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What to Do When Animal Control Comes Knocking

By August 3, 2018 Legislation

What to Do When Animal Control Comes Knocking

by George J. Eigenhauser, Jr.

Author George J. Eigenhauser, Jr. is an Attorney at Law licensed in the State of California since 1979. George practices in the areas of civil litigation and estate planning.

Dog owners and ethical breeders are increasingly being targeted.
Disgruntled neighbors may retaliate against dog owners and many other reasons drive complaints, and anti-dog enforcement action, which many times may be conducted illegally.ANTI-DOG ENFORCEMENT – What Every Dog Owner Needs To Know

The following text outlines methods of inquiry and enforcement which may be used by local officials in attempts to enforce anti-dog ordinances in your community and suggested techniques of response. These techniques are entirely legal and based upon the rights of citizens as stated by the U. S. Constitution.

No breeder wants to have Animal Control come knocking on the door… but if they do, it will help if you know what your options are.

Remember, Animal Control is law enforcement. They are bound by the same Constitution as any other government agency. To protect yourself, you need to know your rights. These vary slightly one jurisdiction to another, but some general principals apply. One rule applies everywhere: never physically resist an officer.

When Animal Control is At Your Door:

  1. Do not let them in, no matter how much they ask. Animal Control generally can not enter your home without a warrant, or your permission. While regular police can enter in emergency situations when human life is at risk (i.e. they hear gunshots and a scream inside), there are few, if any, situations in which Animal Control can enter your home without a warrant. Simply tell them they may not come in.
  2. If you let them in, anything they find in “plain sight” can be used against you. In some circumstances Animal Control officers, unable to find a legitimate reason to make an arrest, have reported building or zoning violations. This may include caging you attached to a wall without a building permit, that extra outlet in the puppy room, having more pets than allowed by zoning, even extension chords in violation of fire codes! No matter how clean your kennel, if they want to find a violation, they will.
  3. Do not talk to them from an open doorway. Step outside and close (and lock if possible) the door behind you. This is necessary because:A) Anything they see through the open door is “plain sight” and may be the basis for an
    arrest, or probable cause for a search warrant.B) If they make an arrest or even feel threatened they are usually permitted to search for weapons in your immediate area. Do you keep a baseball bat inside the door for protection? Even if you don’t, once they step inside to look, they are in your home and may continue to search.C) It is hard not to be intimidated by someone in authority. Some animal control is even done by local police, who carry guns. It is easy for them to get “in your face,” causing you to back up into the home. Once you go in, it will be interpreted as an invitation to follow.
  4. If they claim to have a warrant, demand to see it. In general, a search warrant must be signed by a judge. A warrant to search your home for dogs does not include an inventory of your jewelry box. A warrant to search your kennel in the garage or in the barn does not include a search of your home.
  5. In some locations dog owners may have obtained special “breeder permits” that stipulate that Animal Control has your permission to enter at any time. If you have signed such a permit they still can not enter against your wishes, since you can revoke the permission at any time. However, if you refuse permission it may allow them to cancel your breeder permit, so you have to weigh the consequences.
  6. Warning, anyone in lawful possession of the premises may be able to give permission for a search. Make sure your roommate, baby sitter, dog sitter, housekeeper and others know that they should not let animal control into your home.

How to Handle Questions:

  1. Don’t answer any questions beyond identifying yourself for the officer. Anything you say to the officer in your defense can not be used in court (hearsay). Anything you say that is harmful to you will be used in court (confessions are not considered hearsay.) You can not win, except by remaining silent.
  2. Be polite but firm. Do not argue, bad mouth, curse, threaten or try to intimidate the officer.
  3. Do not lie to an officer, ever. However, it is NOT a lie to exercise your right to remain silent.
  4. Keep your hands in plain sight. People have been shot by police when common objects,
    such as a wallet, were mistaken for a gun.
  5. Do not touch the officer in any way. Do not physically resist an officer, no matter how unlawful his or her actions.
  6. Don’t try to tell your side of the story, it can not help.
  7. Do not threaten the officer that you plan to file a complaint for their actions.
  8. If the questioning persists, demand to speak to a lawyer first. Repeat as necessary.

Gathering the Facts:

  1. Get the name and badge number of each officer involved. If she/he does not volunteer this information, ask.
  2. Ask the name of the agency they represent. Different agencies have different enforcement responsibilities.
  3. Ask why they are there. Request the factual basis of the complaint, and the identity of the complainant.
  4. If they have other people with them (Humane Society, press, etc.) get the names and organizations for all present.
  5. Note the names (and addresses) of any witnesses to the encounter.
  6. If you are physically injured by the officer, you should take photographs of the injuries immediately, but do not forego proper medical treatment first.
  7. Write down all of the information, as well as the date and time of the incident immediately, while details are fresh in your mind.
  8. If your rights are violated, file a complaint with the appropriate body.

If You Are Arrested:

  1. Remain silent. Answer no questions until you have consulted with a lawyer.
  2. Don’t “explain” anything. You will have time for explanations after you have talked to your lawyer.
  3. Within a reasonable time they must allow you to make a phone call to get a lawyer or arrange bail. They are not allowed to listen to your call to your attorney, but they may “monitor” the rooms for “your protection.” Do not say anything you do not want them to overhear; save that until after you are out on bail.


You may receive telephone inquiries concerning the number of dogs you own and whether any dogs or puppies are for sale. Other questions may also be asked.

Your response should be to inquire “Are you interested in a puppy?” If the answer is “yes”, ask that person for his name, address and phone number. Suggest that you or a responsible breeder will contact that person at a more convenient time for you.

If the answer is friendly and genuinely inquisitive, invite the person to look at your puppies.

If the question asked is, “What is the price of each puppy?” simply say that puppies of this type are being sold for between “X” and “Y” dollars. Never say that you are selling them.

If the question is asked “Are these your puppies?” you should ask “Why do you want to know?”

If your conversation indicates that the person is representing the county clerk’s office or allegedly representing an official body, ask the caller for:

  4. NATURE OF THE INQUIRY (what it is about)

Preventative Measures:

  1. Always keep your kennel clean and take good care of your animals.
  2. Consider a P.O. Box or other address for business cards and advertisements. Keep descriptions of your location general (i.e. Southern California, rather than the name of the City where you live). The Internet can provide anonymity for initial contacts. You can even buy a “remote prefix” to get a phone number from a nearby community forwarded to your phone or to a voice mail. Avoid local newspaper classifieds, they are often monitored.
  3. Screen any potential puppy buyers carefully. Always be alert that they may be Animal Control or even Animal Rights working under cover.
  4. Don’t allow strangers into your home until you have screened them.
  5. Be fair and honest in all of your dealings, and be on good terms with your neighbors. Most animal control contacts are complaint-driven. Some complaints may arise as harassment by people with unrelated grievances against you. It may be a disgruntled dog buyer, or a cranky neighbor who doesn’t like you parking in front of his house.
  6. Anything about you that can be observed in “plain sight” from the street or sidewalk can become probable cause for a warrant. Even areas on your property open to visitors can be dangerous. Be aware of which areas of you home are visible from the outside, and plan accordingly.
  7. If you are confronted by Animal Control, and turn them away, assume they will be back. Use the time available to make sure everything is clean and presentable. If you are over limit on the number of pets, find friends who can provide temporary shelter for your dogs.

Whatever you do, stay calm and keep your wits about you.

Just say “no,” no matter what threats or promises of leniency they make.

When in doubt, say nothing and speak to a lawyer afterwards.



Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Jody Gabriele says:

    Greetings,I operate Steel City Pit Bull Rescue and Rehabilitation(formerly Steel City Bulldogs,Pgh,Pa)in Sharon,Pa. I used to show,breed,raise and train ADBA registered APBTs,but,after a divorce,I stopped showing dogs,and,as they died off from old age,I started to rescue. I was wondering why there Isnt a DNA database for the APBT? Ive been rescuing Bully breeds for many years,and still have to educate people about using Pit Bull as a blanket term. A DNA database for APBTs would be very helpful not only in rescue,but aganst inflated bite statistics put up by mislabeling,which as you know fuels BSL.I onow that most of the supposed pit bulls i deal with in my rescue are mixes. Its very rare for a TRUE APBT to end up in a rescue situation.
    Im thinkng of getting back into showing ADBA registerred dogs,and am curious,is there a sanctioned ADBA Club near me in Western Pa? If not,what measures would i need to take to start one here? Please feel free to respond to,
    J. Gabriele
    c/o Steel City Pit Bull
    Rescue and Rehabilitation
    689 Prindle St.
    Sharon,Pa 16146

  • Libby says:

    Good advice

  • The article is legally & factually correct. I was frightened after reading this.
    It does a good job creating work for an attorney.
    What it doesn’t do is help breeders and owners proactively protect themselves from landing in this situation.
    Better to start a conversation early in a peaceful proactive way to educate and protect everyone’s rights.
    One can always knee jerk to litigate or one can educate.
    Skip the knock on your door.
    It take two to argue, only one to breathe and educate.
    Be the one breathing easy and educating.

  • tee land says:

    If you don’t want animal control to visit, in my case, keep your dogs quiet. If you live in close proximity to your neighbor, do you think they would like to hear barking, howling, whining dogs after a long days work? They are paying mortgages just as you are and would love to come home and relax. You decided to keep dogs not everyone on the street. Get a home out in the woods and go crazy with breeding but don’t subject everyone to that foolery. Animals are just that, animals. Stop showing all this animal compassion and none for your fellow humans.

  • Tory Gaines says:

    Can animal control come onto property and take away animals when you aren’t home? Keep in mind these animals are behind a fence inside a house with closed doors and windows with curtains.
    How do you prove a false “neglect” call was by a person specifically trying to harass you?

  • I like that you mentioned the importance of always keeping the kennel clean. This is a big deal since you want to make sure that you are taking care of your animals. My friend might like knowing this since she wants to contact animal control for some help.

  • My city has an ordinance of owning 3 cats. However, I foster cats for a rescue and sometimes I might have up to 10 cats in my home. Some are there 2 days and some 30. I own 1 cat. My landlord had a city inspection without my knowledge. I wasn’t going to let them in but my landlord said to reschedule I had to pay a fine. Now the city wants to come back before repairs are done . I believe to see how many cats are here. They do not know I am a foster. They where not advised. Does being a foster make me exempt from my city ordinance?

  • Jose says:

    Can animal control looking inside ur garage with out ur permissions….if the garage is open alittle… I saw them in the camara video. Going on the back yard and looking inside garage. Small opening

  • Anita Ennis says:

    I appreciate the effort to educate the public on what AC does, however, you must understand AC works on behalf of public safety AND animal welfare. Their goal is not to seize animals, it is to educate the owner and/or the person that reported and protect the animal from abuse, neglect, and abandonment. I volunteer with an equine rescue and without AC’s assistance with education AND enforcement, there would be far more needy animals in our community. Perhaps the article should have been written with more of a “responsible owner” spin verses how to avoid AC.

  • Bill Jones says:

    I complained about my neighbors 13 year old Pit Bull and 12 year old Grate Dane barking uncontrollably for weeks. This was after they stopped quieting their barking dogs whenever we’d complain to them. We were forced to report the non stop barking to our local animal control. Once we did that, the neighbors became highly retaliatory. They tried to beat our door in, they challenged us to fight them. They reported our property to the city for made up violations. When their elderly Grate Dane was at his end, they took him to have him euthanized, then complained to the city that our property was harboring rats. Our city has an ordinance that states if your property harbors rats, that it could be shut down until the wild animals (rats or mice) are exterminated. We didn’t want to get kicked out of our own home, so we purchased rat and mouse bait and placed it in our own backyard, following the instructions on the package. Well, 4 months later, the crazy neighbors fed their surviving 13 year old Pit Bull something green (like a green milk bone) and then rushed her to the local vet. They lied and told the vet they thought the dog ate rat poison and that they believed their neighbor tossed it over their fence. I was subsequently cited by our animal control for killing the dog they killed themselves (4 months earlier), and for supposedly poisoning the other dog. Months of litigation and court dates, it finally came out that there were no chemical analysis performed of the “vomit”, no blood tests performed, no urinalysis or stool samples taken etc. Animal Control never even surveyed the supposed crime scene! The Animal control was so interested in charging me with two felonies, they failed to do one iota of investigation. I had to hire a criminal defense attorney and was out $5,000.00! Luckily for me, the Judge was a smart man and he determined there was no evidence that a crime had taken place, and there was no evidence I had anything to do with the incident other than placing rat and mouse bait on my own property. What I want people here to understand is that all it takes is for a disgruntled neighbor to lie to animal control to use that agency as a tool to harass and retaliate towards you for lawfully reporting an annoyance of continual barking. Be vary careful folks… animals and abusing lying neighbors sometimes have more rights than the innocent victims do in our backwards civilization.

    • Jayden says:

      Thank you for that. It really opened my eyes.

      • Elana says:

        Thank you for all of this information. We had animal control leave a flyer on our door about licensed dogs. Our daughters boyfriend saw the officer looking around our property. We have neighbors that have called and filed false reports on other issues. I ignore them. My daughter has a pitt and so does her boyfriend but they are licensed. Our chi’s are due for shots and will be going in next month. I am frightened because we have been through so much. Mud sticks even when you are found innocent.

  • This is a different Type of animal control than I am used to, as I am primarily doing wildlife control. But I am intrigued with this subject. I get these types of calls sometimes by mistake, so I feel like I am a little bit educated to help them make the right moves now. Thank you for taking time to write this article.

  • Mary says:

    If I know the neighbor’s dog who bit me and animal control knows that I know this also but I don’t want to tell them in orange county, california can the cite you? And how much?

  • Judy Dugan says:

    I live in a town where they don’t allow feeding feral are TNR them. This is Oakdale ca
    Animal control came to my house find me $400.00 for feeding on porch. She was very bullying. She’s had business in town take car plates number in order to stop us from feeding several feral cats. Which they have been killing with rat poisoning. Two business in the area have told us this. We are planning on going to city Council meeting Dec 3 2018. Is any of this illegal. The business that the colony is a grain feed lot. It’s been there 80years.

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