We commonly think of being a owner of an animal as being a keeper of an animal but that is not always the case. Under common law and in present days statute (s) either an owner or a keeper of an animal may be responsible for any damages caused by an animal.
A keeper need not be the owner of an animal. The fact is that the keeper, for purposes of imposition of liability, is one who exercises control over an animal on his premises with knowledge of its presence, whether he be owner, or baliee.
The keeper, like an owner, has the duty and responsibility to provide for the restraining and confinement of any animal under his control. An equivalent term often used â€œa person who harbors.â€ Keeping and harboring implies an intent to exercise control over an animal and to provide food and shelter on more than a casual basis. The keeper may be distinct from the owner, and may have an interest adverse to the owner. Courts have found that temporary care did not rise to the dignity of having possession and control of the animal.
A person cannot be made a keeper by actions of an animal if it is clear the individual does not exercise and does not wish to exercise control over the animal. There mere presence of an animal on a personâ€™s property does not make that person a keeper of an animal, even if the individual deals in those animals.
There is one situation where the courts have shown a willingness to hold a landowner as a keeper even though there was no actual control by the landowner over the animal. Liability may arise where the following conditions are met:
â€¢ Landowner is aware of animal on premises.
â€¢ Landowner is in expectation of financial reward because of the animalâ€™s presence.
â€¢ The landowner could have exercised some degree of control, especially as related to safety, over the animal.
While it might appear that the court is merely allowing the injured party access to a â€œdeep pocket of moneyâ€ there is equity in such a ruling. If the landowner was hoping for a financial benefit by the presence of the animal he should bear the financial risk of the animalâ€™s presence.
One area of concern deals with animals within the family setting. Often legal title will reside with one family member and yet control and care of the animal are either joint responsibility or the responsibility of someone not the title owner. A man who buys a pet for his daughter, being the minimal keeper of both providing food, shelter, etcâ€¦ has the ultimate responsibility for both children and pets (Prickett v. Farrell, 455 SW 2d 74 (Ark. 1970) yet the father was held responsible for the actions of a horse given to his son in (Blakely, supra note 47).
From the trenches,