Animals (Article 161) and Reportable Diseases and Conditions (Article 11)

Adopted Rules: Closed to Comments

Effective Date: 
Monday, April 20, 2015
Download Copy of Adopted Rule (.pdf): 


Statement of Basis and Purpose


Statutory Authority 

            These amendments to the New York City Health Code (the Health Code) are authorized by sections 558 and 1043 of the New York City Charter (the Charter).  Sections 558(b) and (c) of the Charter empower the Board of Health (the Board) to amend the Health Code and to include in the Health Code all matters to which the authority of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (the Department) extends. Section 1043 grants the Department rule-making authority.  


The Department’s Bureau of Veterinary and Pest Control Services, which enforces Article 161 pertaining to the control of animals in the City, has requested that the Board  amend various  provisions of Article 161 and Article 11 of the Health Code related to animal control. 

Amendments to Health Code §161.01(a)—circuses and other animal exhibitions 

Health Code §161.01 prohibits the possession of wild and other animals that present hazards to human health and safety.  Subdivision (a) allows for certain exceptions and requires permits for temporary exhibitions, displays and other uses of prohibited animals.  Circuses and wildlife rehabilitators are currently exempt from this section’s permit requirements, and while many voluntarily obtain permits from the Department, they are not obligated to do so.  

Recently, the Department identified some circuses and a wildlife rehabilitator who intended to exhibit or use animals to entertain the public in settings that were not safe.  In one instance, circus animals had not been tested to rule out infection with a disease that could be transferred to humans. In other instances, circus animals were kept in enclosures that either did not adequately protect the public or were too small.  Although circuses are required to comply with the federal Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. 2131 et seq., administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this law only imposes limited animal care, animal health and public safety requirements.  In yet another instance, a wildlife rehabilitator proposed to present adult performing bears on a theatre stage without barriers to protect the audience from the animals, and without adequate enclosures for the bears to stay in when they were not performing. The Department was able to use its general nuisance authority to address exhibitions and performances that do not adequately protect the public. 

The Department believes circuses and wildlife rehabilitators should be required to have appropriate measures in place to adequately protect the public; and they should only be permitted to perform in the City if they comply with requirements that the City deems necessary to protect public health and safety.  Federal law does not preempt the local regulation of circuses.[1] Accordingly, the Board has amended subdivision (a) of section 161.01 of the Health Code to require that circuses and wildlife rehabilitators in the City obtain permits from the Department in all cases when they intend to exhibit or use performing animals. 

Amendment to Health Code §§161.21 and 11.29—rabies vaccinations 

In 2010, Health Code §161.21 was amended to require that stables keep current rabies vaccination certificates for the horses they house. The Board is amending this section to require that horses’ owners, as well as the stables where they are kept, maintain proof that their horses are vaccinated. 

Health Code §11.29 is also being amended to: 

  1. Add horses to the list of animals that must be immunized against rabies and
  2. Change the terms “dogs” and “cats” in this section to “animals” to reflect that other animals would be specifically required to be currently vaccinated against rabies.

 Amendment to Health Code §161.02—definitions

The Board is adding a definition for “operating” or “in operation” to clarify that an animal business or facility regulated by the Health Code is required to comply with all of the provisions of the Health Code that apply to it regardless of whether the facility or business is open to the public.      

Amendments to §161.15—vaccinations and prohibition of cage or box dryers

This section currently requires boarding kennels to obtain proof from the owners of the dogs for which they care that the dogs have been vaccinated against rabies and certain other diseases. The Board is amending this section to clarify that this requirement is also applicable to grooming parlors, training establishments and pet shops that provide boarding, grooming or training services for dogs.  In addition, these businesses will need to obtain proof from the owners of cats and other animals subject to rabies for which a rabies vaccine is approved that these animals have been vaccinated against rabies.  In response to comments from operators of grooming parlors that owners of dogs frequently do not have copies of all vaccination documents, and that the grooming parlor must contact veterinarians to get such information, the amendment has been further changed to allow owners of dogs brought in for grooming to attest that their dogs have the required vaccinations and to provide contact information for the veterinarian who vaccinated the dogs. Boarding kennels will continue to require proof of dogs having all required vaccinations. And, since all dog and cat owners must show proof that their animals have current rabies vaccinations, owners will be required to provide this proof, and training and grooming establishments will be required to maintain such proof, for all such animals receiving services. 

The Board is also adding a provision mirroring a State law that prohibits grooming parlors and other facilities that handle small animals from drying an animal using an unattended heating element contained in a cage or box dryer. These types of dryers have been associated with injuries and deaths of pets left unattended during drying. State Agriculture & Markets Law §353-e prohibits use of such devices in grooming facilities; this amendment enables the Department to enforce this ban in the businesses it regulates.

The resolution is as follows.

Shall and must denote mandatory requirements and may be used interchangeably.


[1] See, e.g., 7 U.S.C. 2145(b); Dehart v. Town of Austin, 39 F.3d 718, 722 (7th Cir. 1994) (“[T]he Animal Welfare Act expressly contemplates state and local regulation of animals.”)