Animal Sidekicks, Part Three

In this latest installment of our series on animal sidekicks we’re going to discuss the many regulations that affect animals, including leash laws and import restrictions (see here for part one and part two).

I. Leash Laws and the Like

Leash laws vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  Many cities and counties (and some states) require animals to be kept on leashes or otherwise controlled when in public, or at least in certain public areas.  Sometimes these ordinances are specifically aimed at dogs, but sometimes they are written to apply to all pets or kept animals.  See, e.g., St. Louis County Revised Ordinance 611.200.  It’s not common in the US, but some cities even require dogs to be muzzled in public.

So what does this mean for a superhero with an animal sidekick?  First, it means doing a bit of research before traveling with the sidekick.  This is an area where the law can vary substantially from one city or county to the next, and ignorance of the local laws is not a defense.  It would be pretty embarrassing for a superhero get busted for not having his or her faithful companion on a leash while out fighting crime.

Second, it means brushing up on the defense of necessity.  If violating a leash law allows a superhero and his or her animal sidekick to stop a much worse crime about to be committed by a supervillain, then the defense of necessity may excuse the lesser harm of letting the animal run loose.  Necessity is usually based on some kind of reasonableness standard, so the superhero can’t just let the animal run loose all the time on the theory that a crime is bound to be attempted sooner or later.  Instead, we recommend investing in some kind of quick-release harness.

Note that many leash laws have exceptions for service animals, but we don’t think many animal sidekicks would meet the criteria for being a service animal.  Daredevil briefly had a seeing-eye dog named Deuce, but that’s about it as far as we can recall.

II. Health Regulations

Many animals are also subject to a host of health regulations, particularly vaccination requirements.  There are also laws regarding the quarantine and even destruction of diseased animals, but let’s assume that superheroes keep their sidekicks healthy.

The most important requirement is rabies vaccination, although the rules vary from state to state and even within states (e.g., Missouri doesn’t have a state-wide standard but instead directs individual counties to adopt appropriate rules and regulations.  Mo. Rev. Stat. 322.090).  However, most vaccine laws specify particular types of animals, so they are less of a concern for superheroes with unusual sidekicks.  But really this shouldn’t be much of an issue.  Making sure Krypto gets his rabies shots might be pointless (assuming a superpowered Krypto), but it’s not a significant burden, either.

III. Restrictions on Importation and Ownership

Now we come to the big one: can these animals be lawfully imported (or moved across state lines) or even privately kept at all?  Many states prohibit or restrict private ownership of wild or exotic animals, which are defined differently from state to state: another headache for the superhero on the go.

At the federal level, the Endangered Species Act generally prohibits, among other things, the possession, importation, sale, and taking of endangered species.  16 USC 1538(a)(1).  By the way, “‘[t]ake’ is defined … in the broadest possible manner to include every conceivable way in which a person can ‘take’ or attempt to ‘take’ any fish or wildlife.” S.Rep. No. 93-307, at 7 (1973).  There are a lot of endangered animal species, and although most of them would probably make pretty bad sidekicks—clams are not known for striking fear into the hearts of evildoers—there are some popular choices on the list, such as the gray & red wolves and several eagles.

So there’s a trade-off here.  Having a wild or exotic sidekick avoids some animal regulations, but it subjects the superhero to a new set at the same time.  Also remember from part two of this series that wild animal owners are subject to a higher standard when it comes to injuries caused by their animals.  On balance, our conclusion is pretty simple: “get a dog.”

21 responses to “Animal Sidekicks, Part Three

  1. Of course it might be difficult to give Krypto his rabies shot!
    I guess Superman could use a kryptonite-infused needle or something, but if Krypto had a secret identity as Clark Kent’s dog that could present a problem – it would be pretty suspicious if Clark had to provide a special glowing green needle for his normal, everyday dog to get his shots.

  2. WIll you be addressing “pooper scooper” laws? 😉
    “What? We’re in the middle of battle villains here and you… okay, go ahead, I’ll get the super-pooper bag ready…”

  3. Don’t forget the CITES treaty which relates to international movement and trade in endangered plant and animal species. Might be a problem for any hero whose power depended on a rare plant or animal derived chemical – Elongated Man, for example, whose power was derived from “a super-concentrated extract of the rare “gingo” fruit of the Yucatan, which gave him his elasticity”

  4. Is Krypto legally a dog? He looks and acts like a dog and buries bones, but he’s from the planet Krypton. He has no ancestry in common with Earth dogs beyond the single celled ancestor billions of years ago level (and that, only if you believe an obscure story about how life on Earth got started). So one could argue that he’s not a dog in the same way that Superman is not a human. He’s another species who resembles a dog by convergent evolution (or the comic book version thereof). In fact, could either Krypto or Superman be considered endangered species?

    Also, is it possible to say “that creature is sentient, so even though he’s living in my house, he’s not a pet, and since he voluntarily chose to come to America it’s not me who’s importing the endangered species?” Especially in borderline cases, like Kitty Pryde’s pet dragon Lockheed, who is sometimes written in a pet-like way and sometimes written like he has some intelligence of his own?

    Johnny Thunder has his Thunderbolt, who is basically a genie. A genie is a sentient nonhuman creature. Does that count as a pet? Or an endangered species? Is it even possible to declare an intelligent species endangered (something which can’t happen in real life but is plausible in many comics)? If an intelligent species is declared endangered, would it be okay to take one out of his natural habitat since the laws about trading in endangered species, and his right to travel as a person, would conflict?

    Also, is he required to pay his genie minimum wage or is the genie considered a volunteer? Is calling the genie considered having the genie cross a border, so that every time he summons the genie the genie has to go through customs?

    • Some versions of Krypto are from Krypton, and some are not; they’re either just regular dogs or they’re regular dogs that got superpowers somehow (e.g. the Smallville version). But even if Krypto is not a dog in the strict Canis lupus familiaris sense, he’ll still need a rabies tag in order to go out in public with Clark Kent.

      As far as declaring Krypto or Superman an endangered species goes: I don’t think so. There are specific factors used in the determination of whether a species is endangered, and I don’t think Superman or Krypto meet any of them. From 16 USC 1533(a)(1):

      (A) the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
      (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
      (C) disease or predation;
      (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
      (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.

      Superman and Krypto aren’t overutilized in the sense used here (e.g. in the way one can overutilize a population of fish). They don’t suffer from disease or (effective) predation. (D) doesn’t seem to fit, either, since it’s not clear what danger would be reduced by declaring them endangered. (E) is a catch-all, but there aren’t really any specific factors affecting their continued existence. Kryptonite is pretty rare, and a creature like Doomsday is even more rare.

      The closest factor is probably (A), but since both Krypto and Superman seem to get along just fine on Earth (in fact they benefit substantially from its yellow sun), I’m not sure the destruction of Krypton is enough.

      Really, though, there doesn’t seem to be a point. Superman is treated as a person for legal purposes, so it’s already illegal to try to kill or kidnap him. Krypto is Superman’s property, so it’s likewise illegal to try to kill or take him. So I doubt the government would bother declaring either of them endangered except as a symbolic gesture.

  5. I find it hard to believe that a species can’t be declared endangered on the grounds that only a few of them exist, which is what you seem to be saying. Even from the rules you quoted, it sounds like a species where only a few members exist falls under rule E (the species’ continued existence is threatened, since only a small number need to be killed and the species is gone).

    • For most species that would be true, but we’re talking about Superman and a super-powered, Kryptonian version of Krypto. Their continued existence isn’t actually threatened since virtually nothing can kill them.

      And again, there’s no particular reason to think that declaring them to be endangered species would affect what few things do threaten them. No supervillain with a hunk of Kryptonite is going to have second thoughts if he finds out Superman or Krypto are listed as endangered species. And Doomsday doesn’t have second thoughts of any kind.

      • But the question isn’t whether the individual’s continued existence is endangered — it’s whether the species’ continued existence is endangered. If Krypto is the last Kryptonian canid in the universe, then assuming Kryptonian canids are not parthenogenetic, it therefore follows that the species’ extinction is guaranteed within a generation (barring successful cloning efforts).

      • Actually, given the existence of Kandor it’s not clear that Superman is the last of his species. Further, at least in some continuities he is capable of reproducing with humans.

        As for Krypto, I don’t know if there are more Kryptonian dogs in Kandor or if Krypto can breed with regular dogs, but if not then listing him as endangered wouldn’t do anything about the fact that his species will go extinct in a generation.

        And further, when there is only one individual left, then the individual is the species.

        In the end, yes, it’s possible the government could list the various Kryptonians. I don’t think anyone would seriously oppose it (it’s not like it would stop a logging operation near the Fortress of Solitude or something). But it would also be a purely symbolic gesture. In fact, in the case of Krypto, it would probably create a lot of bureaucratic hassles for Superman.

  6. “clams are not known for striking fear into the hearts of evildoers”

    What about villains with shellfish allergies?

  7. Hawaii would be a problem area for importation. Apparently they require a dog who may be fully certified with vaccinations to be quarantined for six months, and that amount of separation from their owner can cause some serious personality change/disorder. We’ve considered jobs there, but one of our criteria is to wait until after our dog has passed.

  8. Melanie Koleini

    As a St. Louis native, I appreciated your inclusion of the local leash law. I didn’t know it applied to all pets except service animals.

    I did notice there was an exception made for animals used by law enforcement when they were involved in ‘official business.’ Most super heroes don’t work for the government but some are government sanctioned. Is there any federal exemption to local leash laws that might help super heroes that more or less work for the government?

    • It depends. The main federal exception to things like leash laws is the ADA, which exempts service animals, but as I discussed in the post I don’t think many superheroes have animal sidekicks that would qualify as a service animal. Animals working with the military, FBI, and other federal agencies likely fall under the law enforcement exception. Some superheroes work directly for government agencies, so their animal sidekicks would likely be exempt.

      But merely being government sanctioned (i.e. in the loose sense that the government doesn’t mind what the superhero does) or even working closely enough to be considered a state actor doesn’t necessarily make a superhero a law enforcement officer on official business. One fix might be for the superhero to become deputized by local law enforcement. That means taking on the baggage of state action, though.

  9. Maybe you’ve already answered this but what about dogs (in real life) that work for the police? Obviously if a dog is looking for a kidnapped child or an escaped convict then it doesn’t have to be leashed. Would it then have to be leashed when it is off duty? I think the same sort of allowance can be made for superheroes who are clearly state actors and who are recognized as needing their animal to do what is, then, their job.

  10. Do leash laws require that a leash actually be an effective restraint? I can’t think of a material available on Earth that could fashion a leash Krypto couldn’t break if he wanted to (Kryptonite obviously isn’t a viable option, since Superman would be holding the other end). In the Silver Age, any material from Krypton became proportionately superstrong, so Superman could’ve fashioned a leash out of some component of his space capsule, but in more modern continuity, it doesn’t work that way (unless the trend of nostalgic retcons in comics has gone even farther than I’m aware). So would it be enough just to have him wearing a token leash, even knowing that it wouldn’t actually restrain him?

    What about therianthropes, i.e. anthropomorphic animals or animalistic humans? In a recent Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode, the teaser involved characters from Jack Kirby’s Kamandi, a post-apocalyptic future where anthropomorphic animals rule and humans are treated as animals (basically the Planet of the Apes but with animals in general filling the ape role). In the episode, Kamandi and his uplifted-dog friend Dr. Canus are back in the present fighting a villain, and at the end, Batman advises Canus that he should promptly return to the future, since “Gotham has a leash law.” Would Dr. Canus legally be considered a dog subject to leashing? Would his doctorate be recognized? Would he need a veterinarian’s license to operate on humans? (Okay, I’ll stop now…)

    • “Do leash laws require that a leash actually be an effective restraint?”

      Yes and no. They’re often broadly written so that the animal must be under control, which for a regular dog probably means a leash it can’t break. But Krypto is a pretty well-behaved pooch, especially the intelligent versions. So I think it’s enough that the leash simply look strong enough to hold him. When travelling incognito with Clark Kent, that probably just means a regular leash.

      As for Dr. Canus: there are two possibilities here. Either Batman was joking or the US doesn’t recognize uplifted animals as people. In that case, yes, he probably would fall under Gotham’s leash law, which, like most leash laws, probably covers all animals, not just dogs, though it may have specific provisions for dogs. Again, the usual standard is that the animal be controlled, which can mean a leash for some animals but would necessarily mean something like a cage or carrier for others.

      If he’s not considered a person, then no, his doctorate wouldn’t be recognized, and he wouldn’t be allowed to operate on people with any kind of license. That may seem wrong, but those are (some of) the consequences of not being recognized as a person.

  11. Re: Dr. Canus, if he’s born in the USA (albeit a future dystopia) and is clearly sentient, wouldn’t be considered a person and covered under the Fourteenth Amendment and considered actually a citizen of the US. I think Batman was joking about Dr. Canus and leash laws as Batman: The Brave and the Bold tries to emulate the campier 60’s and 70’s Batman.

    • So given that Batman was probably joking, let’s consider the hypothetical argument you raised. The first problem is one of proof. How can Dr. Canus prove that he’s a US citizen given that all of his documentation is dated in the future and there are no available witnesses that can testify to his citizenship?

      The second problem is that he’s from an alternate universe (Earth 86, specifically). A court could hold that while the Earth 86 United States may recognize his personhood, the Earth One United States is not bound by that.

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