PET LIMIT LAWS                                                   Material on this page © The Animal Council 2006 - 2011  

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 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
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
incidental based on additional
Supreme Court of
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
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
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 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 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 prosecuted.  
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 unconstitutional.  
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 power.
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 affirmed.  
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. 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 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 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
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