The Law

Laws that govern animal welfare in Virginia are extensive and sometimes complex. There is no way we can cover the scope of them in this web article. What we can do, however, is address some of the most frequently encountered issues and hopefully clarify some common misinterpretations.


The state of Virginia gives local municipalities final say on whether or not dogs in their jurisdiction are permitted to roam at large while not under their owner’s immediate control. In our home locality, Tazewell County, there is an ordinance which prohibits dogs running at large. Plainly stated, owners will face fines and penalties if their dogs are allowed to “run free” onto someone else’s property or on public right of way.

3.2-6538. Governing body of any locality may prohibit dogs from running at large.
The governing body of any locality may prohibit the running at large of all or any category of dogs in all or any designated portion of such locality during such months as they may designate. Governing bodies may also require that dogs be confined, restricted or penned up during such periods. For the purpose of this section, a dog shall be deemed to run at large while roaming, running or self-hunting off the property of its owner or custodian and not under its owner’s or custodian’s immediate control. Any person who permits his dog to run at large, or remain unconfined, unrestricted or not penned up shall be deemed to have violated the provisions of this section.

3.2-6539. Ordinance requiring dogs to be kept on leash.
The governing body of any locality may adopt ordinances requiring that dogs within any such locality be kept on a leash or otherwise restrained and may, by resolution directed to the circuit court, request the court to order a referendum as to whether any such ordinance so adopted shall become effective. Such referendum shall be held and conducted, and the results thereof ascertained and certified in accordance with § 24.2-684. The court shall require the governing body to give appropriate notice of the time, place and subject matter of such referendum.

The results of the referendum shall not be binding upon the governing body of the locality but may be used in ascertaining the sense of the voters.


The state of Virginia REQUIRES that all dogs and domestic cats over twelve weeks of age be vaccinated against rabies. Tazewell County requires county registration in addition to rabies vaccine.

3.2-6521Rabies inoculation of companion animals; availability of certificate; rabies clinics.
The owner or custodian of all dogs and cats four months of age and older shall have such animal currently vaccinated for rabies by a licensed veterinarian or licensed veterinary technician who is under the immediate and direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian on the premises unless otherwise provided by regulations. The supervising veterinarian on the premises shall provide the owner or custodian of the dog or the cat with a rabies vaccination certificate or herd rabies vaccination certificate and shall keep a copy in his own files. The owner or custodian of the dog or the cat shall furnish within a reasonable period of time, upon the request of an animal control officer, humane investigator, law-enforcement officer, State Veterinarian’s representative, or official of the Department of Health, the certificate of vaccination for such dog or cat. The vaccine used shall be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for use in that species. At the discretion of the local health director, a medical record from a licensed veterinary establishment reflecting a currently vaccinated status may serve as proof of vaccination.
All rabies clinics must be approved by the appropriate local health department and governing body. Rabies clinics shall be held at least once per year when the governing body finds that the number of resident veterinarians is otherwise inadequate to meet the need. The licensed veterinarian who administers rabies vaccinations at the clinic shall (i) provide the owner or custodian a rabies vaccination certificate for each vaccinated animal and (ii) ensure that a licensed veterinary facility retains a copy of the rabies vaccination certificate. The sponsoring organization of a rabies clinic shall, upon the request of the owner or custodian, an animal control officer, a humane investigator, a law-enforcement officer, a State Veterinarian’s representative, a licensed veterinarian, or an official of the Department of Health, provide the name and contact information of the licensed veterinary facility where a copy of the rabies vaccination certificate is retained.
Vaccination subsequent to a summons to appear before a court for failure to do so shall not operate to relieve such owner from the penalties or court costs provided under § 16.1-69.48:1or 17.1-275.7.
The Board of Health shall, by regulation, provide an exemption to the requirements of subsection A if an animal suffers from an underlying medical condition that is likely to result in a life-threatening condition in response to vaccination and such exemption would not risk public health and safety. For the purposes of § 3.2-6522, such exemption shall mean that the animal is considered not currently vaccinated for rabies. For the purposes of §§ 3.2-5902, 3.2-6526, and 3.2-6527, such exemption shall be considered in place of a current certificate of vaccination.


In Virginia, the law requires that all companion animals be housed and kept in a way that all their basic needs are met. These needs include food, water, shelter, and veterinary care. The withholding of any of these constitutes neglect or cruelty. “Adequate shelter” must have three sides and a top, with a solid floor. This does NOT include crawl spaces underneath buildings, sheds, or any other structure. It does NOT include pet taxis or wire crates that do not shield the animal from weather conditions. Violation of this code section is a criminal offense.

Care of companion animals by owner; penalty.

Each owner shall provide for each of his companion animals:
Adequate feed;
Adequate water;
Adequate shelter that is properly cleaned;
Adequate space in the primary enclosure for the particular type of animal depending upon its age, size, species, and weight;
Adequate exercise;
Adequate care, treatment, and transportation; and
Veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering or disease transmission.
The provisions of this section shall also apply to every pound, animal shelter, or other releasing agency, and every foster care provider, dealer, pet shop, exhibitor, kennel, groomer, and boarding establishment. This section shall not require that animals used as food for other animals be euthanized.

Violation of this section is a Class 4 misdemeanor. A second or subsequent violation of subdivision A 1, A 2, A 3, or A 7 is a Class 2 misdemeanor and a second or subsequent violation of subdivision A 4, A 5, or A 6 is a Class 3 misdemeanor.


It is illegal in the state of Virginia to SELL or GIVE AWAY puppies or kittens younger than seven weeks of age. State law also requires vaccines that are age and species appropriate to be given at least FIVE DAYS before the new owner takes possession of the animal. Violation of this code section is a crime.

3.2-6510. Sale of unweaned or certain immature animals prohibited, vaccinations required for dogs and cats; penalty.
No person shall sell, raffle, give away, or offer for sale as pets or novelties, or offer or give as a prize, premium, or advertising device any living chicks, ducklings, or other fowl under two months old in quantities of less than six or any unweaned mammalian companion animal or any dog or cat under the age of seven weeks without its dam or queen. Dealers may offer immature fowl, unweaned mammalian companion animals, dogs or cats under the age of seven weeks for sale as pets or novelties with the requirement that prospective owners take possession of the animals only after fowl have reached two months of age, mammalian companion animals have been weaned, and dogs and cats are at least seven weeks of age. Nothing in this section shall prohibit the sale, gift, or transfer of an unweaned animal: (i) as food for other animals; (ii) with the lactating dam or queen or a lactating surrogate dam or queen that has accepted the animal; (iii) due to a concern for the health or safety of the unweaned animal; or (iv) to animal control, a public or private animal shelter, or a veterinarian.
Dealers shall provide all dogs and cats with current vaccinations against contagious and infectious diseases, as recommended in writing and considered appropriate for the animal’s age and breed by a licensed veterinarian, or pursuant to written recommendations provided by the manufacturer of such vaccines at least five days before any new owner takes possession of the animal. For dogs, the vaccinations required by this subsection shall include at a minimum canine distemper, adenovirus type II parainfluenza, and parvovirus. For cats, the vaccinations required by this subsection shall include at a minimum rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. Dealers shall provide the new owner with the dog’s or cat’s immunization history.
A violation of this section is a Class 3 misdemeanor.


It is illegal in the state of Virginia to sell dogs or cats on any public right of way, flea market, or similar venue.

3.2-6508.1. Sale of dogs or cats prohibited in certain places.
It is unlawful for any person to sell, exchange, trade, barter, lease, or display for a commercial purpose any dog or cat on or in any roadside, public right-of-way, parkway, median, park, or recreation area; flea market or other outdoor market; or commercial parking lot, regardless of whether such act is authorized by the landowner.
This section shall not apply to:
The display of dogs or cats by or the adoption of dogs or cats from a humane society or private or public animal shelter as those terms are defined in § 3.2-6500;
The display of dogs or cats as part of a state or county fair exhibition, 4-H program, or similar exhibition or educational program;
The sale, exchange, or trade of dogs that are sold primarily for use in commonly-accepted hunting or livestock farming activities; or
A prearranged sale between a dog breeder and a specific individual purchaser. Such prearranged sale shall not take place at a regularly-occurring event such as a flea market or other organized trade venue.


It is illegal in the state of Virginia to “set out” any dog, cat, or companion animal, to dump or abandon them in any way.

3.2-6504Abandonment of animal; penalty.
No person shall abandon or dump any animal. Violation of this section is a Class 3 misdemeanor. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the release of an animal by its owner to a pound, animal shelter, or otherreleasing agency.

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