Boston: Animal Protection Q&A from the MSPCA

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) has put together these answers to common questions regarding animal protection. Even if you don’t live in Massachusetts, we encourage you to read through and then look up the specific laws in your state.

From the MSPCA:

Below are some of the common questions we receive in the MSPCA’s Advocacy Department.

How can I find out what laws exist regarding animals?

Animals are protected by laws and regulations; some laws directly protect animals while others govern people’s responsibilities. Federal animal laws generally affect interstate activity, such as regulating animal dealers who do business in many parts of the country. Wildlife-related federal laws cover issues such as endangered species and migratory birds. State laws cover a wide variety of animal-related issues, such as animal cruelty, pet shops, hunting and trapping. Local laws usually cover pet owner responsibility, including dogs running loose and pooper-scooper laws.

All Massachusetts laws (and pending bills) are on the web at www.malegislature.gov. Massachusetts’ regulations, set forth by state agencies, can be obtained from the appropriate state agency. Federal laws can be found online at http://thomas.loc.gov. Another good source for state laws and regulations is:  www.lawlib.state.ma.us/subject/about/animals.html.  Some Massachusetts municipalities have their animal control ordinances on their website; you may also get a copy by contacting your city or town hall.

Who do I do if I see animal abuse?

Massachusetts has several laws that prohibit animal abuse, including: torture, beating, mutilating or killing; failing to provide proper food, drink, shelter, sanitary environment, or protection from the weather; abandonment; carrying an animal in or upon a vehicle in a dangerous way; fighting animals or training them to fight. If you believe an animal is being abused or neglected, contact your local police, the MSPCA or the Animal Rescue League of Boston (ARL) law enforcement to investigate.

What can the MSPCA law enforcement officers do?

The MSPCA officers can enforce all state animal cruelty laws. In addition, they are authorized to inspect places where animals are delivered for transportation or slaughtered, pet shops, guard and hearing dog businesses, licensed kennels where animals are boarded for a fee, and animal dealers licensed with the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA).

What does an animal control officer (ACO) do; who is my ACO?

Every municipality must have an ACO to enforce the licensing and leash laws and respond to calls about stray animals and nuisance dogs. An ACO may also operate the municipal animal shelter and respond to cat and wildlife-related calls, including animals hit by cars.  You can find your ACO’s contact information through your city or town hall, police department, or city or town website.

What if I’m concerned about animals in pet shops?

Contact the Division of Animal Health in the Department of Agricultural Resources or the MSPCA or ARL law enforcement department. Regulations that govern pet shops are online at: http://www.mass.gov/agr/animalhealth/petshops/index.htm

Is there a “lemon law” for sick dogs or cats from pet shops?

Yes. The pet shop must give you a 14-day warranty, which entitles you to a full refund or replacement if a veterinarian determines that the animal is diseased or has a congenital disorder. For more information, contact the Division of Animal Health in the Department of Agricultural Resources.

Are there any laws that allow pets in housing?

There are laws that permit pets in elderly and disabled state and federal housing. The booklet Best Friends for Life has detailed information on these issues. See www.mspca.org/petsinhousing for more information.

Can insurance carrier discriminate based on my dog’s breed?

Breed-specific ordinances are illegal in Massachusetts. However, insurance companies are not subject to these restrictions. For more information, visit www.mspca.org/bsl. 

What do I do if I see a sick animal?

Contact your ACO, animal inspector, police department, MassWildlife, or the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  Do not try to handle the animal, especially if you suspect rabies.

Who do I call if I think someone is hunting or trapping in an illegal manner?

Contact the Massachusetts environmental police. If you think that an animal is suffering and there may be a violation of the animal cruelty law, you may also contact the MSPCA or the ARL law enforcement.

Who should I call about conflicts with wildlife?

Visit the MSPCA’s website at www.LivingWithWildlife.org to learn about humane conflict resolution. If you need more help, email advocacy@mspca.org. If a wild animal must be removed from your home or yard, there are Problem Animal Control (PAC) agents who can do help – some more humanely than others. MSPCA can tell you what questions to ask before hiring a PAC agent. In Massachusetts, wildlife cannot be relocated, so if a PAC agent removes an animal, the animal must be released on your own property or be killed.  Regulations on PAC agents can be found on MassWildlife’s website, http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/.


MSPCA law enforcement (617) 522-6008; (800) 628-5808
Animal Rescue League of Boston           law enforcement (617) 426-9170 X110
Mass. Department of Public Health (rabies info) (617) 983- 6800 or 1-888-658-2850
Div. of Animal Health/Dept of Agricultural Resources (617) 626-1795
MassWildlife             HQ (508) 389-6300
Mass. Environmental Police (800) 632-8075



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