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Understanding Pet Ownership Laws in Florida: Your Comprehensive Guide


What are some pet laws you should know about in the state of Florida?

Being a pet owner comes with many responsibilities. You have to make sure your pet is loved, watered, fed, and kept safe and comfortable. But sometimes, that responsibility means understanding pet ownership laws in Florida to protect your pet and yourself from third-party claims. There are different pet laws for different circumstances, but most of them pertain to safety, biting, vaccination, and custody.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to pet ownership laws that Florida pet owners should know.

Strict Liability in Dog Bite Cases

Florida is one of the states with strict liability laws when it comes to dog bites and related injuries. The tort for this topic is Fla. Stat. § 767.04, which states that an owner is liable for the acts of their dog, regardless of the dog’s reputation for viciousness or the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s viciousness.

In simple terms, the owner must pay for any injuries or damage caused by their dog, even if the pet has never shown signs of aggression before or had no prior history of biting. The owner cannot argue in defense that they didn’t know the dog was dangerous.

The owner is strictly liable only if the victim:

  • was bitten, and
  • was on public property or lawfully on the dog owner’s private property

Visitors and individuals carrying out a duty, like delivering mail or repairing the property at the owner’s request, are lawfully on the property.

The dog owner is not liable for a dog bite if they’ve posted a clearly visible sign on their property with words like “Beware of Dog” or “Dangerous Dog,” unless the victim is under the age of six. But if the bite victim was trespassing or negligently provoked the dog, leading to the biting incident, the owner’s liability is reduced based on the bitten person’s percentage of fault.

Custody After Divorce or Breakup

While most people view their pets as their little family members who need to be considered, Florida law does not view pets in the same light. In Florida, pets are considered personal property. During divorce or separation, pets are subject to equitable distribution along with other assets and property owned by the couple. That means only one person will get ownership of the animal; there are no shared custody or visitation agreements.

During the proceedings, a judge will consider who adopted or purchased the pet, who spends most of the time with it, and who cares for it in making his or her determination of post-divorce ownership.

Animal Abuse Cases

Fla. Stat. § 828.12 makes it a crime to:

  • injure or kill an animal unnecessarily or without justification
  • Unnecessarily overload, torment, overdrive, or deprive people of water, food, or shelter
  • Carry an animal in any vehicle in an inhumane or cruel manner

A person who intentionally commits an act of cruelty to an animal or a pet owner who fails to act and their negligence results in excessive pain and suffering or the cruel death of an animal is guilty of a third-degree felony. Psychological or psychiatric counseling is also mandatory for a convicted offender.

Pet Vaccination Laws

Rabies is extremely contagious and incredibly deadly. That’s why Florida requires all pet owners to vaccinate their cats, dogs, and ferrets for rabies, as provided by Fla. Stat. § 828.30. These animals must receive their first rabies vaccine before they’re four months old.

But if adopting a stray pet or a pet whose status of rabies vaccination is unknown, the pet must still be tested and/or vaccinated. A veterinarian can determine if the pet has sufficient antibodies from prior vaccinations.

Florida law also requires the following vaccinations:

  • Adenovirus
  • Parvovirus
  • Bordetella
  • Canine distemper
  • Hookworms
  • Roundworms
  • Parainfluenza
  • Leptospirosis

When adopting or purchasing a pet, ask for a copy of their vaccinations and follow up with your vet for subsequent vaccinations to stay compliant with the law.

Service Dog Laws

Fla. Stat. § 413.08 offer protection for service animals. These are animals specifically trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including an intellectual, sensory, physical, or psychiatric disability.

Only dogs and miniature horses qualify as service animals. They can be brought into all public areas and private facilities where members of the public are allowed.

Service animals are not considered pets and are different from emotional support animals. So, the law does not require facilities, businesses, or owners of public accommodations to allow pets. A restaurant owner, for example, is not obligated to let you bring your pet into the restaurant.

Pet Ownership Laws in Florida: The Bottom Line

As a pet owner, you’re responsible for keeping your pet safe and making sure that it does not harm people, other animals, or property. If you have to go to court over an issue with your pet or another person’s pet, contact the Florida animal rights attorney at The Goodwin Firm. Our attorney knows how each pet law applies to your case and what needs to be done to solve the issue.

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