V. Concerns about Companion Animals on Campus

By Huss, Rebecca J. | Missouri Law Review, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

V. Concerns about Companion Animals on Campus


Huss, Rebecca J., Missouri Law Review


Allowing companion animals on campus can be an administrative burden for institutions. Just keeping unapproved pets out of on-campus housing appears to be a constant job, if anecdotal reports are accurate. (297) One way to limit the time spent on the issue is to require that students themselves take as much of the responsibility as possible. Requiring students to register their animals in advance and provide all records relating to the animal prior to the animal coming on campus is one step to discourage students from making last minute decisions to keep an animal. (298) The use of "pet councils" made up of students and faculty members that enforce written guidelines puts some of the burden on students rather than just administrators. (299)

Requiring students to take the lead in ensuring that the pet policy is being followed also can be done. MIT requires each cat-friendly dormitory to choose a "Pet Chair" before any cats are allowed in the dormitory. (300) The Pet Chair must assist cat owners with forms and ensure follow-up on vaccinations and sterilizations. (301) By having an individual at the dormitory, administrators have at least one person "on the ground" who would be monitoring the animals and their owners.

A. Concerns for Students and Others on Campus

1. Public Safety

One public safety concern is the possibility of the animal harming a human or another animal. Dog bite laws vary by state, and a complete discussion of them is beyond the scope of this Article; however, it is a real and serious concern. (302) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that dogs in the United States bite more than 4.7 million people a year. (303) The CDC also reports that each year approximately 800,000 people in the United States seek medical attention for dog bites. (304)

According to the Insurance Information Institute, more than fifty percent of bites occur on an owner's property and account for one-third of all home owner liability claims. (305) Insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability, with the owner personally responsible for any claim exceeding the policy limit. (306)

An obvious issue for landlords, whether a postsecondary institution or a private individual, is the possibility that they will be sued if a tenant's animal injures someone. Just as with liability for dog bites generally, the law in this area varies by state. (307) Liability for landlords is often predicated on their ability to control the situation. (308) Obviously, landlords have less control over what happens within the unit than over common areas. (309) Some states' case law establishes that landlords are not liable for the actions of dogs belonging to their tenants, even in cases where the landlord knew the danger of a foreseeable harm. (310) It may be necessary to show that the landlord had control of the premises as well as knowledge of the dangerous or vicious propensities of the dog in order to find liability. (311) Normally, landlords are not liable for injuries caused by a tenant's animal that occur off a landlord's premises. (312) Regardless of the fact that landlords may prevail in cases where they do not have knowledge or control over an animal, the fact that they can be sued encourages the imposition of a no-pets policy.

University policies and agreements should state that the owner of the companion animal is financially responsible for damages, whether bodily injury or property damages. (313) This agreement likely is not to be of great comfort to university administrators, as there is the risk that the student owner would not have the resources to compensate a third party for any injury. Students requesting the privilege of keeping a companion animal on campus could be required to show proof of a current liability insurance policy that covers injuries the pet causes. (314)

The best way to deal with the issue of bites is to prevent the problem from occurring.

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