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Massachusetts law about animals

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases and web sources on animal law.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

Abandoned animals
  • MGL c.186, § 30 When tenants leave a property, the owner or lessor should inspect it for abandoned animals
  • MGL c.239, § 14 After property is vacated following summary process, the owner or lessor should inspect it for abandoned animals
  • MGL c.244, § 41 After property is vacated following mortgage foreclosure, the owner or lessor should inspect it for abandoned animals
Animal cruelty
  • MGL c.19A, § 42 Dept. of Elder Affairs reporting of animal cruelty, abuse or neglect
  • MGL c.19C, § 14 Disabled Persons Protection Commission reporting of animal cruelty, abuse or neglect
  • MGL c.112, § 58B Reports of suspected acts of cruelty to animals; veterinarians; immunity from liability; failure to report
  • MGL c.140, § 174E  Chaining or tethering; confinement
up to 7 yrs in prison for animal cruelty
Burying a pet in your backyard
Cock fighting and dog fighting
Dog bites
Endangered species
Exotic pets
Homeless animals
Internet hunting
Leash laws
Leasing or renting dogs
Livestock health and sales
Restraining orders
  • MGL c.209A, § 11 Possession, care and control of domesticated animal owned by persons involved in certain protective orders; notice to law enforcement upon finding of imminent threat to household member or animal
Shelters; spay or neuter requirement
Transporting animals
Trusts for the care of animals

Massachusetts regulations

330 CMR, Mass. Dept. of Agricultural Resources. Includes regulations about domestic animals in Massachusetts. Does not include hunting or wild or exotic animals.

Exotic Pets
  • 321 CMR 2.12  Artificial propagation of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians
  • 321 CMR 9  Exotic pets exemption list
    Lists "species which are exempt from the licensing provisions of MGL c. 131, § 23 . This list includes wild (i.e., non-domesticated) vertebrate animals which may be imported, sold or possessed without a permit."
Kittens and Puppies
  • 330 CMR 12.05(2)(b) Restrictions on sale. Limits the sale of certain pets by licensed businesses. Does not appear to apply to if you are selling your own animal (MGL c.129 § 39A).
No licensee shall ... acquire, display, offer for sale, sell or give away any dog or cat which is younger than 8 weeks old
Lemon Law
  • 330 CMR 12.05  Massachusetts pet "lemon law." 
    Provides, in part: "All licensees shall provide a substitution or a full refund of the purchase price of any dog or cat to any purchaser who: (a) within 14 calendar days of sale has the dog or cat examined by a licensed veterinarian of his or her choice, and the examination indicates the dog or cat is diseased or has a congenital disorder; and (b) presents the dog or cat, a veterinarian's written statement that the dog or cat is diseased or has a congenital disorder, and proof of sale within two business days of the date of the examination."

Importing animals from out of state for shelter or adoption   
Emergency Order 1-AHO-05

Court rules

Uniform Magistrate Rules: Rule 5: Petitions for review of dog orders, Mass. Trial Court.

Selected case law

Commonwealth v. Epifania , 80 Mass.App.Ct. 71 (2011)
Covers the history of ownership of cats and other pets in Massachusetts.

Commonwealth v. Fettes , 64 Mass.App.Ct. 917 (2005)
A dog can be a dangerous weapon. "A dangerous weapon is 'any instrument or instrumentality so constructed or so used as to be likely to produce death or great bodily harm.' ...There can be little doubt that a dog . . . used for the purpose of intimidation or attack falls within this definition."

Comm. v. J.A., a juvenile, 478 Mass. 385 (2017)
A juvenile cannot be indicted as a youthful offender based on charges of cruelty to animals and bestiality, "given that the language in G. L. c. 119, § 54, the youthful offender statute, allowing a juvenile to be tried as a youthful offender for an offense involving the infliction of "serious bodily harm," does not apply to animal as well as human victims."

Commonwealth v. Santiago , 452 Mass. 573 (2008)
Presence of pitbull alone is insufficient for no-knock warrant. "[T]he mere assertion that commonly known to be aggressive, would, standing alone, be insufficient to meet the probable cause standard."

Commonwealth v. Trefry , 89 Mass. App. Ct. 568 (2016)
Keeping a dog in a filthy house and yard is a violation of  G. L. c. 140, § 174E. "Subjecting a dog to cruel conditions suffices to establish a violation" of G. L. c. 140, § 174E; outside confinement or confinement in general is not an element required to convict under the statute.

Creatini v. McHugh, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 126 (2021)
A landlord does not bear responsibility to a passerby in the street for injuries caused by a tenant's dog after the dog leaves the landlord's property. 

Irwin v. Degtiarov , 85 Mass. App. Ct. 234 (2014)
"Reasonable veterinary costs that are reasonably incurred can be recovered by the owner of an animal injured by a dog even if such costs exceed the market value or replacement cost of the animal."

A dog should not be placed in the same category as an automobile or appliance...

Nutt v. Florio , 75 Mass.App.Ct. 482 (2009)
Landlord's liability for bite by tenant's dog. A dog bite victim sued the landlord of the owner of the dog, a pit bull. The court stated that the pit bull is a breed "commonly known to be aggressive." "While the defendants may not be held strictly liable by virtue of Tiny's breed, knowledge of that breed and its propensities may properly be a factor to be considered in determining whether the defendants were negligent under common-law principles."

More Massachusetts Case Law 
Chart of more Massachusetts case law compiled by Michigan State University College

Web sources

Animal imports and livestock markets, Dept. of Agricultural Resources.
Summarizes import requirements for a wide variety of animals.

Buying a dog in Massachusetts, Dept. of Agricultural Resources.
Provides basic information on what you should know before buying a dog.

Buying pets ,
What to look for, and what to know about sellers' promises and buyers' responsibilities

Dog bites and other injuries ,
Lists commonsense steps to take to keep your dog from biting, and to avoid trouble if he does

Every dog's legal guide: A must-have book for your owner, Nolo, 2012.
A legal guide for dog owners and their neighbors which includes information on buying and selling dogs, barking dogs, dog bites and more. Requires library card for access

Flying with dogs: the not-so-friendly skies ,
Discusses problems, options, steps to take in preparing your pet for travel, and regulations governing pet travel

Helping your clients provide for pets in estate plans , Mass. Bar Association, 2006.
Detailed information on things to consider and appropriate documents.

Neighbor law: fences, trees, boundaries & noise, Nolo, 2020. Chapter 17: Other Common Neighbor Issues.
Discusses animal problems: noise, leash laws, pooper-scooper laws; number of animals; types of animals; and licenses and special permits. Requires library card for access.

Orders concerning domesticated animals in conjunction with restraining orders Memo from Chief Justice of the Trial Court and Court Administrator, October 31, 2012
Includes explanation of the law and procedures, with forms

Pet custody, Trial Court Law Libraries, February 2016.
"When two people, either married or unmarried, break up, who gets to keep the pet(s)?  Can the court order joint custody of the dog or cat, as it would a child?  Can one party get visitation rights?  Is a pet treated in a legal sense in the same way as a child, or simply as property?"

Table of state laws concerning minimum age for sale of puppies, Animal Legal & Historical Center, Michigan State University College of Law, 2017

Print sources

Animal control law and procedure in Massachusetts, Commonwealth Police Service, Inc., 2017.

Animal law, Jonathan S. Rankin, et al., MCLE, 2009

Animal law in a nutshell, 2nd ed., West Academic Publishing, 2016. 

Blair, Keshia L. “Criminal law--must love dogs: Zach and Kenji's escape from confinement and the broader context of animal cruelty--Commonwealth v. Trefry, 51 N.E.3d 502 (Mass. App. Ct. 2016)” (89 Mass. App. Ct. 568 (2016))  v. 22 Suffolk Journal of Trial & Appellate Advocacy 402 (2016-2017).  

Harris, Susan. "Woof, woof, we're getting a divorce" : pet custody and the law. v. 30 Issue 3 Massachusetts family law journal 30 (May/June 2012)

Massachusetts Practice:

  • vol. 2A (Family law and practice : with forms) 4th ed. Thomson Reuters, 2013 with supplement. Chapter 56. Property Subject to Division or Assignment, Section 56:25 Pets.
  • vol. 11 (Motor vehicle law and practice) 4th ed. Thomson/West 2008 with supplement. Chapter 13. Proving Negligence, Section 13:14 Injuries to animals-Injuries caused by animals
  • vol. 14-14E (Summary of basic law) 5th ed. Thomson Reuters, 2014 with supplement. Chapter 12. Landlord and Tenant, Section 12:56.50 Execution-Inspection of property for presence of abandoned animals; Chapter 14. Real Property, Section 14:185 Inspection for abandoned animals. Chapter 16. Torts, Section 16:203 Wild animals-Generally; Section 16:204 Limitations on liability; Section 16:205 Domestic animals-Generally; 16:206 Massachusetts dog-injury statute-Strict liability; 16:207 --Exception to liability; --16:208 Damages.
  • vol. 17B (Prima facie case : proof and defense) 5th ed. West Pub., 2005 with supplement. Chapter 53. Proof of Crimes, Section 53.18.50 Animal cruelty; Chapter 59. Presumptions and the Burden of Proof, Section 59.159 Dog bite-Child under seven
  • vol. 18A (Municipal law and practice) 5th ed. Thomson/West, 2006 with supplement. Chapter 16. Ordinances and Bylaws, Section 16.11 Animals.
  • vol. 22 (Probate law and practice : with forms) 3rd ed. Thomson Reuters, 2019 with supplement. Chapter 37. Nature and Kinds of Trusts, Section 37:15 Trusts for the care of animals. 

Pet law and custody : establishing a worthy and equitable jurisprudence for the evolving family, American Bar Association, Family Law Section, 2017.    

The law of trusts and trustees : a treatise covering the law relating to trusts and allied subjects affecting trust creation and administration, with forms, Rev. 2d ed. West Pub. Co., 1977 with supplement. Chapter 55. Trusts for Various Special Purposes, Section 1206 Pet trust – Uniform Probate Code Section 2-907.  



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Last updated: March 26, 2021