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Laws You Should Know

The following information and summarized provisions of the San Diego County Code (SDCC) reflect the basic responsibilities of animal ownership. Please take a few moments to become more familiar with these regulations that promote animal and public health, safety and welfare. For additional information please visit your local county animal shelter or call (619) 236-4250.

You may read the entire summary of basic animal related laws or click on the links below to view specific information.

Disturbing the Peace

It is a public offense for any person to own or harbor an animal in such a manner that the peace and quiet of the public is unreasonably disturbed (SDCC Section 62.672). Modest changes in animal housing and care can often prevent or reduce noise disturbances. The following suggestions may be helpful:

Humane Care

Humane treatment of an animal includes providing it with adequate shelter, food, water, and exercise, as well as any necessary veterinary care. To ensure proper animal health, it is recommended that owners have their pets examined by a veterinarian at least once a year. A number of state and local laws prohibit animal cruelty, a crime punishable as a felony or misdemeanor. In general, "cruelty " includes every act, omission, or neglect whereby unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering is caused or permitted (Penal Code Section 599b).

Public Protection from Dogs

Each year thousands of area residents are bitten or attacked by dogs. Many bite victims are substantially injured and children sustain the majority of injuries. As a result of these incidents, owners are often subject to administrative action and may also incur criminal responsibility and/or civil liability.

Dog owners are responsible for ensuring that their animals do not harm or endanger the health or safety of people or other animals. Since most biting or attacking incidents occur on or near the owner's premises, they are normally preventable if reasonable and common sense precautions are taken.

Owners should not assume that their dogs would always act predictably in unusual circumstances or with unfamiliar people. In such situations, there is a greater risk of dogs biting or attacking people and therefore additional precautions are recommended. These situations include any dog that has previously demonstrated defensive or protective tendencies or that is roaming in a pack, protecting its pups, tied or chained, left in a vehicle, or kept in an area frequented by children.

Any person owning or having custody or control of a dog must at all times prevent the dog from attacking, biting, or injuring any person engaged in a lawful act, and from damaging or interfering with the lawful use of property (SDCC Section 62.669.1).

Rabies Vaccinations and Dog Licensing

Restraint of Dogs

Proper restraint of dogs will prevent them from harming or interfering with other animals, people, or property, and will also prevent them from becoming lost or from being injured by vehicles or other animals.

At Home: At home, dog owners must effectively control their dogs by voice or electronic pet containment system, or must physically and humanely restrain them by a leash, fence, or other enclosure (SDCC Section 62.669[b]; Penal Code Section 597t).

Away from Home: If you walk or otherwise bring a dog to public or other private property (where dogs are permitted), you must restrain the dog by a hand held leash (not longer than 6 feet in length) (SDCC Sections 62.669[a], 62.601[d], and 62.601[y]).

In a Motor Vehicle: If you transport an animal in a motor vehicle you must safely enclose or protect the animal by a harness or other device that will prevent the animal from falling, being thrown, or jumping from the vehicle (SDCC Section 62.700)

Warm weather tip: On a warm day, vehicle interior temperatures can reach extreme levels and endanger the health and/or life of your pet in a matter of minutes, even with partially open windows. During warm weather -- leave your pet at home! Shaded parking areas, open windows, or an air-conditioned vehicle with the engine off won't save your pet's life.

It is a public offense for any person to leave an animal in an unattended vehicle without adequate ventilation or in a manner as to subject the animal to extreme temperatures that adversely affect the animal's health or welfare (SDCC Section 62.701).

Reporting of Bites

All persons bitten and the parents or guardians of minor children bitten, as well as any person owning or having custody or control of a dog (or other animal of a species subject to rabies) that bites a person, must promptly report the incident to the Department of Animal Services (SDCC Section 62.615[b]). This is necessary so that such animals can be temporarily isolated (as required by law) in an approved place and manner (oftentimes at the owner's residence) and observed for at least 10 days for any symptoms of rabies. This requirement applies whether or not the biting animal has been vaccinated against rabies.


Animal owners are required to keep their animal premises sanitary and free from any fly breeding reservoir, offensive odors, and human or animal disease (SDCC Section 62.668[d]). It is a public offense for any person to allow a dog in his or her custody to defecate or to urinate on any property other than that of the owner or person having control of the dog. Persons having control of a dog are required to restrain or control the animal so that it urinates or defecates only in the street gutters, and to immediately remove any feces to a proper receptacle (SDCC Section 62.670).