Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Companion Animal Definition:

An animal that serves as a domestic pet.

Related Terms: Domestic Animal, Animal, Domitae Naturae

New York State (USA) has, circa 2010, an Agriculture and Markets Law, known to those conversant in New York statutes as AGM.

At Article 26 (§350(5)):

"Companion animal or pet means any dog or cat, and shall also mean any other domesticated animal normally maintained in or near the household of the owner or person who cares for such other domesticated animal. Pet or companion animal shall not include a farm animal...."

Annamaria Passantino wrote, in her 2008 article in the Animal Law Review:

"Companion animals can be considered a subcategory of domestic animals. To determine whether an animal fits within this subcategory it is necessary to focus on evidence of the relationship between the animal and its owner. If an animal is considered to be a companion animal, a person may have more rights in the animal, but also will likely be subject to more statutory responsibilities."

In People v Garcia, the nicely-named judge, Justice James Catterton of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, had before him a bizarre set of facts.

Michael Garcia severely beat a woman and in the events, shattered her fishbowl and stomped on goldfish that were squirming on the floor. The State charged him with assault, of course, but also with cruelty to a companion animal.

But was a goldfish a companion animal?

The defence put up a brave front including the argument that a fish is not a companion animal because there is no mutuality of feeling between a fish and its owner, such as there is between a dog or a cat and its owner.

But to no avail. A goldfish, Justice Catterton held, can be a companion animal:

"The earliest known domestic animal appears to be the dog, a companion to mankind as early as 15000 B.C. Goats, sheep, pigs and cows followed in domestication in the next 10,000 years. Horses, however, did not succumb to the lure of mankind's presence until 4000 B.C. The domestication of fish is believed to have begun much later, in China during the Tang Dynasty, around 620 A.D. The common goldfish (Carassius auratus), a member of the carp family that was first domesticated in China, is now the most commonly kept aquarium fish. The goldfish's leap from domesticated fish to family pet and companion may have happened as early as 1368 during the Ming Dynasty. The goldfish's popularity in the West began as the first public aquarium opened in London in 1853. Keeping goldfish as companions and pets in the United States has been popular since that time.

"The defendant's argument that goldfish are not domesticated animals because given the opportunity they would leave home is without merit. While this trait arguably distinguishes fish from dogs and, probably to a lesser extent cats, it fails to take into account that many other animals commonly considered pets, such as hermit crabs, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits, would depart for less confining venues and greener pastures if given the opportunity. Loyalty, if that is what it is, is merely another characteristic urged by defendant—but not included by the Legislature—as a defining feature of a companion animal."


  • Passantino, Annamaria, Companion Animals: An Examination of Their Legal Classification in Italy and the Impact on Their Welfare, 4 J. Animal L. (2008)
  • People v. Garcia, 29 AD 3d 255; also at 812 N.Y.S.2d 66 (2006)



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