United States: Dog Owners in New Jersey Beware-Outdoor Dog Shelters That Comply With Building Codes May Soon Be Required!!

Last Updated: August 17 2015
Article by Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.

A bill introduced in the New Jersey legislature on June 29, 2015 (S-3061) would have far greater effects than merely regulating the tethering of and outdoor shelter for dogs, as the bill synopsis states.

The law would establish what amounts to a building code of sorts for outdoor shelters for dogs. For example, the shelter must be raised off the ground, attached to a foundation, and include a wind break.

A dog owner will be violating this law if they keep their dog outside in their yard for longer than 30 minutes, even if not tethered, under certain weather conditions (like rain) if there is no shelter as required. A "proper outdoor shelter" required for dogs must meet these standards:

(1) The materials used to construct any primary structure pursuant to paragraphs (2) through (5) of this subsection shall not include pressure-treated wood or any other materials that are potentially harmful to the health or safety of a dog, as determined by the Department of Health;

(2) A proper outdoor shelter shall consist of a primary structure with four walls and a roof that is soundly constructed to prevent the sagging or collapsing of any wall or the roof of the primary structure;

(3) The primary structure shall have adequate air circulation and contain

(a) sufficient space so that

(i) there are at least three inches between the ceiling of the structure and the top of the head of the dog when the dog is in a normal standing position inside the primary structure, and

(ii) the dog can easily turn around in a full circle and lie down with limbs outstretched when inside the primary structure, and

(b) dry bedding and insulation of a kind and quantity to meet the health and safety needs of the dog, including, but not limited to, retention of the dog's body heat, based on the outdoor environmental conditions, the size and type of the primary structure and the dog's size, age, and physical condition, and thickness of the dog's hair or fur;

(4) The floor of the primary structure shall not be the ground under the structure or made of coated or uncoated wire, and shall:

(a) be soundly constructed to prevent sagging or collapse of the floor,

(b) be raised at least six inches from the ground and affixed to a foundation, including, but not limited to, a plastic or wooden pallet or concrete blocks, to permit air flow beneath the structure, prevent rain, snow, ice, sleet, hail, and other precipitation from entering the structure, and prevent the structure from being easily tipped or moved, and (c) have no openings through which the paws of the dog could pass when the dog is inside the primary structure;

(5) Between November 1 and April 30, the primary structure shall have a windbreak at its entrance;

(6) A proper outdoor shelter shall be maintained in a manner that minimizes any accumulation of rain, snow, ice, sleet, hail, and other precipitation inside, underneath, and surrounding the primary structure;

(7) A proper outdoor shelter shall provide a reasonably sanitary, obstruction-free environment so that there is minimal accumulation of excreta and other waste and debris inside, underneath, and surrounding the primary structure; and

(8) When the dog is in a proper outdoor shelter, the dog shall have easy access to water that is sanitary and in a liquid state.

The failure of an outdoor shelter to meet the standards of a proper outdoor shelter shall be indicated by:

(1) the unhealthy appearance or physical condition of the dog; or

(2) the appearance of the outdoor shelter, including, but not limited to (a) the small size of the primary structure, (b) evidence of unsound construction, (c) the absence of dry bedding or insulation sufficient to protect the dog from outdoor environmental conditions, (d) evidence of crowding or unsanitary conditions within or outside the outdoor shelter, (e) the absence of water that is sanitary and in a liquid state, or no easy access for the dog to such water; or (f) any other observed condition or circumstance indicating the poor care or health of the dog.

If this is not bad enough, the law permits: the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; a county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals; certified animal control officer; or other State or local law enforcement officer to enter someone's property without a warrant, remove a dog, and have it dog euthanized, before the owner is ever contacted.

This section fortunately requires a written assessment by a licensed veterinarian "that the dog is in intractable and extreme pain and beyond any reasonable hope of recovery with reasonable medical treatment” before the dog is euthanized, the dog may be euthanized immediately.


Keep in mind that animal shelters in New Jersey are not permitted to euthanize an animal entering their shelter, even if considered terminal, for at least seven days. But, if this bill is adopted, a dog that is seized from its home, with an readily ascertainably owner, could be euthanized without ever talking with that owner about the dog’s medical history. Keep in mind that there can be numerous plausible explanations for the condition of any animal.

If this bill is adopted without serious amendments it will expose responsible dog owners to potential liability from nosey neighbors, or misinformed unprofessional "SPCA officers" who have been known to exact revenge on pet owners throughout the state who do not abide by their particular standards which often do not align with good animal health and husbandry practices.

I know my dogs have never used the well-constructed dog house we bought for them, albeit not “raised six inches from the ground and affixed to a foundation” and without a “windbreak” or plumbing (which would not be immediately required should this bill become law). They preferred our wrap-around porch or back deck, neither of which would comply with the standards required in this bill. We finally sold the dog-house. Perhaps that was unwise.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.
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