Animal Shelter Laws

Updated February 21, 2017

Since far more dogs and cats are bred than there are humans to care for them, a large number of dogs and cats end up in animal shelters. State and federal laws regulate how these shelters operate and who is allowed to operate them, in an effort to protect homeless animals.


Unidentifiable animals that are not wearing rabies tags must be taken to the nearest shelter, according to the University of North Carolina. Some animals are taken if they do not have a leash under leash laws.


Animal shelters try to contact the owner of the animal that has been taken to the shelter. If the owner cannot be contacted, the shelter attempts to sell the animal through an adoption program or euthanizes the animal, according to the University of North Carolina. Animals are euthanized because shelters often do not have enough resources such as space or food in order to keep the stray animals alive.

Sick and Injured

Sick and injured animals are usually euthanized because they are the most expensive animals to take care of, according to the University of North Carolina. Any animal bites to people must be reported to a local authority, according to Clemson University.

Animal Cruelty

In 2006, legislation was passed that required the owner of an animal that was seized for animal cruelty or animal fighting to pay for the sheltering of the animal, according to the University of North Carolina.

Department of Agriculture

In 2005, legislation was passed that brought animal care shelters under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, according to the University of North Carolina. The Department of Agriculture now regulates the euthanasia of all animals in animal shelters.

Basic Necessities

Some states require that an animal shelter provide food, water, protection from weather and veterinary care, according to Clemson University.

No Kill

No-kill shelters take in a limited number of animals and allow these animals to live out their natural lives in the shelter if they are not adopted. However, some states require that some of these animals be given to research labs and medical schools for biomedical research, according to Clemson University.


Animal shelter owners usually need an animal shelter license in order to own and operate an animal shelter, according to the State of Michigan. The owner must fill out a registration form, arrange for veterinary service and arrange for an inspection by a state Department of Agriculture employee. If the shelter is not approved, suggestions are given regarding how the shelter can be improved and a reinspection date is set.

Shelter Report

Many states require that shelter owners send an annual shelter report that details the number of cats and dogs, the number of adoptions and euthanized animals, and the number of animals that are sold for research purposes.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Charles Pearson has written as a freelancer since 2009. He has a B.S. in literature from Purdue University Calumet and is currently working on his M.A. He has written the ebooks "Karate You Can Teach Your Kids," "Macadamia Growing Handout" and "The Raw Food Diet."