Animal Law is a recently developed and evolving area of law. While animals are still property, their care and protection are now coming under increasing statutory control. This is in addition to existing laws regarding animals as a nuisance or threat.
Massachusetts has several statutes specifically addressing dangerous and nuisance dogs. A dog owner is liable for all damage caused by his or her animal per M.G.L. c. 140, § 155. A dog which, while not on its owner's property, attacks a person or live stock, may be killed per M.G.L. c. 150, § 156. Owners of dogs with a vicious disposition, prone to excessive barking or creating other disturbances are subject to complaint per M.G.L. c. 140, § 157. If a dog which has been ordered to be restrained again attacks or harasses people or live stock, the owner is subject to treble damages per M.G.L.c. 140, § 159.
Attorney Langer successfully defended a farmer who had to shoot a dog attacking his animals and himself from criminal charges brought as the result of that lawful protection of himself and his animals. He is also a member of the Animal Law Practice Group of the Massachusetts Bar Association and a similar committee under the Rhode Island Bar Association.
Massachusetts is now a state in which owners can continue caring for their animals through a trust. Because animals are property, not people, they could not receive funds as beneficiaries of wills or trusts as a matter of law. Massachusetts law changed in that regard. Effective April 7, 2011, M.G.L. c. 203, s. 3C permitted pets being named as beneficiaries of a trust. The animals so covered are those living at the time the trust becomes effective.
Massachusetts pet owners should consider creating a trust for their companion animals to ensure they will be properly cared for when their owners pass.
Pending legislation, already passed by the Senate, would bring pets under the protection of domestic relations restraining orders; i.e., "209A orders." If enacted, this would extend to their pets the protection such orders provide to their owners.