Most people understand keeping a pet requires a lot of responsibility. Animals have to be cared for, cleaned and fed. Somebody needs to walk the dog. The cat will not clean her own litter box.
An iguana may not like to cuddle, but it still needs to stay warm.
What fewer people understand is that there is a huge body of law about pets and pet ownership, which can vary from county to county and state to state.
Attorney Patti Lawson believes that a good pet owner is an informed one, which is why she wrote, What Happens To Rover When The Marriage is Over? And Other Doggone Legal Dilemmas.
Lawson, who will sign copies of her book Friday at Taylor Books, said, My whole message is if youre going to have a pet, whether its a dog, a cat, a fish or whatever, you need to be responsible.
Lawson doesnt look at having a pet as being an owner, but considers it a kind of parenting. Good parents want to do right by their children and keep them and themselves out of trouble.
People need to have a general idea of what the law can protect and also what it can prosecute, she said.
For example, just because a hotel or motel allows pets doesnt mean they welcome them. Sometimes, it means theyre barely tolerated and there are strict rules concerning how pets can stay in the hotel or motel.
A motel clerk may tell you during check-in that its required to keep pets crated at all times or tell you that you face certain eviction without a refund if a dog barks, but if its not on the website or reservation form, you didnt actually agree to those terms.
You may be able to at least get the deposit back or get some leeway on the rules.
Lawson said the conversation about laws governing animals is growing rapidly.
Animal law is relatively new, she said. When I first started researching for this book, there was something like 15 to 20 law schools that taught courses in animal law. Now, there are 170 law schools that do, including WVU.
Lawson has become very knowledgeable on the subject of pets and the law. Some of it came through research, but a lot of it is based on experience.
With legal information, What Happens To Rover When The Marriage is Over? weaves in personal anecdotes from the last 13 years with Sadie, her first dog, and Rusty, the dog she adopted a few years ago.
When I first got Sadie, I was just a dumb dog mom, she said.
And she almost wasnt that.
I actually took her back after the first night, Lawson said. I just didnt think I could do it.
After a change of heart, she called the pet adoption people.
The lady with the adoption papers was very stern with me, Lawson said. She said if you do not understand the word forever on that paper, dont sign this paper, and dont take this dog home.
Adopting Sadie and adapting to the changes the dog brought to her life became the genesis for Lawsons first book, The Dog Diet: What My Dog Taught Me About Shedding Pounds, Licking Stress, and Getting a New Leash on Life.
The book eventually earned her the Dog Writers Association of America Maxwell Award for Dog Humor Book.
Lawson said having dogs made her pay attention to all things related to dogs. Since shes an attorney, she paid attention to the law.
West Virginia, Lawson added, is pretty good when it comes to animal laws. It offers more protections for pets than other states.
Its worse out west, she said. There are less protections in places like Wyoming, Montana and Kentucky, where animals are more raised than here.
Lawson said in West Virginia its against the law to leave an animal in a hot or cold car, which can be lethal.
The problem we have is theres no funding, she said. We have laws, but not enough money to hire the personnel to enforce the law or prosecute.
Its better than it used to be when the local dogcatcher sometimes lived on the premises of the animal shelter, but more could be done.
Theres no money for animal control officers or dedicated prosecutors, Lawson said. But you see thousands of people get upset whenever theres a heinous dog or cat story out there.
People want to protect their animals, and while Lawson said her book doesnt offer ideas or solutions for every legal issue regarding animals, she thought it was a good place to start.
Reach Bill Lynch at
304-348-5195 or follow
@LostHwys on Twitter.
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