They may not bring home a paycheck, own any property, or sign their name to contracts, but your pet is not immune from the legal system. Not only that, but the long paw of the law can hold you responsible for any laws your pet breaks or any damage or injuries it causes. Pet-related lawsuits are rising dramatically, but with a few simple steps, you can help protect your pet and your wallet from a potentially litigious incident.
- Avoid pets with bites worse than barks. Many Americans think a fierce dog makes a good substitute for an electronic security system. But unlike the security system, there’s no button you can push to make your dog spit out your neighbor’s cat.
- School your animals. Obedience lessons could mean the difference between a violent, bloodthirsty pit bull and a docile, playful kitten. (Hmm, somehow this hypothetical obedience school pulled a pet switcheroo on me…)
- A fenced yard is a must. Any outdoor animals should be restricted to a contained space. You don’t want Fido running onto the interstate and getting into a ten-car-and-one-dog pile-up. A tall, sturdy fence will not only ensure that the outside world stays safe from your pet but that your pet stays safe at home. If you have a whole-yard fence, consider a separate fence along the walkway to your front door to help protect postal workers and other visitors.
- Monitor kids around pets. Regardless of whether it’s a four-foot long dog or an adorable bunny, you should always keep an eye on kids (yours or not) while they play with animals. Pets can turn on even familiar people, and kids might try to play rougher with pets they know well.
- Keep those shots up to date. Should the unfortunate event of a pet-related injury happen, you don’t want to complicate things by giving some poor soul rabies, too. And while you’re at the vet…
- Have your pets spayed or neutered. Listen to Bob Barker! Not only will you avoid costly pet paternity suits, but your pet will be much less likely to injure someone.
- Put up signs. A two-buck piece of laminated paper can mean the difference between major liability and your pet getting off scot free.
- Don’t forget to secure smaller pets, too. Even Gertrude the Guinea Pig and Priscilla the Parakeet can land you in legal hot water. Don’t let your 20-foot python slither off and eat the baby next door, and beware of wandering turtles that can pose serious tripping hazards.
- Get an umbrella insurance policy. Your umbrella insurance may extend to damage caused by pets, so consider getting one to protect yourself and your animal companion.
- In the worst case, find an animal attorney. So your hamster got loose and terrorized the tri-state area for days, and now you’ve got half of your state’s bar pounding on your door. If you’re faced with legal problems involving your pet, you’ll want to talk to a lawyer specially training in the quickly growing field of Animal Law. Doing so could help you avoid expensive judgments and the loss of your pet to the doggie death penalty.
That’s it for lawsuit-proofing your pets, but feel free to comment or send in your own tips. On day four, we’ll be looking at avoiding legal action at work.