from allowing their dogs to run at large, and allows the City Manager to charge the owner fees to cover the cost of capturing a dog at large. 

Section 5-7-33.1 clarifies that dogs are not to run at large even in public parks, unless the park is designated as an off-leash dog exercise area.  To learn more about Alexandria’s dog parks and the applicable rules and regulations, take a look at this Dog Owner’s Guide to Enjoying the Parks of Alexandria.  Be warned — not all “off-leash” dog parks are fully enclosed. 

Section 5-7-35 requires dogs to be under “physical restraint” when off of the owner’s property.  “Physical restraint” requires “a leash, lead or other means of physical restraint which leash, lead or other means of physical restraint is not harmful or injurious to the dog and which is held by a responsible person capable of physically restraining the dog.”  [Check out this post if you are curious about whether an electronic collar qualifies as “physical restraint.”]  The only exceptions to this physical restraint requirement are on private property with the permission of the property owner, or in a designated dog exercise area.

In 2010, Alexandria expanded on its leash laws by passing an anti-tethering ordinance.   That ordinance prohibits a dog from being tethered for longer than three hours a day, or longer than a twelve hours a day if on an acceptable running cable line or trolley system.

Even if you could let your dog run off leash, you should realistically ask yourself whether you should.  Leash laws exist for very good reasons, not the least of which is safety – yours, your dog’s and others’.  Even if your dog is friendly, your dog may come across a fearful, reactive or aggressive dog.  It is unfair to put the owner and the dog in such a position.  Telling the owner not to worry because your dog is friendly won’t change anything.  If your dog gets into a confrontation and the other dog initiates aggressive behavior, if your dog bites the other dog or an intervening person, you will be the one facing dangerous dog proceedings.

It takes only a second for something tragic to happen.  Consider this dog, who was off leash and shot by law enforcement when he approached an officer and his K-9 dog. While the officer may have been able to take steps short of shooting the dog in this case, it would have never happened had the owner kept his dog on leash.

1 Comment

Come Say Hi At The Super Pet Expo And Try Your Luck With Bean Kinney Raffles

I hope you make it to the Super Pet Expo this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Chantilly, Virginia!  If you do, please stop by Bean Kinney’s booth (Booth #721) to say hi!

Here are some more details about the great raffles we’re going to have.  Most importantly, all proceeds from these raffles will be donated to rescues — Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, A Forever Home Rescue Foundation and Rescue Ink

Tickets will be $2 each, or 3 for $5.  The drawings will be held at the Super Pet Expo at 4:00 PM on Sunday.  You don’t need to be present, but we will require your name and email address and/or phone number on the raffle tickets — solely so that we can contact the winners. 

Raffle #1 (Protect Your Mark! ) includes: 

  • A free intellectual property assessment and preliminary trademark availability search and report for a lucky business or not for profit organization, by my colleague, Alain Lapter (the winner will need to clear a conflict check with Bean, Kinney & Korman, P.C.)
  • A one year subscription to NOVADog Magazine
  • Premier dog toys from Cooperative Paws
  • A gift certificate for a three-month Treat of the Month Club from Karing by Kristina and Barkley Square, and yummy Barkley Square goodies

Raffle #2 (Plan for Your Pal!) includes:

  • A free pet trust for one companion animal from my colleague Jennifer Lee and me (limited to individuals in Maryland, DC and Virginia — winner will need to clear a conflict check with Bean, Kinney & Korman, PC)
  • Awkward Family Photo book
  • Dog training phone consultation with Opportunity Barks
  • Premier dog toys from Cooperative Paws
  • A gift certificate for one free weekend of pet care from Karing by Kristina, and Barkley Square goodies

Raffle #3 (Weekend in Woodbridge)

  • A weekend of cageless boarding and spoiling for your dog pal with the Pawkeepers in Woodbridge, Virginia
  • A dog training phone consultation with Opportunity Barks
  • Premier dog toys from Cooperative Paws
  • OS Cloud Star Sticky Trainers from Operation Socialization
  • Barkley Square goodies

Raffle #4 (Train, Baby, Train!  Puppy Package)

  • Gift certificate for puppy classes with Operation Socialization certified Alison Coates and K to 9 Dog Training
  • $50 gift certificate from Fur-Get Me Not (good for daycare, boarding, dog walking, pet sitting or training)
  • Premier dog toys from Cooperative Paws
  • OS Cloud Star Sticky Trainers from Operation Socialization
  • Barkley Square goodies

Raffle #5 (Train, Baby, Train!  Adult Dog Package)

  • Gift certificate for dog training classes with K to 9 Dog Training
  • $50 gift certificate from Fur-Get Me Not (good for daycare, boarding, dog walking, pet sitting or training)
  • Premier dog toys from Cooperative Paws
  • OS Cloud Star Sticky Trainers from Operation Socialization
  • Barkley Square goodies

Warmest thanks to those who generously donated items to the raffles, including The Pawkeeepers, K to 9 Dog TrainingFur-Get Me Not, Opportunity Barks, NOVADog Magazine, Cooperative Paws, Operation Socialization, Karing by Kristina, and Barkley Square!

Hope to see you this weekend!

Leave a comment

Super Pet Expo Preview and Pet Trusts

Don’t forget to stop by the Super Pet Expo this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Chantilly, Virginia!  Bean Kinney will be in Booth #721 (note this is a slight change from our original location).  We’ll have great giveaways and raffles, including a raffle dedicated to this post on pet trusts — one free pet trust for one lucky companion animal!   Another raffle will include a free intellectual property/trademark consultation for a business or rescue!  Please stop and say hello!

Other raffle donations include a relaxing weekend for your dog with The Pawkeeepers in Woodbridge, Virginia, a gift certificate from Fur-Get Me Not, training phone consultations with Opportunity Barks, a one-year subscription to NOVADog Magazine, toys from Cooperative Paws, and goodies from Operation Socialization!

All proceeds from our raffle will be donated to three fantastic rescues — Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, A Forever Home Rescue Foundation (my Sophie’s rescue!), and Rescue Ink!  All three rescues will have booths at the Super Pet Expo, too, so stop by and make friends!

As a preview to our raffles, please enjoy the following article regarding pet trusts by me and my colleague, Jennifer Lee, and courtesy of NOVADog Magazine.

This post was originally printed in the recent edition of NOVADog Magazine and is reprinted with permission by NOVADog Magazine.

Provisions For Pets:  How To Include Four-Legged Family Members In Your Estate Planning

Just last year, forlorn family members brought Bonnie, a five-year-old Golden Retriever mix, to a local shelter.  Bonnie’s owner had just died, and the family wasn’t able to keep her.  Bonnie was very lucky – she was adopted by one of the shelter veterinarians the very same day she went up for adoption. 

Not all dogs are as lucky as Bonnie.  The Humane Society of the United States estimates that animal shelters across the country care for six to eight million animals a year, and approximately three to four million are euthanized each year.  These numbers are down drastically from the 1970s, when 12 to 20 million animals were euthanized each year, but we still have a long way to go.  One way to avoid this unfortunate scenario is to provide for your pets in your estate planning. 

Beyond Leaving Money to Your Pet

Many people scoff at the idea of including pets in their estate plans, pointing to stories such as billionaire New York City hotel operator Leona Helmsley.  When Helmsley – nicknamed the “Queen of Mean” – died in 2007 at the age of 87, she left a $12 million trust to care for her ill-tempered Maltese, Trouble.  Of her $4 billion estate, Helmsley left $5 million in cash and $10 million in trust to her brother, and $5 million in cash and $5 million in trust to two of her four grandchildren.  Helmsley cut the other two grandchildren out completely.

Not surprisingly, the family filed suit, and the court cut Trouble’s trust from $12 million to $2 million.  That $2 million goes towards annual costs of $60,000 for the caregiver’s guardian fee, $8,000 for grooming, $1,200 for food and $100,000 for full time security.  Apparently, Trouble needed security after having received multiple death threats.

Planning for your pets is about much more than just leaving money to your pampered pooch.  If you fall ill or are in an accident, everyone around you will be devastated and may not think about your pets.  In that situation, your pets need immediate care, and your loved ones need guidance.  The better you plan, the easier it will be for your grief-stricken relatives and friends to help.

Recent changes in estate law and the manner in which courts view pets have made planning for the future easier.  The following are a few of the tools you can use to plan for the care of your pet.  Because of differences in state law and the considerations unique to each pet owner and pet, it is recommended that you consult an attorney to determine the best tool for your particular situation.

Your Will

 Some pet owners make provisions for the care of their pet in their will.  However, a will has several drawbacks – it can take a long time to probate a will, or someone may contest it.  Your wishes may not be put into effect until the conflict is resolved or a court may refuse to enforce your instructions.  Additionally, a will is only effective upon your death.

Power of Attorney

Should you become incapacitated, a power of attorney with special provisions for your pet can be very useful.  Those provisions should authorize your agent to care for your pet and spend your money for your pet’s care.  You can also give your agent the power to place the pet with a long-term caregiver if necessary.  However, a power of attorney is only effective while you are alive.

Pet Trusts

Perhaps the best option is to have a power of attorney along with a pet trust.  A pet trust is a legally enforceable method to arrange for the care and maintenance of your pet in the event you become incapacitated or die.  Depending on the laws of the state in which a pet trust is established, a pet trust can continue for the life of your pet or 21 years, or whichever occurs first. 

One of the most important decisions is to designate a trustee of your pet trust.  The trustee will hold, manage, and administer the trust funds according to the terms of the trust.  You must also decide who will be the pet’s caregiver on a day-to-day basis.  It is crucial to name someone who is willing and able to take on this duty.  You should name alternate trustees and pet caregivers in the event the original trustee or caregiver becomes unable to serve in their respective functions for whatever reason.

In a pet trust, you can be as specific as you wish about the care of your pet.  Consider the standard of living you want your pet to have, and the type of care that your pet is to receive.  You can specify your preferred brand of pet food, veterinarians, walking/exercising instructions, training, behavior concerns, and other special instructions.  For instance, when owner Ken Kemper of Hagerstown, Maryland died several years ago, Kemper left $400,000 and his house to his three rescues – a beagle and two lab mixes named Buckshot, Katie and Obu-Jet.  He also left instructions that the dogs were to have a special weekly dinner.  The dogs’ caretaker continues Kemper’s tradition of a Friday night spaghetti dinner, complete with meatballs and garlic bread.

How Much is Enough?

Determining what sums are reasonable for your pet’s care is important so that you can fund the trust appropriately.  Expenses to be considered include food, housing, medical care, and grooming.

As with Leona Helmsley, courts will not hesitate to scale back a pet trust that is out of line with the amount someone has left for their loved ones.  The amount you should leave in a trust for the care of your pets must factor in not only the size of your overall estate, but also the needs and age of your pets. 

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a detailed breakdown of pet care costs at   The ASPCA estimates annual costs for a small dog at $1,314, for a medium dog at $1,580 and for a large dog at $1,843. 

Paul Sullivan, a writer with the New York Times, recently wrote an article entitled “Animal Lovers, Beware of Ownership Costs,” questioning the ASPCA’s numbers as being far too low.  Sullivan includes many stories about pet costs that far exceed the ASPCA’s estimates.  One story was about Moose, a Labrador retriever who needed to have a sock surgically removed from his stomach – to the tune of $6,000 in vet bills.  As Sullivan mentions, many of us pay far more than the ASPCA’s estimates in just dog walking and doggie daycare costs.

When thinking about how much to leave for your dog, as well as a possible option for a back-up caregiver, consider the various veterinary schools with programs designed for long-term care of pets.  Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has a privately funded program called The Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center.  There is an enrollment fee of $1,000 and a minimum endowment requirement based on the age of the owner at the time of enrollment (currently between $10,000 and $50,000 if the endowment is paid at the time of enrollment, or between $50,000 and $100,000 if the endowment is made by bequest).  Other veterinary schools with similar programs include University of California-Davis, Oklahoma State University, the University of Minnesota, Kansas State University and Purdue University.  These programs generally seek contributions or endowments in the range of $25,000 to $30,000 for one dog.

No Time Like the Present!

Bonnie was very fortunate that she found someone right away to care for her.  But not all dogs in her situation are as lucky.  With careful estate planning, you can give your loved ones the guidance they need to provide for your pets in the unfortunate event of your death or incapacitation.  There is no time like the present to get your estate planning in order – for you and your pets!


Who Gets The Dog? Whitmore v. Whitmore

Scott and Barbara Whitmore got married in 2002.  They had no children, but they did adopt a Welsh Corgi puppy from a local pet store in 2006.  They paid $750 for the Corgi, Noel, and registered her with the American Kennel Club under both of their names.  Scott and Barbara both worked, and both contributed to Noel’s care, training and maintenance. 

In 2009, the Whitmores separated.  The house they had lived in was Barbara’s property prior to the marriage.  Barbara stayed in the house, and Scott moved out.  Noel stayed with Barbara for the most part, with Scott taking her on and off during the first year of separation.  Barbara believed the dog would stay with her ultimately, but Scott thought Noel would stay with Barbara during the separation, and that they would share Noel afterwards.

Barbara worked from home, but traveled for work four to six days a month.  When she was out of town, she employed a pet care service for $350 or so a month to take care of Noel.  Barbara no longer wanted to share Noel with Scott, claiming he destroyed the marriage by having an affair, and that she no longer wanted Scott in her life.

During the divorce proceedings in Loudoun County Circuit Court, Barbara argued that Scott gave her Noel as a gift.  Scott testified that he saw Noel at the pet store, and they went together to buy the dog, making the transaction a “joint purchase.”  Both Scott and Barbara testified that they loved Noel, considered her to be a family member, and shared a strong bond with her.

Barbara claimed she usually took Noel to the veterinarian, and that she visited Noel several times a day when Noel was hospitalized for five days.  Scott said he did not visit Noel when she was hospitalized, for fear of getting Noel excited while she was ill.  Barbara claimed that she paid Noel’s that $4,000 vet bill, and most of Noel’s other vet bills, except when Scott took her to the vet once or twice.  Scott testified that he paid the $4,000 bill.

Barbara argued she should be able to keep Noel.  Scott argued that he should have Noel, or that the court should award shared possession and establish a visitation schedule.  Judge Horne ruled that Virginia Code Section 20-107.3, which deals with equitable distribution of property, governed the case.  Judge Horne found that both Scott and Barbara contributed to Noel’s purchase and maintenance, and both played a significant role in Noel’s life.  But Noel stayed with Barbara, and Judge Horne felt it was “ill-advised” to set up visitation or shared custody of a “marital asset.”  Judge Horne awarded Noel to Barbara, and awarded $750 to Scott so that he could get a dog “of like kind.”

Scott appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing that Judge Horne failed to consider and weigh all of the necessary factors – such his monetary and nonmonetary contributions in getting and maintaining Noel, and that Noel is a living , sentient being rather than an inanimate possession.

The Court of Appeals summarily affirmed the trial court in a recent unpublished opinion, agreeing that Section 20-107.3 governed.  Under that section, the court has to first determine property is marital, separate, or a hybrid.  Next, the court has to value the property.  Last, the court has to distribute the property equitably. 

The Court of Appeals had no problems with Judge Horn’s application of Section 20-107.3.  Regarding the inquiry of whether Noel should be considered marital or separate property, or a hybrid, the judges agreed with Judge Horne’s conclusion that Noel was “marital property,” based on the facts that Noel was a gift “between the parties,” was registered with the AKC in both of their names, and that both Scott and Barbara played significant roles in Noel’s life. 

Regarding valuation, the judges concluded that Judge Horne considered the necessary factors and the unique circumstances of this case.  On the record, Judge Horne struggled with placing a value on Noel, finding that Noel had a unique “intrinsic value,” and did not “in any way want to minimize the significance of a pet in a person’s life.” 

Regarding distribution, the judges found no abuse of discretion in awarding Noel to Barbara and $750 to Scott.  The Court of Appeals found no error in refusing to set up joint custody or a visitation schedule for a pet.  In fact, the judges went out of their way to cite Virginia Code Section 3.2-6585 in a footnote, to support their position that does are “personal property” under Virginia law.

Linguistically and legally, the Court of Appeals’ decision is an interesting read.  The judges go to great lengths in their delivery and vocabulary to make it clear that Noel is nothing more than property.  They refer to Noel as “the dog” throughout the entire opinion, never even using her name or even her gender.  Instead of saying the Whitmores adopted Noel, they use the word “acquired.”  Instead of saying Scott had custody of her during the separation, they say he had “possession” of her.

This isn’t the first time the Court of Appeals of Virginia was faced with a fight over who gets the dog in a divorce.  In the 2004 unpublished opinion of Conahan-Baltzelle v. Baltzelle, the Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s application of Section 20-107.3 and decision to award the husband possession of the couple’s German Shepherd.

Obviously, Virginia is nowhere near other states like Maryland in its readiness to give companion animals a better legal position than mere property.  At least one Maryland trial court has granted shared custody of the family dog, treating the dog more like a child by weighing the best interests of the dog.  A civil case pending in Frederick County Circuit Court involving deputies shooting a family dog may give us further guidance on the legal status of companion animals in Maryland.

Leave a comment

Thanks To Sara Coolidge And Veterinarian Colleges For Acknowledging Animal Advocacy Blogs!

Sara Coolidge created the website/blog Veterinarian Colleges as a place to go to find answers to questions about how to become a veterinarian.  But her site doesn’t stop there.  She also blogs about such topics as animal welfare, animal rights and zoo reform. 

Sara just pulled together the top blogs on animal advocacy in a great post called “We All Have Rights:  The Top 45 Animal Advocacy Blogs.”  Many thanks to Sara and Veterinarian Colleges for including the Companion Animal Law Blog in the category for Animal Rights Law blogs!

Kudos to Sara for taking so seriously her oath as a veterinarian — which now includes animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering!