ANIMALS and THE LAW

Animal Law

Shelby Clark Law helps people throughout California, both businesses and individuals, with issues involving animals and the law. These include dog bites, service dogs and emotional support animals, animal businesses and organizations, animal control authorities, life planning and animals, and more.

Because I represent people on both sides of many issues, I understand the different perspectives and can craft solutions that anticipate the other side’s arguments. I also write and speak publicly on several animal law issues. My work entails everything from drafting a policy on emotional support animals for a Homeowners’ Association to litigating against a dangerous-dog designation to helping set up a dogwalking business or a nonprofit cat rescue group.

Animal law involves many kinds of legal issues, because animals and their relationships to people arise in many contexts: as property, they may be bought or sold, included in wills, or cared for by trusts; if they help an individual, that person may have civil rights to have them present; they can be a threat to the public, as a vicious dog or a disease vector; as wild animals, they are entitled to humane treatment and are a vital part of the environment.

Perhaps the most common interaction between animals and the law that’s serious enough to merit contacting an attorney occurs when a dog bites a person. I represent both dog owners and bite victims, and am familiar with the usual problems each side faces after such an incident, including fighting with insurance companies seeking to avoid their responsibility to the insured or the victim.

Another increasingly visible area of animal law involves service dogs and similar categories of animal. I have researched this area extensively and have spoken and written on it both in California and nationwide. Service dogs and emotional support animals are similar but distinct categories of animals that assist people with disabilities, and their owners, handlers or trainers have federal rights to keep them in, or bring them to, particular places. Therapy animals serve other people under the guidance of their owner or handler, but that person has no special rights under state or federal law. Other working animals are sometimes the subject of state law.

Animal control, animal welfare agencies, and various government regulatory bodies have different types of authority over animals. The most common local agency is the animal control department or county animal shelter – what used to be called the dog-catcher and the pound. At the state level, the Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Department of Food & Agriculture have ongoing mandates focused on animals, while various criminal statutes penalize animal abuse and related offenses. I have experience dealing with these bodies, including assisting county departments around the state with questions ranging from service dog licenses to feral cat colonies.

Because animals play such a large role in our lives, many people organize to meet related needs. This can involve starting a business to serve pet owners, setting up a cooperative or a foundation to care for pets that are in special need, or anything else that captures your imagination.

Finally, those of us for whom animals are a lifelong interest – whether in general, or our own pets – usually want to consider them in our end-of-life planning. If you have pets that may outlive you, I offer guidance on options to provide for their ongoing care. Another consideration is care for the other animals in our world, including pets, other domestic animals, and wildlife. I can help you find the right way to extend your legacy and give effect to your vision of how to keep making the world a better place for them.


For more information on the quality and experienced Animal Law advice and representation that Shelby Clark Law offers throughout California, please explore the following:

Dog Bites

Dog bites can result in serious injury, which in turn often entails serious medical bills and related costs, leading to a legal claim against the dog’s owner. I understand how dog bites occur, how serious they can be, and what legal options are available to both the person bitten and the dog’s owner. I also know how official agencies such as county animal control respond to a report of a dog bite, and how that legal process works.

If you’re bitten by a dog and it breaks your skin, seek immediate medical attention. Dog bites can easily become infected, so whether or not you get medical care, you should wash the site with soap and warm water. Also exchange contact information with the owner (if there is one) and contact the county’s animal services department (or if there is none, the sheriff’s office). If you decide not to get medical treatment, take a photograph of the injury and, if the county agency has an Animal Control Witness Statement, fill it out.

Dog bites often involve an owner and a victim who know one another, and may be friends or family. A skilled attorney will know how to ensure the person bitten is compensated, without hurting any relationship between the people. Dog bites are also an excellent reason to maintain adequate homeowners or renters insurance, and to check with your insurance company to be certain you’re covered for the risk!

If a dog bite causes serious injury, consult an attorney experienced in dog bite law. California has a statute, Civil Code section 3342, that makes dog owners strictly liable for injuries and other damages (such as lost income due to inability to work) caused if their dog bites someone. There are limitations on this law’s scope, however, and nuances that sometimes require research and the study of previous court decisions. An attorney should be willing to discuss the case with you for free, before you decide whether to hire them to help you.

Service Dogs & Emotional Support Animals

Animals that formally help people are getting increasing attention, both because more people are learning what they can do, and because more of them are visible around us every day. Legal issues arise for both owners and other people, and like many things animal-related they stir strong emotions, but there’s a great deal of confusion about the legal rights and responsibilities associated with them. I cut through that clutter and explain what the law is, and why. In addition to consulting for animal owners, businesses, landlords, and public agencies, I am happy to try cases in court or on appeal, either alone or together with other counsel.

An initial note: The terms I use here are not consistently used either in statutes, or by the general public. If you encounter confusion it’s often because the terms are being used without a solid definition.

Service dogs are ones that are individually trained to serve a person with a disability, and the work or task relates to that disability. (This definition is set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a federal law.) Thus there must first be a person who has a condition that legally qualifies as a disability (physical, mental, or emotional). Federal law establishes a baseline of what counts as a disability, but state law can – as California’s does – define more things as disability than strictly required by federal law. Because the dog must be individually trained to do the work or task, ordinary dog behaviors do not count, only ones that require training. Moreover, a dog in training is by definition not yet trained, and is outside the scope of federal (but not California) law. And because of a change in the law in 2011, animals other than dogs and miniature horses no longer can qualify as service animals under federal (or California) law.

Federal and state law provide various rights and protections to service dog owners or handlers. Most notably, these include the right to take the dog to most public places. If the dog is disruptive, causes damage, or breaks housetraining, whoever owns or controls the space can require the owner/handler to control the dog, or remove it. The owner of a service dog is still entitled to whatever goods or services are on offer, and the shopkeeper (for example) must offer to help the owner. It often helps to think of the dog as a type of medical equipment, and if it is causing problems, it’s like malfunctioning equipment. A leaking oxygen canister may be unsafe and need to be taken outside, but the person dependent on it is still entitled to remain if they’re able to.

Emotional support animals, or ESAs, are similar to service dogs in some ways. They help a person with an emotional or psychiatric disability, and whom a treating medical professional has decided might benefit from the presence and companionship of an untrained animal. The animal can be of any species, although with some, the practical benefits are limited. The federal legal rights are to have the ESA live in one’s home and bring it on commercial air flights. These rights are defined under the Fair Housing Act, the Air Carriers Access Act, and the enabling regulations for each, so they apply wherever those laws do. Notably, California law extends the Fair Housing Act to more housing situations than federal law does. In effect, only landlords who rent a single room inside their hose are not covered. Some jurisdictions, such as San Francisco, also provide more extensive rights to ESA owners; property owned by the City and County of San Francisco, and by their contractors, must allow ESAs even if they ban pets.

Other categories of similar animals exist, and the applicable rights are different than for service dogs and ESAs. These include therapy animals, search and rescue dogs, police K9s, and more. Please contact me if you have a specific situation where you’d like legal guidance.

Animal Business & Organizations

I serve both for-profit and non-profit entities that focus on animals. This includes all aspects of formation and operation, from choosing a legal entity through board management and daily operation, to litigation and succession planning. I understand the law, the business, and the motivations involved, so I can help find the best approaches to various legal problems and manage the different risks that arise.
My clients have included dog trainers, humane educators, public entities, animal rescue groups, and foundations that gather and dispense funding for humane purposes. I’ve reviewed leases, ensured reactivation of a defunct entity, guided the response to a rogue accountant, developed board policies, and drafted employment agreements. I have also served on the board of a service dog training non-profit. (For reasons of insurance and legal ethics I avoid being a board member and legal counsel for the same entity.)
For more details on my business law services, click here. For the time being, I offer discounted rates to animal-related businesses and non-profits, below my already competitive fees.

Animal Control Authorities

Shelby Clark Law has worked with county agencies throughout California on matters of assistance dog ID tags, the laws on service dogs and emotional support animals, feral cat colonies, and more. I understand animal shelters’ perspectives and obligations, and the restrictions they operate under. In April 2017 I presented at the annual conference of the California Animal Control Director’s Association regarding service dogs and shelters’ issuance of ID tags, a topic of widespread confusion.

Although public animal shelters and animal control agencies have access to counsel, I can often give a faster answer to animal law questions, and usually at lower cost for those that must pay fees for county counsel time. For simple questions that do not require fact-specific legal analysis, such as “where can I find a good form for X?”, I can sometimes offer suggestions at no cost whatsoever. For more substantial or contested matters I can work as outside counsel for an agency.

I also represent individuals against agencies, or where an animal control officer is a witness for the people, such as in a dangerous-dog hearing. My understanding of the process and each side’s underlying concerns around these matters helps me get better outcomes, and give clear guidance, for my clients.

Life Planning & Animals

The Law Office of Shelby Clark can help plan your estate to care for animals, whether your own pets or animals in general. Many people struggle with how to accommodate pets that may survive them, especially if the animal is elderly or ill and there isn’t a surviving spouse to provide care. Language can be added to a will or trust that establishes both who will initially care for pets and who will ultimately be their new owner (including an animal shelter or a haven), as well as providing dedicated funding for care and feeding if needed.

I can also provide guidance and draft documents to make bequests or set up animal-related trusts or foundations that center on animals other than your own pets: giving to an existing animal shelter or rescue, supporting wildlife or special kinds of animals, funding veterinary care for the needy, performing animal-related research, and more. Whatever you are passionate about can live on in your name, and continue to improve your community and the world.