Massachusetts law about animals

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

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

  • St.2012, c.193  An Act further regulating animal control
    Establishes the Homeless Animal Prevention and Care Fund with a voluntary check-off donation on income tax returns. Prohibits declaring a dog dangerous solely based on the breed of dog. Also regulates health certificates for dogs and cats brought into or sold in Mass, kennel licenses, nuisance and dangerous dogs, euthanasia, animal cruelty, protection for animals in domestic violence restraining orders and more. 
Animal cruelty
Animal health
Animal fighting
Dog bite law
Exotic pets
Horses, driving near
Internet hunting
Livestock disease control
Shelters; spay or neuter requirement
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."
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. 199, § 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.

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.

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

Print sources

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

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)


Last updated: August 16, 2018


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