Relating to the Ownership of Pets
We are seeing a trend among some states to require veterinarians to make certain disclosures when treating pets. In December of 2022, New York enacted Chapter 678 (Assembly Bill 4978 (“Buoy’s Law”)), which mandates veterinarians to provide certain information to animal owners regarding prescription drugs. In June of this year, New York also enacted Assembly Bill 6996/Senate Bill 7459, which clarified that the drug disclosure requirements applied to drugs initially prescribed to dogs, cats or rabbits used outside the office. Also in June, Texas signed into law House Bill 4069, which requires disclosing the cost of providing emergency medical care to an animal.
Although it died in committee, this session Rhode Island considered a bill (House Bill 5504) that would have included domestic pets as eligible to use medical marijuana, through an authorized person, if certified by a licensed veterinarian.
A number of states are passing or considering legislation regarding the regulation of pet insurance. Louisiana House Bill 579 was enacted on June 6 (takes effect January 1, 2024) and sets forth how pet insurance policies will be regulated in that state. Similarly, this spring Nebraska signed into law Legislature Bill 296 (also in effect January 1, 2024), the “Pet Insurance Act” that establishes regulatory standards for the pet insurance industry. Washington Senate Bill 5319 was enacted in April (takes effect on January 1, 2024), and establishes certain requirements for selling and issuing pet insurance, including use of defined terms and required disclosures. New Jersey is considering similar legislation (Assembly Bill 4942/Senate Bill 3327) that would create a comprehensive legal framework within which pet insurance may be sold. That bill passed the Assembly and is pending. Rhode Island House Bill 5832 would have established the same in that state, but the bill died in committee. Minnesota House Bill 780, which would require that pet insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions, was held over to the 2024 session.
Some states have advanced legislation seeking to prohibit breed-specific bans in contexts such as housing or homeowner/renter’s insurance policies. With regard to housing, Florida Senate Bill 942, enacted in June and effective on December 6, 2023, authorizes public housing authorities to adopt certain policies related to dogs as long as such policies are not breed-specific.
States also have acted to ban general breed-specific prohibitions. In Iowa, House Bill 651 and Senate Bill 234 would prohibit ordinances hindering a person’s right to own or keep a dog based on breed. North Carolina Senate Bill 457 is similar, and all three bills have been held over to the 2024 session. Missouri House Bill 296 and West Virginia House Bill 2082 would have mandated the same and both bills died in committee.
In the insurance context, Illinois passed legislation (House Bill 1049) in June that prohibits insurers from issuing or canceling policies based solely on ownership of dogs of specific breeds or breed mixtures. Minnesota House Bill 1532 also prohibits insurers from discriminating based on breeds of dog owned, and that bill was held over to 2024. Similar bills were considered in Connecticut (Hose Bill 6635) and Missouri (House Bill 296), but both died in committee. New York Assembly Bill 1149/ Senate Bill 4163, along with Tennessee House Bill 991/Senate Bill 836, are similar bills in those states that all remain in committee.
Pets and Housing
There has been some state action with regard to pets and housing. In June Colorado House Bill 1068 was signed into law, pertaining to the ownership of pets in housing. The new legislation limits the amount of security deposits and rent for the ownership of pets, and excludes pets from personal property liens. Maine House Bill 448 became law without the governor’s signature in June, and it provides for retrieval and disposition of animals from rental units as well as allowing landlords to require that a tenant provide information and contact information for pets living in rental units. California Assembly Bill 1215 has passed the Assembly and is currently in the Senate, and seeks to award grants to homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters for food and basic veterinarian services for pets for residents of those kinds of shelters. Minnesota House Bill 831/Senate Bill 371 remains in committee, and would require reasonable pet policies in buildings financed by the Housing Finance Agency.
Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals
While continuing to propagate definitions of service and emotional support animals, states also have continued legislative efforts to guard against the misrepresentation of a service or emotional support animal. In May Indiana House Bill 1354 was enacted, providing that
only a dog or miniature horse qualify as a service animal. Under the new law, a public accommodation must make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability, and sets forth certain requirements when permitting or not permitting a person with a disability to bring a service animal on the premises of a public accommodation. Although it died in committee, Nevada Assembly Bill 97 would have revised existing law governing the access of service animals and service animals in training to certain places of public accommodation, including requiring the posting information regarding the access of service animals.
With regard to housing, in April Maryland passed legislation (House Bill 608 and Senate Bill 535) prohibiting discrimination in the sale or rental of a dwelling to an individual with a disability who has a service or guide dog. North Carolina House Bill 551/553, held over to the 2024 session, similarly would regulate service and support animals in the context of residential tenancies.
The misrepresentation of service animals remains a legislative issue in some states. In June Texas enacted a law (House Bill 4164) that increases the fine assessed for improper use and treatment of an assistance or service animal. Texas had also been considering another bill (House Bill 5206) that would have defined “emotional support animal” along with placing other restrictions on businesses selling support animal equipment (such as vests or tags), but the bill died in committee. Massachusetts House Bill 1480 and 1481 remain in committee, and would establish a commission to study the intentional misrepresentation of a service animal, as well as provide for the offense of this type of misrepresentation.
Pets For Vets
On June 23, the Service Dogs Assisting Veterans Act (SAVES Act)(United States Senate Bill 2067) was introduced with bipartisan support. The bill would establish a program to award grants to nonprofit organizations and assist them in providing service dogs to eligible veterans. Congress approved similar legislation two years ago (PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act) that was viewed by some as too limited to connect canines and veterans. Under the new legislation, $10 million would be set aside annually for nonprofit groups who have trained dogs and handlers to work with veterans. The bill remains in the Veteran Affairs committee, and hearings were held this month. Texas enacted similar legislation in June (House Bill 2951) that would establish a pilot service dog program for certain veterans to help mitigate the symptoms of military service-related post-traumatic stress disorder.
In August Illinois enacted House Bill 2500 which exempts veterans from adoption fees for dogs and cats adopted from an animal control facility. The legislation is effective on January 1, 2024. In May New Jersey House Assembly Bill 2592 was introduced, which similarly would waive adoption fees for certain military personnel and veterans.
Pets and Divorce
While previously treated as property in divorce settlements, legislative efforts continue to trend in the direction of considering the best interests of companion animals as well. Alaska, California, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York and Maine have enacted laws giving judges leeway to consider the best interests of pets, similar to what is considered for children. Delaware House Bill 95 was enacted at the end of June (effective immediately), and requires a court to award possession and provide for the care of pets when dividing marital property after considering the well-being of the animal. Tennessee would also allow a court to provide for the ownership or joint ownership of a companion animal in divorce proceedings and take into consideration the well-being of the pet under House Bill 467/Senate Bill 568 (held over to 2024). Pennsylvania House Bill 1108 has passed the House and sits in Senate committee, and would provide that, upon the request of either party in a divorce, the court shall provide for the possession and/or care of a companion animal of the parties and would provide for the parties to enter into an enforceable agreement regarding possession or care.
Rhode Island House Bill 5507 (died in committee) contemplated the creation of a legal process by which formerly cohabitating parties could seek a court determination as to pet ownership.
Compensatory and Non-Economic Damages
States continue to introduce bills that would allow a pet owner to recover damages for the loss of companionship and comfort (distinct from direct economic loss) where a pet is injured or killed because of willful, reckless or even negligent action. Massachusetts Senate Bill 1126 would provide for the award of non-economic damages for the wrongful death of a companion animal. That bill remains in committee. In October 2022, Delaware passed legislation allowing for the award of compensatory damages for injury or death of a companion animal as a result of a tortious act. While the original bill allowed for non-economic damages for mental distress or emotional harm due to injury or death of a companion animal, it was amended to remove the non-economic damages language, as well as the $15,000 limit for compensatory (actual) damages.
Pet Owner Responsibilities
Some states have contemplated laws regulating other aspects of pet ownership. Delaware House Bill 124 would prohibit a dog owner from allowing the dog to bark continuously for 15 minutes or more (or intermittently for 30 minutes or more). That bill is in committee. In Georgia, a bill has been held over to 2024 (Senate Bill 942) that would provide standards of care for dogs kept outdoors. Florida Senate Bill 932 died in committee, but would have enacted a series of animal protections and guidelines including banning cat declawing and transporting dogs in cars on their owners’ laps or with their heads outside the car window. In Maine, a bill (died in committee) that would have amended animal trespass laws to include cats and would hold cat owners accountable for any damages their pets cause to the property of others. Massachusetts House Bill 3932/4346 (pending) would provide that if dog owner negligence causes property damage or injury to other pets or any person, the dog owner can be fined up to $2500.
On a less restrictive note, New York is considering legislation (Assembly Bill 6244/Senate Bill 4993) that would allow dogs access to state parks with certain rules and regulations, including the installation of dog waste stations.