It’s not uncommon to see a dog wandering the halls of Robinson, Kriger & McCallum’s office. Like many of our clients, we enjoy having our furry friends around and appreciate the benefits of dog ownership. Balancing out those benefits, however, are legal responsibilities under both state and municipal law. If you have a dog or are considering getting one, it’s important to understand the legal obligations associated with dog ownership.
Maine law requires that dogs who are 6 months of age or older must be licensed in the municipality where the dog resides. 7 MRS §3923-A. Dog licensing can be done online or at your local city or town hall and involves a small fee. In addition to licensing, Maine requires that within 30 days of turning 6 months old, dogs must be vaccinated against rabies. 7 MRS §3916. Your veterinarian may recommend additional vaccines and certain businesses such as dog groomers, boarding kennels or doggy daycares may require those vaccines in order to provide services.
So your dog is licensed and vaccinated and now you’re ready to hit the parks and trails? Hold on – Maine law states that it’s illegal for any dog to be “at large” except when being used for hunting. 7 MRS §3907. “At large” is defined as being off of the premises or the owner and not under the control of a person “whose personal presence and attention would reasonable control the conduct of the animal.” Many municipal ordinances refer to this as voice control and require that any off leash dog be under the voice control of its owner. Municipalities also have the right to require dogs to be on leash regardless of whether they’re under voice control. This has turned into a hot topic in many communities as municipalities attempt to balance the desire of dog owners to allow for off leash time against concerns about nature conservation and complaints from other residents regarding behavior of dogs in public parks and spaces.
Taking all of this into consideration, you’ve got Fido licensed, vaccinated and trained to respond to your commands – you’re ready to go! Right? Almost. It’s important to understand that dogs are animals and their behavior is not always entirely predictable even with training. So what happens if your dog unexpectedly bites or otherwise injures someone while you’re out? First of all, stay, secure medical assistance and give the individual your contact information. Failure to take those steps is a Class D crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. 7 MRS §3955. Maine law states that if your dog injures someone outside of your property, you are liable for the damages suffered unless a court determines that the injured party was at greater fault than the dog owner. 7 MRS §3961. Notably, if your dog injures someone on your property, you’re liable for damages unless the person injured was at fault.
In the event that your dog does injure or threaten someone, that individual has 30 days to make a complaint to local law enforcement alleging that the dog is a dangerous dog or nuisance. If a court finds that the dog is dangerous, they may impose a number of remedies from requiring the dog to be muzzled to ordering that it be euthanized. §7 MRS 3952-A.
At the end of the day, is owning a dog worth the risk? We’d argue yes but we’d also encourage you to license, vaccinate and train your dog. If you’re not sure that your dog will listen to you off leash, keep them on leash. Avoid situations that you think might make your pup uncomfortable or scared. Ultimately, the laws and ordinances regarding dogs are meant to keep everyone safe and to encourage responsible pet ownership in Maine.