Agribusiness Column: Do Farm Animals Have Rights Against Cruelty from Your Pet? | Top Stories

In New York State, farm animals do like cows, pigs, horses, goats, chickens, sheep and other livestock, have rights against cruelty from people’s pets? Should farm animals be subject to attack, or the threat of attack, from a neighbor’s dog or dogs running at large? Does the farm animal have to die before there is a violation of any law? What is the role and responsibility of law enforcement officers or dog control officers to enforce any laws applicable to these issues? Is this a form of animal cruelty?

Before we dig into the law, it is important to put this issue in context. Why are farm animals important and do they deserve the same protections as your pet may enjoy from attack by someone else’s pet? Answer this question in your mind – What would you do? How would you react if your dog is in your yard, enjoying a nice sunny day, chewing on its toy and another dog comes into your yard and is threatening your dog, or attacks? What would you do if this happens repeatedly, on your property, after you have called authorities to report it? Does it matter whether it’s a smaller dog going after your dog? What do you do?

You can look at farm animals in different ways. They are a valuable part of a business. They may be a goat producing milk for your soap making operation. A calf in the field may be a future beef animal providing income for a family or food. A dairy cow produces milk as part of a milking herd, which provides income to a family and is an important part of a local economy. The sheep in the pasture may produce lambs for meat and wool for fiber production. For 99% of the farmers. I know, their animals are also living creatures that they care deeply about, even though some day they may harvest that animal as part of their business. I remember the tear in my dad’s eye as he sent our sow “Bertha” off to be processed when we ended our pig farming days. You can see the stress on a farmer’s face when he or she is trying to help an injured animal, they know the animal is hurting and they try to do everything they can help it from its suffering. Farm animals, even the big ones, are often regarded as family until the day comes when the farmer must send them off.

Now that you are considering what you would do if your pet is being threatened or attacked by another, here is what the law says. We refer to the 2019 Consolidated Laws of New York State, Article 7, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Law (Ag and Markets Law). In particular, we refer to Section 123 of Ag and Markets Law, titled the “Dangerous Dogs” section. Paragraph one clearly states that any person who witnesses an attack or threatens attack on a farm animal or person, or companion animal, may make a complaint to a law enforcement officer or dog control officer. The officer must immediately inform the complainant of their right to commence a proceeding against the owners of the threatening animal. If the complainant says yes, the officer must start the proceeding immediately.

After that, the complainant or officer may make a complaint under oath to a judge or justice about the attack. The judge or justice shall determine immediately if there is a probable cause to believe the dog is dangerous. If a probable cause is determined, the judge or justice shall order the dog to be immediately seized. After that, the law provides for a hearing on the complaint. The burden is on the complainant to provide clear and convincing evidence that the dog is dangerous.

What does clear and convincing mean? The New York State Bar Association, on their website,, in describing NYS’s Dangerous Dog Law answers this question as, “Clear and convincing means that it is significantly more likely than not that what the complainant is saying is true.” What should someone do to provide that evidence? Immediately call authorities while the incident is happening, record video, take pictures, make a note of witnesses to the incident. Also make a note if the dog control officer or law enforcement officer witnesses the threatening or attacking animal on your property. Record dates, times, descriptions of the threatening animal, where it came from, where it left to, and names and contact information for anyone present. Keep a record of every incident you report to the officer. Ask for reports from the officer. Get a lawyer and have them read Ag and Markets Law Article 7 section 123.

Section 123 goes on to indicate the process of the hearing, what the potential outcomes could be. We encourage people to strongly consider both the potential outcomes of filing a complaint, and the outcomes of allowing your pet to threaten farm animals or people.

There is another part of the Dangerous Dogs Section under NYS Ag and Markets Law. It is section 123-A, Exemption from Civil Liability. It is the section that defines when a person may destroy a “dangerous dog”. We do not recommend taking this action. The language is provided so the reader has clarity on what the law says, versus what you may hear at the “coffee shop”.

“Section 123-A Exemption from civil liability, Agriculture & Markets (AGM) states:

1. If any dog ​​shall, without justification, attack a person, or behaves in a manner which a reasonable person believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury to a person, when such person would peaceably himself in a place where he may lawfully be, such person or any other person witnessing the attack or threatened attack may destroy such dog while so attacking, and no liability in damages or otherwise shall be incurred on account of such destruction.

2. If any dog ​​shall, without justification, attack a companion animal, farm animal or domestic animal, or shall behave in a manner which a reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to a companion animal , farm animal or domestic animal, where such animal is in any place where it may lawfully be, the owner or caretaker of such animal, or any other person witnessing the attack, may destroy such dog, and no liability in damages or otherwise shall be incurred on account of such destruction.”

Please remember, we do not recommend actions defined in Section 123-A and the owners of the pet may take legal action against you.

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