Note: This was taken directly from the Paws For Life Rescue and Adoption "Happy Tails" Weekly Newsletter.
What to Do When Animal Control Knocks on Your Door
by George J. Eigenhauser Jr., attorney at law licensed in the State of California since 1979 practicing in the areas of civil litigation and estate planning
ANTI-DOG ENFORCEMENT - What Every Dog Owner Needs to Know
Dog owners and ethical breeders are increasingly being targeted. Disgruntled neighbors may retaliate against dog owners and many other reasons drive complaints and anti-dog enforcement action, which many times may be conducted illegally. The following text outlines methods of inquiry and enforcement that may be used by local officials in attempts to enforce ordinances in your community and suggested techniques of response. These techniques are entirely legal and based upon the rights of citizens as stated by the U.S. Constitution.
No one wants to have Animal Control come knocking on the door ... but if they do, it will help if you know what your options are.
Remember, Animal Control is law enforcement. They are bound by the same Constitution as any other government agency. To protect yourself, you need to know your rights. These vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another, but some general principles apply. One rule applies everywhere: never physically resist an officer.
When Animal Control Is at Your Door:
1. Do not let them in, no matter how much they ask. Animal Control generally cannot enter your home without a warrant, or your permission. While regular police can enter in emergency situations when human life is at risk (i.e. they hear gunshots and a scream inside), there are few, if any, situations in which Animal Control can enter your home without a warrant. Simply tell them they may not come in.
2. If you let them in, anything they find in "plain sight" can be used against you. In some circumstances Animal Control officers, unable to find a legitimate reason to make an arrest, have reported building or zoning violations. This may include caging that you attached to a wall without a building permit, that extra outlet in the puppy room, having more pets than allowed by zoning, even extension cords in violation of fire codes. For rescues and fosters, no matter how clean your kennel, if they want to find a violation, they will.
3. Do not talk to them from an open doorway. Step outside and close (and lock, if possible) the door behind you. This is necessary because:
Anything they see through the open door is "plain sight" and may be the basis for an arrest or probable cause for a search warrant.
If they make an arrest or even feel threatened, they are usually permitted to search for weapons in your immediate area. Do you keep a baseball bat inside the door for your protection? Even if you don't, once they step inside to look, they are in your home and may continue to search.
It is hard not to be intimidated by someone in authority. Some animal control is even done by local police, who carry guns. It is easy for them to get "in your face," causing you to back up into the home. Once you go in, it will be interpreted as an invitation to follow.
4. If they claim to have a warrant, demand to see it. In general, a search warrant must be signed by a judge. A warrant to search your home for dogs does not include an inventory of your jewelry box. A warrant to search your garage or barn does not include a search of your home.
5. Warning - anyone in lawful possession of the premises may be able to give permission for a search. Make sure your roommate, babysitter, dog-sitter, housekeeper and others know that they should not let animal control into your home or on your property (i.e. backyard, garage, etc.).
How to Handle Questions:
Don't answer any questions beyond identifying yourself for the officer. Anything you say to the officer in your defense cannot be used in court (hearsay). Anything you say that is harmful to you will be used in court (confessions are not considered hearsay). You cannot win, except by remaining silent.
Be polite, but firm. Do not argue, bad-mouth, curse, threaten or try to intimidate the officer.
Do not lie to an officer, ever. However, it is NOT a lie to exercise your right to remain silent.
Keep your hands in plain sight. People have been shot by police when common objects, such as a wallet, were mistaken for a gun.
Do not touch the officer in any way. Do not physically resist an officer, no matter how unlawful his or her actions.
Don't try to tell your side of the story. It cannot help.
Do not threaten the officer that you plan to file a complaint for their actions.
If the questioning persists, demand to speak to a lawyer first. Repeat as necessary.
Gathering the Facts:
Get the name and badge number of each officer involved. If he/she does not volunteer this information, ask.
Ask the name of the agency they represent. Different agencies have different enforcement responsibilities.
Ask why they are there. Request the factual basis of the complaint and the identity of the complainant.
If they have other people with them (neighbors, press, etc.), get the names and organizations for all present.
Note the names (and addresses) of any witnesses to the encounter.
If you are physically injured by an officer, you should take photographs of the injuries immediately, but do not forego proper medical treatment first.
Write down all of the information, as well as the date and time of the incident immediately, while details are fresh in your mind.
If your rights are violated, file a complaint with the appropriate body. Consider when you may need to contact the media and the animal welfare community for assistance.
If You Are Arrested:
Remain silent. Answer no questions until you have consulted with a lawyer.
Don't "explain" anything. You will have time for explanations after you have talked to a lawyer.
Within a reasonable time, they must allow you to make a phone call to get a lawyer or arrange bail. They are not allowed to listen to your phone call to your attorney, but they may "monitor" the rooms for "your protection." Do not say anything you do not want them to overhear; save that until after you are out on bail.
Telephone Inquiries or Threats:
You may receive telephone inquiries. If your conversation indicates that the person is representing the county clerk's office or allegedly representing an official body, ask the caller for:
Full name, title and phone number
Agency's full name and full address
Their supervisor's full name and phone number
Nature of the inquiry (what it is about)
Why the inquiry is being made
How your name and phone number were obtained
Ask that all future questions from that agency be submitted in writing
Always take good care of your animals.
Be fair and honest in all of your dealings, and be on good terms with your neighbors. Most animal control contacts are complaint-driven. Some complaints may arise as harassment by people with unrelated grievances against you. It may result from an actual incident or a cranky neighbor who doesn't like you parking in front of his house.
If you are confronted by Animal Control and turn them away, assume they will be back. Use the time available to get vet records organized, make sure everything is clean and presentable. If you are over the limit on the number of pets, find friends who can provide temporary shelter for your pets. Whatever you do, stay calm and keep your wits about you. Just say "no," no matter what threats or promises of leniency they make. When in doubt, say nothing and speak to a lawyer afterwards.
Do not ever, for any reason, sign anything, despite threats and intimidation, until you have consulted a lawyer. The moment you sign over ownership of your pets, Animal Control can legally euthanize them.