Animal owners are increasingly confronted by law enforcement. Innocent dogs are confiscated every day. Once the dog is in animal control’s possession, it is very hard to get it back. The time it takes for a complaint to be filed and fully adjudicated often takes months, if not years. More often that not, the animal is waiting in a small cell all alone and under tremendous stress.

Don’t let your dog go through this. The best defense is to prevent your dog from ever being taken by a government authority.  You need to know your rights if you want to protect yourself and your pet. The laws vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another, but here are some general principals to follow:

If an animal control officer is at your door:

  • DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. No matter how much they demand, do not let them inside your home without a warrant. Animal control officers are government agents, just like the police, and can only enter in emergent situations (such as if they hear a gunshot or screams).  However, they can rarely enter someone’s home without a warrant.  In most cases, it is best to pretend you are not home and just not answer the door.  
  • DO NOT TALK TO THEM FROM AN OPEN DOOR WAY. If law enforcement approaches you while you’re outside, or if you choose to open the door, you should immediately step outside and close the door behind you when speaking to an officer. Anything in plain sight can be used against you—including your dog.
  • DEMAND TO SEE THE WARRANT. If the officers claim to have a warrant, demand to see it. Take a picture of it with your phone. Keep in mind that a warrant must be signed by a judge. The warrant will likely be very narrow, meaning the police will likely have only one area of the home which they can search. Politely ask them to leave after they have searched the area specified in the warrant.

When being questioned by the police:

  • Get the name and badge number of every officer involved;
  • Do not answer any questions beyond identifying yourself to the officer. Do not even admit to owning a dog. Do not lie, but just remain silent.
  • Tell them you want to talk to a lawyer before answering any questions beyond general identifying information, such as your name, address, and driver’s license information;
  • Be polite but firm.  Do not argue, threaten, or attempt to intimidate a law enforcement officer or animal control;
  • Keep your hands in plain sight; and
  • Resist the urge to give an explanation.  Do not try to explain yourself or the situation. No matter how innocent you are, do not say anything. Innocent people are arrested every day.

RECORD EVERYTHING. Everyone has a mobile phone these days, take it out and record the entire interaction.  Generally, there are no laws which prevent you from recording what law enforcement is doing or saying.  Save the record it.  Email it to yourself or a friend so you will have a copy if your phone is “accidentally damaged” or “lost.”

*The content in this article does not create an attorney-client relationship and is for informational purposes only.

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