PET LIMIT LAWS                                                   Material on this page © The Animal Council 2006 - 2015

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

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 ambiguities.  

    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
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 dogs.  
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
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 allowed.
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
incidental based on additional
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 denied.  
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 type/size.  
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
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 appealed.  
REVERSED and remanded:
there is statutory authority to
regulate dogs; no violation of
equal protection,
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
(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 boarding.)
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
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
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
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 power.
10TH Circuit
Downing v. Cook (Chief of
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 public.  
Supreme Court of Ohio
Commonwealth v. Creighton
639 A.2d 1296
Commonwealth Court, No. 551
C.D. 1993
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
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 ordinance.
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,
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