Legal Issues


"The state giveth and the county taketh away"


We had been searching for a vet and a real diagnosis for Mikey's mysterious illness for many months. We finally found a vet, a real diagnosis and treatments that were truly helping him. He could not be vaccinated due to his health condition but our vet gave us a letter of medical exemption. We thought everything was going to be all right.

I reviewed the laws again and reluctantly decided to be brave and contact Animal Control Department like our vet had instructed me to do. Something inside me kept screaming, "Don't do it!" I had to get a tag for Mikey then he would be as legal as possible so I did it, I called Animal Control.

Hey human!

Oh, my silly, silly human.

Are you completely nuts?


I thought you were supposed to be smart!

I began explaining that Mikey was very sick and he was due for his rabies vaccination but his vet wrote a letter of medical exemption for him due to his illness (just as I was asking about getting a tag for him there was an unexpected blast in my ear) "Well we won't issue a tag unless he is vaccinated and you'd better make sure he never, ever bites or scratches anyone or he'll end up down here!"

I attempted to stay calm and explain that he was on a medically necessary diet and had serious digestive issues, then she blew a gasket again. "You'd better make sure he never bites or scratches anyone because we'll bring him in here, put him in a kennel and feed him dog food just like all the other dogs! He won't get any special treatment here! He'll be treated like all of the other dogs!" I explained that Mikey was not a certified service dog but I did depend on him to assist me because I have a physical impairment. It made no difference, she continued with her verbal assault.

I had read the County Codes which stated that ALL impounded dogs had to have a current rabies vaccination before they would be released to their owners, so I asked if that applied to sick, medically exempt dogs too. She very happily said, "Yep." I asked, "You would kill my sick dog over an accidental bite or scratch incident?" Her response once again was, "You'd better make sure he never, ever bites or scratches anyone!"

If that is how our local Animal Control treats responsible pet owners who are making every effort to do the right thing (save the dog's life instead of killing him and tossing him out like an old pair of tennis shoes) how do they treat people who have pets getting into trouble or people who don't take care of their pets? And I must assume they would treat a pet undergoing chemotherapy or a beloved pet in the end stages of life with the same total lack of compassion or concern about the dog's life or quality of life.

When I hung up the phone, I was a wreck. I was stunned by that Animal Control Officer's lack of compassion and caring, and the abundantly clear inability to distinguish between a responsible pet owner and someone who doesn't even care about their pet. Obviously it makes no difference. I was stunned and I was angry with my vet. Why would he give me such bad information? I felt like Mikey had been outed and hearing the excitement and hate in that Animal Control Officer's voice made me feel like Mikey was soon to be fed to the extremely hungry wolves. He didn't have to do anything wrong, if he was merely accused of something it could cost him his life and we also have to deal with contradictory laws. In one section it says medically exempt pets (or those not wearing a current rabies tag) must be kept confined in a structure or kennel at all times and in another section it says that doing so is animal cruelty.

So the protection the State gives to these sick pets and their humans is meaningless on the county level? Apparently in many counties it only means the humans won't have to pay a fine for their medically exempt pet not being vaccinated.

I decided to call the Animal Control offices in neighboring counties and I decided to start with the county our vet's office was in. Much to my surprise the response was entirely different. The officer was actually very pleasant. I was told that medically exempt pets are required to have a tag. In the event of a bite incident the pet would be quarantined for ten days at home just like a vaccinated dog and they aren't really concerned about rabies being transmitted by a dog through a scratch incident because rabies is spread through saliva. They don't usually confiscate any dog unless it has seriously hurt someone (requiring stitches or surgery) or if the pet has been exposed to a rabid animal.

I quickly realized that every county is different. The laws are very confusing and sometimes contradictory to the point that you can't abide by the law without violating another law in the same chapter. Our pet laws are so poorly written that in many counties no matter what we do we are violating the law and it appears that Mikey was at risk of being confiscated every time he went out into his own back yard.

Throughout this ordeal with Mikey I had been researching his health issues and reading the laws. It made me realize that although I thought I had been a truly a responsible pet owner I clearly was not. I should have known a lot more about these health and legal issues instead of learning about them the way I did.

More about Animal Control

More information about the laws can be found here.