Full Title Name:  Overview of Municipal Animal Control Ordinances

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Rebecca F. Wisch Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2005 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center

This overview discusses the power of municipalities to enact ordinances. It then highlights some common subjects for animal care and control within municipal codes.

"How do municipal codes affect my dog?"

When planning a move to a new city, most people think to research schools, neighborhoods, and community resources available in that location.  But, moving to a new location may bring another area to investigate, especially where it concerns the keeping of animals; that is the municipal code.  Municipal codes usually regulate animals more specifically than state laws and may be enforced to a greater degree.  While owning five dogs in one town may have been allowed, or even having a pet boa constrictor as a pet, a new resident in a particular municipality may face the difficult task of saying goodbye to those beloved pets.  

Recognizing the need for local governments to exercise control over local issues, state laws may specifically grant municipalities the power to enact any animal-related ordinance.   These ordinances may vary in subject and specificity, from those that detail the cleanliness of dog pens to those that prohibit the ownership of specific types of animals.  Whatever the animal subject, most of the ordinances will be upheld if challenged as valid exercises of municipal authority.

This overview serves as a basic introduction to municipal ordinances.   In doing so, the basic structure of an ordinance will be discussed as well as its relationship to state law.   This discussion will also show some of the main animal care and control concerns raised in municipal ordinances across the country.   Finally, the remedies, or punishments a municipality can invoke under these ordinances is examined along with examples of “model” animal care and control codes.

Also included are examples from various municipalities around the country.   The Map of Municipal Ordinances includes two ordinances from each state, with one representing a larger metropolis and the other a smaller community (however, in the event a smaller community was not available to include, a code updated within the last two years was selected).   Links to search engines of municipal codes are provided at the top of this page, or by clicking here .

What is an Ordinance and How Does It Relate to State Law?

An ordinance is essentially a law or portion of a larger code enacted by a city council, county board of commissioners, or other municipal representatives.   These provisions often mirror state laws and provide an extra layer of protection for the peace and security of the residents in the municipality.   Sometimes ordinances reflect a concern that is specific to the city, county, or township not relevant to state law.   Municipalities are often created by a charter, meaning the duties and extent of powers exercisable by the municipality are outlined in a legal document signed by the leaders of the community.   The power to then enact laws to control the conduct of the municipal residents is derived from this charter; the root of the power lies in state law.

States may specifically grant municipalities the ability to enact laws through the state constitution or legislation.  This means that either the constitution or other state legislation has specifically stated that local cities, counties, townships, or other municipalities have the authority to govern the needs of their citizens.  If the power is not explicitly granted by constitutional provision or state law, then it may be inferred through the concept of “police power.”

Police power is a legal term of art meaning a political subdivision (i.e., state, county, or city) has the authority to enact laws to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of its citizenry.   While such a concept may seem self-evident to the governance of any area, it is not constitutionally granted.   In the United States, there exists a hierarchy of laws.   The federal constitution is said to be the highest law of the land.   All citizens are subject to the provisions of the federal constitution.   Federal laws, provided in the United State Codes (U.S.C.) constitute the second order of importance in this hierarchy.   If any state or local law conflicts with either the United States Constitution or Code, it is preempted, or trumped by the higher federal law.

So, one may ask, why does not the federal government simply regulate all issues to avoid such legal conflicts?   Two reasons justify the delegation to states.   First, the United States operates under a system of state sovereignty.   The founders of our legal and politically system in the U.S. felt that a centralized government smacked of the tyrannical monarchy they had just escaped in England.   Second, it is impractical for a centralized federal government to enact laws that could govern all aspects of life in the varied social landscape of this county.   As a result, states often wield the greatest power over the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens.

That being said, once populations grew in the various states, municipalities became concerned that state laws did not accurately address its citizens’ needs.   Again, through the concept of police powers, municipalities were either explicitly or implicitly given the authority to enact ordinances for the care of its citizens.   We now know these laws as ordinances, and nearly every municipality, no matter how small, has some local provisions.

From the states’ inherent police power rights, local governments may derive direct authority to regulate through the state’s constitution.   Because police power is inherent to the state, local authority to regulate animals must be directly or even indirectly delegated.   This can be achieved through a constitutional amendment.   For example, the state of Washington Constitution provides:   "[a]ny county, city, town or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local police, sanitary and other regulations as are not in conflict with general laws." Wash. Const. art. XI, sec. 11. See also , Lenci v. City of Seattle , 63 Wn.2d 664, 667, 388 P.2d 926 (1964).   It is through state statute by which most states  provide some grant of local authority.   Only a few states do not appear to provide any specific written reference as to the right of local government to regulate animals (though the right may be derived from other broader sources dealing with animals in general).   More often than not, the power also rests within statutory expression that grants municipalities broad and specific regulatory powers.

Of related concern is the issue of whether a state confers “home-rule” power.   Home-rule power generally refers to a portion of a state’s constitution or even a legislative enactment that allows local government to self-govern with respect to the terms laid out in the article or legislation.   This apportioning of power typically allows local units to enact ordinances for the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.   While an explicit discussion of home-rule authority is beyond the scope of this paper, suffice to say that states may delineate bounds of home-rule authority.   Some states provide that a home-rule city may enact ordinances pursuant to its municipal charter, but the state legislature may limit or augment these provisions.   56 Am. Jur. 2d § 110.   Other states may leave the home-rule power open-ended, such that a municipality may exercise all powers that have not been expressly defined by the state constitution or statute.   Id.   A state’s home-rule provisions inevitably determine the degree to which a municipality can enact ordinances and under what circumstances this can be done.  

(For more on police powers and legal challenges to the exercise of municipal powers, see the Detailed Discussion of State and Local Dog Laws. )

What are the Most Common Types of Ordinances Affecting Animals?


1.   Stated Purpose

Most animal control codes begin with a broad statement of purpose that describes the goal in enacting animal control measures.  It also in effect reiterates the notion of the police power granted to municipality to protect its citizens.  The section entitled, "Purpose" from Rockville, Maryland begins its animal control section with a purported goal in enacting the ordinance:

Sec. 3-1. Purpose.

The City of Rockville has undertaken to establish this Animal Ordinance to protect the public health and safety of its citizens and to promote the general welfare of the citizens and animals residing within the City. Animal ownership is encouraged and welcomed within this City; however, strong emphasis is placed on responsible ownership of animals. Animal owners are encouraged to respect the rights of their fellow citizens and also those of their animals. Primary responsibility is placed upon animal owners to properly train and/or secure their animals so as to prevent them from causing injuries and/or creating nuisances.


Sec. 3-1, Rockville, Maryland .  Such a statement is not necessary to allow the municipality to enact ordinances that place restrictions upon animal owners, but it does remind owners to be aware that ownership of animals brings with it responsibilities to others.


2.   Animals Running at Large

Companion animal owners should be aware that nearly all local ordinances contain restrictions on the running at large of dogs.   As noted in the Overview of State Leash Laws , few states impose statewide requirements to leash dogs when outside their owners’ premises (but note that many states enacted laws that mandate impoundment of dogs found running loose - See, Detailed Discussion of Dog Impoudment Laws ).   In contrast, o n the local level, most municipalities have enacted measures that require the leashing of dogs or prohibit the roaming of dogs.  

In Idaho Falls, Idaho:

Any owner or custodian of any animal, other than a domestic cat, who permits or allows such animal to run at large within the City is guilty of a misdemeanor.  For the purposes hereof, the term "running at large" means off the premises of the owner or custodian of the animal and not under his or her immediate control. 

Sec. 5-9-11, Idaho Falls, Idaho .

Houston also prohibits the running at large of dogs and also increases the penalty for such if the dog has been deemed vicious or dangerous.  


(a)     Generally. It shall be unlawful for any person owning or having in his possession any dog to allow such dog to be at large without the owner or person in charge thereof having direct physical control over such dog. An owner or person having in his possession a dog may allow the dog to be at large on property that does not provide the animal with access to a sidewalk or street.

(b)     Dangerous dog running at large prohibited. It shall be unlawful for any person owning or having in his possession a dog of dangerous or fierce tendencies to allow that dog to be at large. For purposes of this subsection, a dog of dangerous or fierce tendencies shall be defined as one who has previously attacked or bitten a person. A person who violates this subsection shall, upon conviction, be assessed a fine of not less than $500.00 nor more than $2,000.00. Each day that any violation of this subsection continues shall constitute and be punishable as a separate offense.

Sec. 6-101, Houston, Texas .

Many municipalities have gone further to extend such restraint laws to cats as well.

(1)     Any dog or cat running or being at large in any of the streets, public ways, public places, parks, or upon the private premises of any other person than the owner or keeper of such cat or dog, within the City of Grand Forks shall be deemed and be considered to be a public nuisance and shall be deemed to be an animal ferae naturae or naturally wild and shall be impounded in a suitable place provided by the city. The owner of any such cat or dog shall be subject to the penalty hereinafter provided, and for such purpose, the head of the household of the premises on which such cat or dog is kept shall be considered to be the owner. The police chief shall keep a record of all cats or dogs impounded, listing breed, color, sex, and the place and time of taking. Such cats and dogs shall remain impounded by the city for a period not to exceed four (4) days; provided, however, that if an impounded cat or dog appears to be suffering from rabies or other infections or dangerous disease, or be known to have bitten a human being to the extent of breaking the skin, then said cat or dog shall remain impounded for at least ten (10) days from the date of such biting in order to determine whether or not the cat or dog had rabies. [emphasis added]

Sec. 11-1012, Grand Forks, North Dakota .


3.   Numbers of Companion Animals One May Own

Many municipalities restrict the number of animals a resident can own.  The ordinance may specify the number by type of animal owned.  Most of the time, a specific quantity is provided (i.e., four cats and four dogs).  However, the County of Larimer Colorado has left the quantity ambiguous:


In no event shall any person keep at his or her premises more pet animals than can be properly maintained in a healthy condition without presenting a health or safety hazard to the owners, keeper or others and without constituting a nuisance to the occupants or neighboring properties.

Larimer County, Colorado, Sec. 6-81.  Conceivably, a person could own many animals without violating the terms of the ordinance, or be found in violation for owning only one or two animals if such animals caused a nuisance to neighbors.

Potentially as ambiguous is the law in the Village of Hillside, Illinois.  Hillside has an ordinance in place that limits the number of pets one can own in a residential house, duplex, or apartment to “two dogs and/or two cats in or about” the premises.   Hillside, Illinois, Sec. 14-4 .   The ambiguity of the conjunctive “and/or” as well as the definition of “in or about” is surely ripe for controversy.

Kansas City Missouri is much clearer with regard to exactly how many of each species one may own:

Sec. 14-28. Limitation on number of dogs, cats and ferrets.

(a)     It shall be unlawful and a public nuisance for any person in charge of a residence to keep or allow to be kept more than four dogs or four cats, or any combination of such animals exceeding four in number, over the age of 120 days at such residence unless the residence or all of the dogs and cats kept there are within one or more of the following exceptions . . .

Kansas City, Missouri Sec. 14-28 .  In Orange County, California, a resident may apply for a permit to keep more than four dogs at his or her premises.  Orange County, California, Sec. 4-1-76 .  In any event, residents would be advised to learn of these animal number limitation ordinances before acquiring future animal companions.


4.  Cat Ordinances

Ordinances specifically targeting cats are increasing in number.   This may stem from both the fact that ownership of cats has eclipsed dogs in the U.S. as the most popular pet and that fact that only two states regulate cats by state law ( See , Cat Laws Detailed Discussion ).  In Ansonia, Connecticut, for example, the city has enacted an ordinance that restricts the number of cats one can own to four within city limits.  Ansonia, Connecticut, Sec. 4-7 .

Also on the increase are the municipalities that require cats to wear tags similar to requirements for dogs.   Des Moines, Iowa is one such city that requires cats to wear tags:

(a)     The city clerk or his or her designee shall, upon receipt of the application for a cat license, deliver or mail to the applicant a license which shall be in the form of a metal tag stamped with the following information:

(1)     The year for which it is issued.

(2)     The name of the city.

(3)     The tag number as shown in the records in the office of the city clerk.

(b)     The size and shape of the tags shall be changed each year.

(c)     A permanent spay/neuter tag shall also be issued to every applicant who has provided sufficient proof of spaying or neutering.

(d)     The tags shall be attached by the owner to a substantial collar or harness and, during the term of the license, shall be at all times kept on the cat for which the license is issued. Upon the expiration of the license, the owner shall remove the tag from the cat, except for the spay/neuter tag which shall be displayed for the life of the cat.

(e)     Upon the filing of an affidavit that the license tag or spay/neuter tag has been lost or destroyed, the owner may obtain another license or a spay/neuter tag on the payment of $5.00 to the city clerk or his or her designee. The city clerk or his or her designee shall enter in the license record the new number assigned.

[Emphasis added] Des Moines, Iowa, Sec. 18-95 .

A major impetus behind many of the recent cat ordinances has been the prevention of free-roaming cats.   This has resulted in ordinances that prohibit cats from becoming a nuisance to other residents by causing damage to property or by making frequent noise.   See , Grinnell, Iowa for example.   Some ordinances have even defined “ownership” of a cat to include situations where “. . . the person harbors or lets the cat [over six months old] habitually remain or be fed around such person's house.”   Grinnell Iowa, Sec. 3-33(a ).  Such a law reflects the concern of residents feeding feral or free-roaming cats while not housing them or providing veterinary care.

In the Township of Hamilton, New Jersey, trespassing cats can be deemed a public nuisance:

A cat shall be considered a public nuisance if it has no known owner or if it has no known place of care or shelter or if it habitually trespasses upon or damages either private or public property or annoys or harms lawful users or occupants thereof.

Hamilton Township, New Jersey Sec. 22-61 .  Suffice to say that recent cat ordinances place as many restrictions on feline companions their canine companions have enjoyed for years.


5. Dangerous Dog Provisions

Recent claims of vicious attacks by pit bull dogs have prompted some municipalities to essentially outlaw the ownership of such dogs.   In Louisville, Colorado, the municipal code contains this provision:

A.     Prohibition. It is unlawful for any person to own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport, or sell within the city any pit bull.


The determination of whether a dog is a member of the pit bull species is determined by either the chief of police or hearing officer.


Louisville, Colorado Sec. 6.12.160 .

In Wilmington Delaware, residents may own pit bulls, but only if they comply with stringent licensing requirements.

(a)     Only persons 21 years of age or older who have complied with the licensing and registration requirements as set forth in section 3-9 of this chapter by June 16, 2000, shall be allowed to own, keep or harbor a pit bull terrier inside the city limits. Such ownership is subject to the following conditions . . .

Wilmington, Delaware, Sec. 3-16.

In conjunction with breed-specific ordinances, many counties have dangerous animal ordinances.   Not only do these ordinances provide restrictions on the ownership of dogs deemed dangerous (usually those dogs who have bitten or threatened to bite people), but they may also outline the procedure to appeal such a determination.   The ordinance in Miami-Dade County, Florida typifies such an ordinance (abridged to show significant provisions):

(a)     For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:

. . . (b)     Animal Control shall investigate complaints received from residents involving dogs that may be dangerous and shall have the authority to designate a dog as dangerous. Individuals desiring to have a dog designated as dangerous by Animal Control shall submit to Animal Control a sworn affidavit(s). A dog shall be designated as dangerous if it meets one (1) or more of the following criteria:

(1)     Has aggressively bitten, attacked, endangered or has inflicted severe injury on a human being on public or private property;

(2)     Has severely injured or killed a domestic animal while off the owner's property;

(3)     Has been used primarily or in part for the purpose of dog fighting, or is a dog trained for dog fighting; or

(4)     Has, when unprovoked, chased or approached a person upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack; provided that such actions are attested to in a sworn statement by one (1) or more persons and dutifully investigated by Animal Control.

The owner of the dog being investigated shall, if possible, be interviewed before a determination is made, and an affidavit from any person desiring to have a dog classified as dangerous shall be submitted to Animal Control.

A dog shall not be declared dangerous if the threat, injury, or damage was sustained by a person who, at the time, was unlawfully on the property, or, while lawfully on the property, was tormenting, abusing or assaulting the dog or its owner or a family member. No dog may be declared dangerous if the dog was protecting or defending a human being within the immediate vicinity of the dog from an unjustified attack or assault.

Any animal that is the subject of a dangerous dog investigation, that is not impounded by Animal Control, shall be humanely and safely confined by the owner in a securely fenced or enclosed area pending the outcome of the investigation and resolution of any hearings related to the dangerous dog classification. The address of where the animal resides shall be provided to Animal Control. No dog that is the subject of a dangerous dog investigation may be relocated or ownership transferred pending the outcome of an investigation or any hearings related to the determination of a dangerous dog classification. In the event that a dog is to be destroyed, the dog shall not be relocated or ownership transferred.

If Animal Control determines that there is sufficient cause to classify the dog as dangerous, it shall provide written notification of this initial determination by registered mail or certified hand delivery to the owner of the dog within five (5) calendar days of the initial determination.

(c)     The owner may file a written request for a hearing to appeal the classification within seven (7) calendar days after receipt of the sufficient cause findings. The written request for a hearing shall be mailed to the address given in the dangerous dog notification letter.

(d)     Appeal procedures . . .

( i)     It shall be unlawful for the owner of a dangerous dog to permit the dog to be outside a proper enclosure unless the dog is muzzled and restrained by a chain or leash, and under the control of a competent person. The muzzle must be made in a manner that will not cause injury to the dog or interfere with its vision or respiration, but will prevent it from biting any person or animal. When being transported, such dogs shall be safely and securely restrained within a vehicle. The owner may exercise the dog in a securely fenced or enclosed area that does not have a top, without a muzzle or leash, if the dog remains in his/her sight and only members of the owner's immediate household or persons eighteen (18) years of age or older are allowed in the enclosure when the dog is present.

. . . (l)     Any person who violates any provision of the preceding sections of Section 5-6.2 is guilty of a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500.00).

(m)     If a dog that has previously been declared dangerous attacks or bites a person or a domestic animal without provocation, the dog shall be subject to confiscation by Animal Control, placed in quarantine, if necessary, for the proper length of time, or impounded and held for ten (10) business days after the owner is given written notice, and thereafter destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner. The owner may appeal this action during the ten-day period in accordance with subsection 5-6.2(d). In addition, the owner of the dog shall be fined five hundred dollars ($500.00). Upon confiscation of the dog, Animal Control shall provide the owner of the dog as shown by the tag worn on the dog, tattoo or electronic implantation, or as discovered by Animal Control, a written civil violation notice listing the fine, confiscation, quarantine, impoundment and intent of Animal Control to destroy the dog within the time prescribed. If the owner appeals the action, he/she is entitled to a hearing in accordance with Section 5-6.2(d). The owner shall be responsible for payment of all boarding costs and other fees as may be required to humanely and safely keep the animal during any appeal procedures . . .

Miaimi-Dade County, Florida, Sec. 5-6.2.

Gilroy, California imposes a graduated scheme for determining the dangerousness of dogs:

Dangerous dog means a dog which has been classified as dangerous or potentially dangerous at one (1) of three (3) levels based upon specific behavior exhibited or possession of certain characteristics as described in this subsection by the dog. For purposes of this chapter, behaviors or characteristics establishing various levels of dangerousness are as follows:

(1)     Level 1 behavior is established if a dog is found to menace, chase, display threatening or aggressive behavior or endanger the safety of any person or domestic animal. A dog exhibiting level 1 behavior is a level 1 dangerous dog within the meaning of this chapter.

(2)     Level 2 behavior is established if a dog, while under restraint of a leash, confined or at large, aggressively bites any person or aggressively kills a domestic animal. A dog exhibiting level 2 behavior is a level 2 dangerous dog within the meaning of this chapter.

(3)     Level 3 behavior is established if:

a.     A dog, whether or not confined, causes the serious injury or death of any person;

b.     A dog engages in or is found to have been trained to engage in exhibitions of fighting, except where the dog's training has been acquired and fighting done in connection with lawful activities of law enforcement officials; or,

c.     A dog that has been classified as a level 2 dangerous dog repeats the behavior covered by paragraph 2 of this subsection after the owner or person with custody receives notice of the level 2 classification. A dog exhibiting level 3 behavior is a level 3 dangerous dog within the meaning of this chapter.

Gilroy, California Sec. 4-30 .

Dangerous dog ordinances are often the strictest kind in terms of penalty.  In Lexington-Fayette Kentucky, any vicious dog who inflicts serious injury on a person or domestic animal in an unprovoked attack will be humanely destroyed after a 14-day quarantine period.   Lexington, Kentucky, Sec. 14-4 .  


6.   Wild or Inherently Dangerous Animal Provisions

Many cities have enacted ordinances restricting the ownership of poisonous reptiles or apparently dangerous snakes.  For example, in Detroit, Michigan, residents are prohibited from keeping snakes or other reptiles except turtles under 15 inches in length.  Detroit , Michigan, Sec. 6-1-4.   Stamford, Connecticut has gone a step further to restrict the ownership of poisonous arachnids (e.g., spiders and such) in the city proper.  Stamford, Connecticut, Sec. 111-12

Some municipalities restrict ownership of animals deemed dangerous per se .   For example, Des Moines, Iowa outlaws the ownership of wolves, oppossums, constrictor snakes over six feet in length, and piranhas, among others.   Des Mones, Iowa, Sec. 18-196(4)(a – o).     In contrast, Indianapolis, Indiana simply requires that one register his or her wild animal with the animal care and control division and then post a sign to warn people that a wild or dangerous animal is present on the property.   Indianapolis, Indiana, Sec. 531-501 – 507 .  

The Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky code explicitly lists the “dangerous wildlife” residents are prohibited from owning.  Section 4-11.1 follows the list derived from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources which declared the listed species of wildlife to be inherently dangerous to human health and safety.  Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky, Sec. 4-11.1.

In addition to laws that address animals that are inherently dangerous to people, municipalities have recognized the inherent danger of certain exotic species to the environment .   For instance, in Chicago, Illinois, a freshwater coastal city, there exist ordinances that criminalize the possession or importation of both the snakehead fish and the Asian carp.   Chicago, Illinois, Secs. 7-12-380, 385 .   These invasive, non-native species often wreak havoc on freshwater ecosystems, and such an ordinance reflects a concern unique to that specific municipality.


7. Provisions Affecting Wildlife

Many cities establish the city proper as a “bird sanctuary” such that people are prohibited from taking or harassing birds in the area.  In Lake Charles, Louisiana:

The entire area embraced within the corporate limits of the City of Lake Charles be, and the same is hereby designated as a Bird Sanctuary.

Lake Charles, Louisiana, Sec. 4-1 .  ( See Also , Mobile, Alabama for a similar designation.)

The provision in Columbia, South Carolina provides a good example of an ordinance that extends this protection to squirrels:

It shall be unlawful for any person to kill, maim or otherwise annoy with firearms, air rifles or slingshots, or in any other manner, the squirrels and birds within the limits of the city or within the limits of any park or playground owned by the city, or to disturb the nests of such birds and squirrels; provided that any owner, authorized agent, lessee or tenant of real estate in the city frequented by squirrels in number sufficient to create a nuisance on or cause damage to any property thereon may apply to the police department for a permit and may be authorized by the police department to trap squirrels on such premises and dispose of the squirrels, provided that the disposal of such squirrels is accomplished in a humane and sanitary manner and that the disposal of the squirrels is not accomplished by the use of firearms, air rifles, slingshots or poison. The trapping and disposal of squirrels under this section shall be under the direction and control of the police department.

Columbia, South Carolina, Sec. 4-1 .


8.   Animal Waste Provisions

Two subjects seem to arise with frequency in municipal ordinances; they are barking dogs and proper removal of dog waste.   Old Orchard Beach, Maine goes so far in its feces removal ordinance to specify that “[f]or the purposes of this section, disposal shall be accomplished by transporting such feces to an appropriate waste receptacle.” Old Orchard Beach, Maine, Sec. 14-7 .   The city of Salem, Massachusetts requires that an owner or one who has control of a dog in a public area has a duty to possess a means of removal when accompanying the dog.   Salem, Massachusetts, Sec. 8-36(b).   Medford, Massachusetts devotes six statutory sections to the matter, which ultimately proscribes a $50.00 fine for each occurrence.   Medford, Massachusetts, Sec. 6-75 .    In Gilroy, California allowing a dog to defecate or urinate on private property is deemed a nuisance.   Gilroy, California, Sec. 4.11 .


9.   Animal Noise Control

Nearly every municipality has some ordinance that addresses animal noise.  Ostensibly, quantifying what level of noise and for what duration is difficult.  The Old Orchard Beach, Maine anti-barking ordinance exemplifies this difficulty, as it prohibits the owning, keeping, or harboring of any dog which by loud, frequent or habitual barking, howling, or yelping disturbs the peace of any person.   Old Orchard Beach, Maine, Sec. 14-8 .   In contrast, the town of Lisbon, Maine makes it clear that the barking must be:

. . . prolonged barking, howling, or the making of other sounds common to its species, causes undue annoyance to individuals residing in the neighborhood shall be deemed to constitute a nuisance. No person shall have or keep any animal which creates a nuisance. Any person found in violation shall be subject to a fine of up to $100.00 for each offense. Any fine collected shall inure to the town.

Lisbon, Maine, Sec. 6-33 .

Anti-barking ordinances oftentimes are couched in nuisance terms; that is, a dog may be deemed a nuisance if he or she barks excessively, destroys property, or engages in any other anti-social behavior.   (See the Rockville, Maryland ordinance for example).   In Nashua, New Hampshire, the animal noise nuisance ordinance is very specific:

Noise from an animal which is sustained for periods of more than thirty (30) minutes or which occurs between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., which noise would annoy or disturb a person of normal sensibilities is found to be a nuisance.

Nashua, New Hampshire, Sec. 5-13 .  In this case, the "nuisance" may then be subject to removal, or, in this case, impoundment.  Residents in any municipality should keep in mind removal of a frequently loud animal is the usual recourse under most ordinances. 


10.   Interesting Ordinances

Ordinances may also fill in a gap left by state law.   For example, few states overtly regulate traveling circuses or other animal exhibits through state codes ( See the Topic Area on Zoos for more on this subject).   In Biloxi, Mississippi, the city has enacted an ordinance prohibits performing animal exhibits or circuses in which animals are induced or encouraged to perform through the use of chemicals, mechanical, electrical or manual devices in any manner which is likely to cause physical suffering or injury to the animals.   Also, the ordinance mandates that animals are given sufficient food and water and not tied or staked along any public thoroughfares.   Biloxi, Mississippi, Sec. 4-1-8.   In a similar vein, Las Vegas, Nevada has an entire section devoted to the duties of professional animal handlers with regard to their animals.  Las Vegas, Nevada Chapter 7.40.

Many municipalities regulate the keeping of honey bees.  In Dover, Delaware, the location of beehives in relation to schools, museums, and other public buildings is specified.  Dover, Delaware, Sec. 18-16 .  Beekeeping provisions are also outlined by ordinance is Lake Charles, Louisiana and Phoenix, Arizona (Sec. 8-8(f)).

What are the Remedies of Municipalities?

Generally, municipal codes impose a fine or other such monetary penalty for violations.   Another available remedy all jurisdictions employ is the use of impoundment.   Animals found in violation of a code are subject to seizure, impoundment, and potential euthanasia.   Burlington, Vermont specifically lists impoundment as an available remedy in addition to the monetary penalties imposed.   Burlington, Vermont, Sec. 5-24 .  

In Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky, violations of the animal code act as a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine or possible imprisonment:

Any individual who shall violate any provision of this article shall be subject for each offense to a fine or penalty not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500.00) and/or to imprisonment for a period not to exceed twelve (12) months.

Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky, Sec. 4-34 .

East Lansing, Michigan explicitly defines violation of the code as a “municipal civil infraction” incurring graduated penalties for subsequent offenses.   East Lansing, Michigan, Sec. 4-6 .   Detroit categorizes violations as misdemeanors, with a potential penalty of up to $500 or 90 days imprisonment.  Detroit, Michigan, Sec. 4-34.

Regardless of the penalty, many municipal ordinance subject overlap similar state laws.  Violation of an ordinance may also lead to violation of a state law.  Depending on state law concerning double jeopardy (the constitutional prohibition against placing a person in jeopardy twice for the same crime), violators may face prosecution under the harsher state law or both local and state laws. 

What are some "Model" Ordinances?

Municipal codes should do two things:  first, they should make clear what rights and responsibilities are provided by the code in a clear and easily understood manner; second, codes should also be organized in a such a way to make finding a section relatively quick and easy.  Codes do not necessary need to long and detailed to effect these goals.  Rather, it is the codes' organization that enables laypeople to comprehend the terms.

Indianapolis, Indiana is one such municipality with a model animal code.  The code itself is separated into various, easy to understand articles on specific animal-related subjects.  For example, there are separate articles on Cats and Dogs, Wild or Dangerous Animals, and Impoundment and Disposition of Animals.  Further, the code begins with a definitional section that one can cross-reference the terms included in the code.  Finally, enforcement of the code (e.g., what remedies the city can pursue if the provisions are violated) are spelled out an entirely separate article that also explains when impoudment of an offending animal is allowed.

Rockville, Maryland's code is similarly subdivided into separate articles based on the subject matter.  In its enforcement section, a section is devoted to how a person may seek review of a decision of the Animal Matters Board.  This is critical because many actions taken by animal enforcement personnel are summary, in the sense that an animal is taken an impounded, and a decision may be made before an owner has an opportunity to be heard.

There are many other codes available on the map that provide glimpses into what model codes provide.  Oftentimes, codes are so complex only attorneys can decipher, or attempt to decipher, their meanings.  Moreover, many codes enact laws that clearly conflict with higher state laws or rules set forth by state administrative agencies.  This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for residents to effectively comply with all laws.  Local laws should provide a code that works to the benefit of all without resorting to unnecessary litigation.  The best way to achieve this is to be aware of changes to your own municipal code and get involved with the meetings that adopt new provisions. 

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