Starting at the Source
While federal law governs the handling, care, and sale of research animals as well as international import and export, pet adoption is covered mostly by state, county, or city statutes. And while you could go scouring the books at your local library or government office, you could also use the online, searchable database from the Animal Law Resource Center. Their list of state and federal statutes covers everything from the Endangered Species Act (for you exotic pet enthusiasts) to companion animals (for need-based animal adoption).
State regulations on pet sales and adoptions will generally fall into four categories: disclosure requirements, animal/breed restrictions, “lemon laws,” and warranties and sales agreements. And state statutes in these four areas can vary significantly.
State Pet Adoption Laws
Adoption Disclosure Requirements
Generally speaking, anyone selling animals as pets must disclose facts about the animal’s age, health, and ownership history, and they may be required to provide information about immunizations, medications, and veterinary treatments. For instance, Ohio mandates that any pet seller inform a prospective buyer if the animal has ever attacked or attempted to attack a person, and California requires pet retailers to provide pet buyers with a written form documenting the animal’s entire medical history.
Animal and Breed Restrictions
While some states, like California, ban wild animals from being kept as pets entirely, other states limit exotic pet ownership to certain animals. Arizona bans non-domestic canines and felines like wolves and bobcats, as well as poisonous snakes, while Florida allows howler monkeys, macaques, wolves, bobcats, and even cougars to be kept as pets with a permit. (There may also be specific city and county laws barring the sale or ownership of certain dog breeds.)
Pet Lemon Laws
Just like statutes that protect consumers who purchase dud automobiles, there are 14 states that have pet lemon laws that allow consumers who purchased an unhealthy animal to return the animal for a refund, exchange, and/or reimbursement for applicable veterinary costs. New York gives pet buyers 14 days to report infectious disease or hereditary defects
Adoption Warranties and Sales Agreements
For those states without pet lemon laws or disclosure requirements, buyers may want to consider adding a warranty or sales agreement on to the adoption. Adopters can ask for documentation supporting any claims about a pet’s medical history, heredity, or training, as well conditions if the animal is determined to be unhealthy within a specified amount of time after the adoption.
If you need help finding the pet adoptions laws in your state, or have specific questions about an adoption, contact an experienced attorney near you.