PET LIMIT LAWS                                                   Material on this page © The Animal Council 2006 - 2017

Frequently Asked Questions About Limit Laws

What are limit laws? —
Limit laws restrict the right to keep animals at a particular location within a jurisdiction, based on species and sometimes
other criteria such as age, size, gender or purpose such as breeding, training or boarding. These may be contained in
basic animal laws or in land use or other provisions for permits and licensing, which may or may not set forth conditions for
keeping excess animals. Related facts, for example, outbuildings at a residence or commercial character of the property
itself  have bearing in individual situations. Additional private restrictions may be contained in rental agreements and in
other types of private documents restricting property such as condominiums, subdivisions or homeowner associations.
Provisions vary widely from complete absence of any restriction to an absolute limit of one animal subject to additional
restrictions such as species or size.

Who is impacted by limit laws?—
A broad cross-section of society ranging from well-known public figures and celebrities to dedicated hobbyists and
ordinary people keep varying numbers and species of animals in their homes as an evolving and integral part of their
lives. The many mutual benefits relationships between animals and people of all ages — children, active adults and elders
are well documented. Limit laws diminish policies promoting “family member” status for animals.

Why are limit laws enacted?—
The legal basis for limit laws is police power inherent in government authority to protect public safety and welfare from
alleged negative affects from the presence of multiple animals. Concerns relate to noise, sanitation and waste disposal,
attraction of insects and other pests, danger to people either on the premises or neighborhood, welfare of the animals,
neighborhood property values and fear or even hatred of animals. Courts may find specific limit laws defective but the
concept of limiting the right to keep animals has not been held illegal. Legal issues range from permitted uses of
residential property to overall land use planning through zoning and special purpose regulation.

When do limit laws arise? —
Limits laws can arise when more comprehensive animal control provisions are merely copied from other sources, in
response to perceived problem households or merely biases against or ignorance of keeping animals. Historical existence
of large or commercial kennels amidst development and re-zoning may lead to broad codification of limits that would
otherwise be unnecessary. Just one negative incident involving animals, whether or not due to the number or type of
animals can lead to imposition or reduction of limits.

How are limit laws made? —
Limit laws are subject to the legislative process in the specific jurisdiction in either enactment or repeal. Animal control
and humane, public health, police, land use (zoning and planning) and even social services agencies may influence the
decisions of lawmakers in addition to the demands of citizens either for or against. Limits arising from changes in land
uses may be subject to legal non-conforming use for excess animals that were kept legally under prior law. Otherwise
“grandfathering” existing animals is usually subject to political whim and sometimes denied.

What’s wrong with limit laws? —
Specific numbers are arbitrary, inflexible and do not reflect varied circumstances, capabilities and motivations of owners.
Limits artificially restrict the number of homes for animals as well as personal choice and privacy. Limit laws are typically
enforced through informant complaints — from neighbors, others with grievances or even visitors rather than systematic
investigation of animal owners. The methods and forum of enforcement depends on the specific applicable law and to
some extent, the local political climate and status of the parties and animals.

Myths about limit laws:
•        Limit laws prevent “overpopulation.” This is a controversial and pejorative term generally arising from an imbalance
between animals in shelters and public demand for this source of animals. If anything, limit laws contribute to this
imbalance rather than prevent it.
•        Limit laws prevent “nuisances.” Nuisances are a broad class of disturbances arising at a location that may interfere
with the rights of one or more others. Varying numbers of animals can be kept with no offense at all.
•        Limit laws prevent “cruelty.” Cruelty comprises broad and expanding categories of offenses committed against
animals, but prevention by absence of animals is extreme and unwarranted.
•        Limit laws prevent “hoarding.” Hoarding has been identified as one manifestation of psychiatric disorder involving
obsessive-compulsive behavior unlikely to be prevented by laws.

For more information on "hoarding", see the home page of HARC, the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium: "We have
assembled the resources on this site to increase awareness about a complex disorder which has until recently not
received serious attention by medical, mental health, and public health professionals. Known to animal protection groups
or SPCA's for many years as "collectors", the depth of the pathology underlying this behavior is just beginning to be
uncovered, and shows striking similarities to other forms of hoarding behavior which are better understood."   

POLICY ARGUMENTS against limit laws generally are set out in the landmark paper authored by Nathan Winograd while at
the San Francisco SPCA in 2000.  "
Pet Limit Laws: Closing the Door to Loving Homes"

To determine current limit laws, if any, in a specific jurisdiction, always obtain official current law and also check impending
changes either at regulatory or lawmaking levels.
 Consult a local, licensed attorney to resolve any questions or

    Unofficial copies of cases provided for educational purposes.  Use official editions for citation purposes.
    Legal issues involving limits arise from the specific law at issue and may involve only constitutional
    issues related to numbers or modifying elements or land use issues relating to zoning restrictions or
    both constitutional and zoning issues.  Land use law is a separate field, often very state specific and
    potentially complex as can be local zoning laws and their historic evolution in local development.  
    Within specific jurisdiction ordinances, limits may involve a scheme of both numerical limits as well
    as land use issues.  

    Some cases below emphasize simple limits, because these are more applicable to general policy advocacy and often more
    common.   However, these are not inclusive of all legal approaches to limit and restrict the keeping of animals and other
    cases present issues of zoning law that can directly or indirectly determine how many of what
    kinds of animals can be kept on specific parcels.   

TABLE UPDATED, 7/31/08     
Holcomb v. City & County of Denver
606 P.2d 858
Plaintiff, keeping 12 dogs, violated
cease and desist order under
Zoning Administrator's
determination that more 3 dogs in
R-1 zone was an unlawful
accessory use.  
Reversed and remanded: Court
elected to proceed despite
plaintiff's failure to have a certified
transcript from trial court when
challenging constitutionality of
zoning ordinance.  Zoning ord.
definition of accessory use set forth
only parameters rather than
specific uses, leaving specific
determination to Zoning
Administrator.  Court held Denver
did not intend to delegate this
authority when it otherwise had
provided extensive regulation of
Supreme Court of Colorado
En Banc
Graff v. Zoning Board of Appeals of
Town of Killingworth
277 Conn. 645, 894 A.2d 285
Plaintiff had 14 dogs on 9 acres in a
Rural Residential zone where no
express limits had been in town
ordinances and nuisance type
complaints.  Town then  imposed 4
dog limit as a residential accessory
use.  Plaintiff had appealed Town
Board's upholding cease & desist
order, and trial court reversed the
Board.  Town appealed.  
Reversed.  Regulating numbers of
dogs or other pets as an accessory
use of residence is reasonable and
gives sufficient notice, i.e. not
unconstitutionally vague.  Note:
Majority of CT's 169
towns limit by ordinance and not
zoning law.  This case exemplifies
lurking limit issues when express
provisions are not obvious.  
Connecticut Supreme Court
Lawrence v. Zoning Board of
Appeals of the Town of Blanford
264 A. 2d 552
Trial court sustained owner's
appeal from zoning board of
appeal's upholding enforcement
officer's prohibiting keeping 2
goats/26 chickens for food
purposes as an accessory use on
residential lot in center of town
where farming use expressly
Trial court's judgment set aside;
case remanded for dismissal of
owner's appeal.  (Note, ordinance
expressly prohibited kennels as
accessory use, but in determining
whether uses not expressly
mentioned are permissable
accessory uses, test is whether
use is both subordinant and
customarily incidental based on
additional factors.  
Supreme Court of Connecticut
Schwab v. Zoning Board of Appeals
of Town of Darien
226 A. 2d 506
Town zoning board of appeals
upheld building inspector's notifying
plaintiff that dog kennel (hobby
level) not permitted use of
residential property when not
specifically authorized  and
permitted farming use expressly
excluded kennels.  Trial court
dismissed owner's appeal.  
Supreme Court noted that while the
intent may have been to exclude
commercial level rather than small
hobby kennels, the intent of a
legislative body is in what it did say
and not what it might have meant to
say.  Thus, the express exclusion of
kennels was controlling.  
Supreme Court of Connecticut
Bal Harbour Village v. Welsh
879 So.2d 1265 (Fl. 2004)
Village enacted 2 dog limit.  
Defendant had 4 dogs, received
multiple citations and refused to
reduce numbers.  Village sought
injunctive relief & costs.  Trial court
Reversed and remanded, directing
trial court to enter permanent
injunction limiting owner to 2 dogs.  
All property is held subject to the
right of the State to regulate it under
the police power in order to secure
safety and public welfare.  
District Court of Appeals of Florida,
Third District
Gates v. City of Sanford
566 So.2d 47
Fla.App 5 District 1990
Homeowners challenged
3-dog/3-cat limit ordinance as
unconstitutionally arbitrary,
unreasonable and discriminatory.
Trial Court upheld limit but declared
a variance provision
Affirmed.  Unconstitutional portion
of ord. does not invalidate entire
ord.; no denial of equal protection if
provision is reasonable and
non-arbitrary and treats all persons
in the same class the same.  Not
necessary to classify dogs/cats by
District Court of Appeals of
Florida, Fifth District
Fiala v. Village of Carpentersville
456 US 990, 72 L Ed 2d 1285, 102
S Ct 2271
    Petition for Writ of Certiorari denied
Village of Carpentersville v. Fiala
425 N.E. 2d 33 (1981)  
Trial court dismissed complaint
(alleged 15 Irish Setters) for
violation of ordinance prohibiting
keeping more than 2 dogs, over 3
mos or required to be licensed, in a
single family home or 1 in multi-unit
housing and had previously held
ordinance unconstitutional.  Village
REVERSED and remanded: there
is statutory authority to regulate
dogs; no violation of equal
Appellate Court of Illinois
Second District
Weber v. Board of County
884 P.2d 1159
Trial court enjoined County from
enforcing zoning law against
owners of racing greyhound kennel
on agricultural zoned land.  
(Note: County conceded that this
greyhound kennel was not a
"kennel" under the zoning
ordinance, so that the issue on
appeal is applicable only to others
operating a kennel or plaintiffs if
their operation changed to selling or
Reversed.  Raising/keeping
greyhounds for racing/sale under
the Kansas Parimutuel Racing Act
and regulated by the Kansas
Racing Commission is not an
agricultural use of land and is
subject to local zoning authority,
rather than protected by state policy
exempting "agricultural activity" from
local zoning authority.
Court of Appeals of Kansas
Hume v. Building Inspector of
Westford et al.
243 N.E. 2d 189
Trial court dismissed writ for
mandamus (by neighbor) to require
building inspector to prevent
maintenance of licensed show
kennel (owner Rice intervening
respondent)  that was in violation of
zoning law.  Neighbor appealed.  
Reversed and remanded to order
enforcement of zoning ordinance
NOT including operation of a
kennel as an accessory residential
use nor within other uses permitted
in the zone.  
Supreme Judicial Court of
People v. Strobridge
339 N.W. 2d 531
Defendant appealed conviction (6
adult dogs) for keeping more than 3
dogs without a kennel license
which could not have been obtained
in residential zoning.    
Remanded for findings of facts &
conclusions of law (was ordinance
zoning or regulatory) as to whether
defendant had established a valid
nonconforming use that would be a
defense to the charge.  Ordinance
itself is upheld.  
Court of Appeals of Michigan
People v. Yeo
302 N.W. 2d 883
Appeal from 1978 conviction for
violation (11 dogs; continuing
violation over 18 years) of ordinance
defining dog kennel as presumed if
3 or more dogs, 6 mos or older,
license required, not allowed in
residential zoning.  
Affirmed.  Ordinance was not
arbitrary, unreasonable exercise of
police power; no variance acquired
by ongoing violation not previously
Court of Appeals of Michigan
Holt v. Sauk Rapids
559 N.W. 2d 444
City enacted limit of 2 dogs over 6
mos, or permits for 3-4;
grandfathering permit over 4
provided every owner of property
within 100 feet of the dog owner's
premises consents.  Trial court
declared ordinance
REVERSED.  Plaintiffs failed to
show lack of
any rational
relationship between limiting
number of dogs and public health,
safety and welfare.  If a rational
relationship is
debatable, an
ordinance cannot be held
Minnesota Court of Appeals
Zageris v. Whitehall
594 N.E.2d 129 Ohio App. 10
Ohio Court of Appeals, 10th District
The single-family residence
property owner and owner of 9 dogs
kept on property filed suit for
declaratory judgment, petition for
habeas corpus, and civil rights
claims against city based on city's
enforcement of ordinance
prohibiting number (more than 3
adults) of dogs on property;  
appealed ruling (Hamilton County
Court of Common Pleas) in favor for
the city.  
The Ohio Court of Appeals held that
the local ordinance limiting number
of dogs on single family property
was a nuisance and not zoning
measure, which could have
allowed a claim of preexisting
nonconforming use, consequently
a valid exercise of city's police
10TH Circuit
Downing v. Cook (Chief of Police)
431 NE2d 995
(Berea, Cuyohoga County)
Plaintiff sought to enjoin police chief
from enforcing ord limiting to 3 dogs
over 3 mos unless res. lot has 4000
sq. ft. per dog kept.  Trial Court
upheld ordinance.  Court of Appeals
Supreme Court upheld ord. as valid
exercise of police power in
absence of showing "clear and
palpable abuse of power" or prove
it unreasonable, arbitrary or
unrelated to public health, safety,
morals or general welfare of the
Supreme Court of Ohio
Commonwealth v. Creighton
639 A.2d 1296 (Pa.Cmwlth.,1994)
Commonwealth Court, No. 551 C.D.
Owner/rescuer of 25 cats
challenged Borough of Carnegie
ordinance, "No person or residence
shall be permitted to own, harbor or
maintain more than five (5) dogs or
cats, or any combination thereof,
within the Borough limits."  Court of
Common Pleas upheld.  
Appellate court reversed and
remanded for the trial court "to
make findings and, if necessary,
hold additional hearings to
determine the goals which this
ordinance seeks to advance,
whether those goals are legitimate
governmental goals and whether, if
the goals are legitimate, the means
used to achieve them are
reasonable. ."  
City of Marion v. Schoenwald
South Dakota
631 N.W.2d 213 (S.D.,2001)
City enacted ordinance limiting
households to 4 dogs, only 2 of
which could weigh over 25 pounds.  
Trial court struck down weight
restriction as violating substantive
due process rights under South
Dakota Constitution.
Supreme Court reversed.  Weight
limits for only 2 of allowed 4 dogs
did not exceed city's authority to
protect public health and safety,
because there is a rational
relationship between ordinance
and large dog problems.  
Ramm v. Seattle
66 Wn. App. 15, 830 P.2d 395
Plaintiff sought to permanently
enjoin Defendant city from enforcing
limit of 3 small animals per single
family residence in single family
zone and declaratory judgment that
ordinance was unconstitutionally
vague; violated substantive due
process rights and right to privacy.  
Trial court denied motion; upheld
Affirmed.  Ordinance not facially
vague nor vague as to plaintiff on
the applicability to indoor-only cats
when she had excess visible
outside; ownership of cats/dogs
subject to regulation under muni's
police power, subject to judicial
review for reasonableness
and ord. not "unduly oppressive".  
Rt to privacy does not extend to
animals.  Overbreadth does not
apply in absence of "substantial
amount of protected conduct.  
State v. Mueller
256 N.W.  103 (1936)
Defendants convicted of violating
town of Muskego ordinance
prohibiting keeping more than 2
dogs over 3 mos. in residential
district within 1,000 feet of another
residence, appealed
State law providing for dog licenses
did not confer right to keep dogs or
limit municipal authority to
otherwise  regulate dogs, not
exceeding the bounds of reason.  
Supreme Court of Wisconsin