WHAT TO DO WHEN ANIMAL CONTROL COMES
by George J. Eigenhauser Jr.
(he is an attorney at law licensed in the State of California since
1979 and practices in the areas of civil litigation and estate
ANTI-DOG ENFORCEMENT - What Every Dog Owner Needs to Know
Dog owners and ethical breeders are increasingly being targeted.
Disgruntled neighbors may retaliate against dog owners and may other
reasons drive complaints, and anti-dog enforcement action, which
many times may be conducted illegally.
The following text outlines methods of inquiry and enforcement which
may be used by local officials in attempts to enforce ordinances in
your community and suggested techniques of response. These
techniques are entirely legal and based upon the rights of citizens
as stated by the U.S. Constitution.
No breeder wants to have Animal Control come knocking on the
door...but if they do, it will help if you know what your options
Remember, Animal Control is law enforcement. They are bound by
the same Constitution as any other government agency. To protect
yourself, you need to know your rights. These vary slightly one
jurisdiction to another, but some general principles apply. One rule
applies everywhere: never physically resist an officer.
When Animal Control is At Your Door:
1. Do not let them in, no matter how much they ask. Animal Control
generally cannot enter your home without a warrant, or your
permission. While regular police can enter in emergency situations
when human life is at risk (i.e. they hear gunshots and a scream
inside), there are few, if any, situations in which Animal Control
can enter your home without a warrant. Simply tell them they may not
2. If you let them in, anything they find in "plain sight" can be
used against you. In some circumstances Animal Control officers,
unable to find a legitimate reason to make an arrest, have reported
building or zoning violations. This may include caging you attached
to a wall without a building permit, that extra outlet in the puppy
room, having more pets than allowed by zoning, even extension cords
in violation of fire codes! No matter how clean your kennel, if they
want to find a violation, they will.
3. Do not talk to them from an open doorway. Step outside an close
(and lock if possible) the door behind you. This is necessary
A) Anything they see through the open door is "plain sight" and may
be the basis for an arrest, or probable cause for a search warrant.
B) If they make an arrest or even feel threatened they are usually
permitted to search for weapons in your immediate area. Do you keep
a baseball bat inside the door for your protection? Even if you
don't, once they step inside to look, they are in your home and may
continue to search.
C) It is hard not to be intimidated by someone in authority. Some
animal control is even done by local police, who carry guns. It is
easy for them to get "in your face", causing you to back up into the
home. Once you go in, it will be interpreted as an invitation to
4. If they claim to have a warrant, demand to see it. In general, a
search warrant must be signed by a judge. A warrant to search your
home for dogs does not include an inventory of your jewelry box. A
warrant to search your kennel in the garage or in the barn does not
include a search of your home.
5. In some locations dog owners may have obtained special "breeder
permits" that stipulate that Animal Control has your permission to
enter at any time. If you have signed such a permit they still
cannot enter against your wishes, since you can revoke the
permission at any time. However, if you refuse permission it may
allow them to cancel your breeder permit, so you have to weigh the
6. Warning - anyone in lawful possession of the premises may be able
to give permission for a search. Make sure your roommate,
babysitter, dog-sitter, housekeeper and other know that they should
not let animal control into your home or on your property (i.e.
backyard, garage, etc.).
How to Handle Questions:
1. Donít answer any questions beyond identifying yourself for the
officer. Anything you say to the officer in your defense cannot be
used in court (hearsay). Anything you say that is harmful to you
will be used in court (confessions are not considered hearsay). You
cannot win, except by remaining silent.
2. Be polite but firm. Do not argue, bad-mouth, curse, threaten or
try to intimidate the officer.
3. Do not lie to an officer, ever. However, it is NOT a lie to
exercise your right to remain silent.
4. Keep your hands in plain sight. People have been shot by police
when common objects, such as a wallet, were mistaken for a gun.
5. Do not touch the officer in any way. Do not physically resist an
officer, no matter how unlawful his or her actions.
6. Don't try to tell your side of the story, it cannot help.
7. Do not threaten the officer that you plan to file a complaint for
8. If the questioning persists, demand to speak to a lawyer first.
Repeat as necessary.
Gathering the Facts:
1. Get the name and badge number of each officer involved. If he/she
does not volunteer this information, ask.
2. Ask the name of the agency they represent. Different agencies
have different enforcement responsibilities.
3. Ask why they are there. Request the factual basis of the
complaint and the identity of the complainant.
4. If they have other people with them (Humane Society, press, etc.)
get the names and organizations for all present.
5. Note the names (and addresses) of any witnesses to the encounter.
6. If you are physically injured by an officer, you should take
photographs of the injuries immediately, but do not forego proper
medical treatment first.
7. Write down all of the information, as well as the date and time
of the incident immediately, while details are fresh in your mind.
8. If you rights are violated, file a complaint with the appropriate
If You Are Arrested:
1. Remain silent. Answer no questions until you have consulted with
2. Don't "explain" anything. You will have time for explanations
after you have talked to a lawyer.
3. Within a reasonable time they must allow you to make a phone call
to get a lawyer or arrange bail. They are not allowed to listen to
your phone call to your attorney, but they may "monitor" the rooms
for "your protection". Do not say anything you do not want them to
overhear; save that until after you are out on bail.
Telephone Inquiries or Threats:
You may receive telephone inquiries concerning the number of dogs
you own and whether any dogs or puppies are for sale. Other
questions may also be asked.
Your response should be to inquire "Are you interested in a puppy?".
If the answer is "yes", ask that person for his/her name, address
and phone number. Suggest that you or a responsible breeder will
contact that person at a more convenient time for you.
If the answer is friendly and genuinely inquisitive, invite the
person to look at your puppies.
If the question asked is "What is the price of each puppy?", simply
say that puppies of this type are being sold for between "X" and "Y"
dollars. Never say that you are selling them.
If the question asked is "Are these your puppies?", you should ask,
"Why do you want to know?".
If you conversation indicates that the person is representing the
county clerk's office or allegedly representing an official body,
ask the caller for:
-Full name, title and phone number
-Agency's full name and full address
-Their supervisor's full name and phone number
-Nature of the inquiry (what it is about)
-Why the inquiry is being made
-How your name and phone number were obtained
-Ask that all future questions from that agency be submitted in
1. Always keep you kennel clean and take good care of your animals.
2. Consider a P.O. Box or other address for business cards and
advertisements. Keep descriptions of your location general (i.e.
Southern California, rather than the name of the city where you
live). The internet can provide anonymity for initial contacts. You
can even buy a "remote prefix" to get a number from a nearby
community forwarded to your phone or to a voice mail. Avoid local
newspaper classifieds, they are often monitored.
3. Screen any potential puppy buyers carefully. Always be alert that
they may be Animal Control or even Animal Rights working under
4. Don't allow strangers into your home until you have screened
5. Be fair and honest in all of your dealings, and be on good terms
with your neighbors. Most animal control contacts are
complaint-driven. Some complaints may arise as harassment by people
with unrelated grievances against you. It may be a disgruntled dog
buyer or a cranky neighbor who doesn't like you parking in front of
6. Anything about you that can be observed in "plain sight" from the
street or sidewalk can become probably cause for a warrant. Even
areas on your property open to visitors can be dangerous. Be aware
of which areas of your home are visible from the outside and plan
7. If you are confronted by Animal Control and turn them away,
assume they will be back. Use the time available to make sure
everything is clean and presentable. If you are over the limit on
the number of pets, find friends who can provide temporary shelter
for your dogs.
Whatever you do, stay calm and keep your wits about you.
Just say "no", no matter what threats or promises of leniency they
When in doubt, say nothing and speak to a lawyer afterwards.