**** The information written here is not legal advice and the author of this blog is not your lawyer. These posts merely contain ideas to help you plan and organize your legal research and identify potentially helpful sources of law. ****
It is a simple fact of American life that while humans are allowed to walk the streets unaccompanied and without identification, animals cannot. Befriending a bird in the park and involving oneself in that bird’s daily schedule might feel like having a pet, but it is not. Having a pet means being responsible for the animal’s care and safety. In the case of large pets like cats and dogs, not only does this mean feeling internal personal responsibility for feeding and walking a pet, but also having actual legal responsibility for licensing and vaccinating the animal. If an unlicensed animal, or even an untagged animal that is licensed, is captured by municipal authorities, it can be put to death.
Licensing a pet makes owning it legal.[i] In order to get that license, a pet owner has to pay a fee and give an address where he and the animal live. This doesn’t always mean that by definition a homeless person cannot legally have pets; it can mean that the pet has to be registered to a legitimate address where mailings relating to the pet will be passed along to the homeless owner. This address can be a private home or an organization where the homeless person is known well and maintains regular enough contact to pick up messages.
Your local pet licensing requirements are in your city code. Find the city code at http://www.municode.com/library/library.aspx or, if your city is not included there, by linking through the federal government’s roster of cities. http://www.usa.gov/Agencies/Local_Government/Cities.shtml. Looking at your city’s website, you will not only find the code containing ordinances about pet ownership, you will also find the form to submit for that license.
[i] For more information about pet licensing laws, see Margaret C. Jasper, PET LAW, Oceana Press (2007).