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How does Shabbat observance affect pet owners?

How does Shabbat observance affect pet owners?

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Shabbat presents certain challenges for pet owners, but many, many pet owners are also Shabbat-observant Jews, and becoming familiar with a few basic rules and concepts is all that is needed.

There are four primary areas affected by the Shabbat laws:

1) Feeding

2) "Trapping"

3) Walking your pet

4) Touching and petting

Feeding

Feeding pets on Shabbat is permitted.1 In fact we are required by the Torah to feed dependant animals every day before we eat ourselves. This is derived from the verse (Deuteronomy 11:15): "I will give grass in your fields for your animal, and you shall eat and be satisfied"--food for the animal is mentioned before food for oneself!2

Trapping

Trapping, defined as any act which restricts the freedom of an animal, is forbidden on Shabbat.3

This prohibition is not relevant to many pets, because the prohibition against "trapping" only applies to animals which occasionally escape and are difficult to catch, not to domesticated animals which do not normally run away, since these are considered to be "trapped" already -- due to their nature and/or training.4

If your pet is prone to running away, the following rules apply: 1) It is forbidden to put a leash on the pet in a public area, or any place where it would take more than one lunge to catch it; leash the pet before you leave the house. 2) One may not close a window (through which the pet can feasibly escape) or door while the pet is in the home.5 This problem can be circumvented by securing your pet every time you open and close the door or by bodily blocking the doorway when you open the door so that there is never enough space for the pet to fit through.

Walking a Pet

Walking a pet on Shabbat is not problematic per se, as long as you avoid carrying the animal or any pet accessories in the "public domain" (See The Shabbat Laws).

While the pet may be collared and leashed, it must be clear that you are walking an animal, not carrying a leash. The pet must therefore remain close to you at all times, and the length of the leash should remain taut; never sagging within a handbreadth of the ground, and no more than a handbreadth of extra leash should dangle from your hand.6

Touching and Petting

Any object which offers no immediate practical use is called muktzah, and may not be handled on Shabbat. According to conventional Jewish law, animals, too, fall into this category. While household pets may be an exception -- as will be explained shortly -- let us first discuss conventional halachah with regards to handling animals.

It is forbidden to pet, hold, or stroke an animal on Shabbat.7 An exception to the no-handling rule is if the animal is in pain or discomfort; in such an instance it is permitted to touch it in order to ease its pain. For example, one is allowed to apply oil or an ointment8 to a wound,9 or help an animal which is having difficulty walking.10

This exception only applies to the rules of muktzah. The laws of muktzah are of rabbinic origin, and were waived by the rabbis in an instance of animal pain or discomfort. However, in a case when the animal's life may be in danger,11 it is permitted to ask a non-Jew to do any activity which is ordinarily forbidden on Shabbat.12

All of the above, as we said, is the conventional law pertaining to handling animals on Shabbat. It has been argued by certain prominent halachic authorities13 that household pets are not included in the category of muktzah at all, because they have an "immediate practical use" -- namely, providing people with pleasure and companionship. There are others who disagree, maintaining that the rabbinic prohibition against handling animals on Shabbat was imposed across the board. As there are differing opinions in this matter, speak to your rabbi, who will advise you regarding your particular situation.

[Animal litter is also muktzah. But you may clean it up if it is in your home and disturbing you.14]

Note: All these rules apply to major Jewish holidays too, with the exception of the rules regarding carrying in the Public Domain, which are not applicable on Jewish holidays.

FOOTNOTES
1.

It is forbidden to force-feed geese, calves, or other animals (for fattening purposes) on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chaim 324:6).

2.

Talmud, Brachot 40a; Gittin 62a. On the other hand, it is forbidden to feed wild animals, or any animal whose upkeep is not your responsibility, on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chaim 324:7). The exception to this rule is wild dogs (Talmud, Shabbat 155b).

3.

Mishnah, Shabbat 73a.

4.

Shulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chaim 316:25.

5.

Shulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chaim 316:7.

6.

Shulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chaim 305:19. Incidentally, though accessories such as leashes are not a problem, one may not take an animal into a public domain if the animal is bearing a load.

7.

Shulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chaim 308:78.

8.

This is provided that that the ointment is liquified. A cream may only be dabbed on to a wound, not smeared and spread.

9.

Interestingly, although many non-critical medicines and cures are forbidden on Shabbat for humans, for animals they are permitted.

10.

Two caveats to this rule: 1) One may not lift the animal entirely. For that reason a bird's feet may not be moved because that will cause it to automatically lift off from the ground. 2) This is only permitted in a "Private Domain" (See The Shabbat Laws).

11.

Similarly, while a Jew may not deliver an animal's baby on Shabbat, a non-Jew may do so on the Jew's behalf.

12.

Shulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chaim 332.

13.

Including Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Responsa Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim vol. 5, responsa 22)

14.

Shulchah Aruch Harav Orach Chaim 308:72.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org. He lives with his family in Montreal, QC.
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Discussion (35)
May 29, 2014
pet,hold, or stroke an animal
I looked in the Shulchan Orach, it says "tiltul" is forbidden,which my understanding means moving or carrying, what is your source for "pet" "hold" or "stroke?
Anonymous
March 19, 2014
it's to my understanding that the majority of Orthodox Jews do not own pets, because they believe them to be dirty. if one goes into a primarily Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn, it's very unlikely to see any dogs walking around unless their owners are non religious or not Jewish. for those of us who are not Orthodox and do own pets, this is very interesting information even if we don't entirely follow it. i am a cat owner, and i suffer from anxiety and depression. the simple act of petting or hugging my cat gives me a tremendous sense of relief. the more stringent folks on this site would say i'm violating laws while the more liberal ones would feel sympathy. it should be up to the individual what they feel is right, but i personally think that it is not a violation of Shabbat to care for an animal because they are dependent on us.
Anonymous
October 24, 2013
Leash with wrist strap
I found a neat little solution called a wrist strap - it's a figure 8 of webbed nylon that slips through the hand loop on your leash. I slip the strap around my wrist like a bracelet and "wear" the leash.

Is wearing a leash, like wearing house keys on a bendel, around your wrist an acceptable alternative to carrying? There are also other leashes that you wear as a belt - you can walk your dog "hands free" - would this be a way to avoid "carrying" a leash on Shabbat?
Linus
Auckland, New Zealand
October 9, 2013
That's not my point. My point is that petting your dog has nothing to do with keeping Shabbat. I'm saying that I take modern interpretations like that to be misguided and inconsistent with the notion of Shabbat in the Torah, just as I take food that is labeled "Kosher" but results from the mistreatment of animals to not really be Kosher.
Nora
Highland Park
October 9, 2013
For Nora
Yes, the same Torah that teaches compassion for animals also teaches us to keep Shabbat. In this article, we are discussing the latter, in other articles, the former.

And nevertheless, here we still mentioned that you must feed your pet before feeding yourself.

If you do not feel that Shabbat is as important as protection of animals, that is another discussion. But valuing Shabbat certainly does not render us cruel and nasty.
Tzvi Freeman
October 9, 2013
Rabbi, I based my comment on this footnote in the article: "It is forbidden to force-feed geese, calves, or other animals (for fattening purposes) on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chaim 324:6)." I agree that the Torah teaches compassion for animals, although as you are aware, there have been serious problems with honoring animal rights in the Jewish community (e.g., Agriprocessors). But juxtaposing that footnote with discussions about whether it's okay to pet your dog on Shabbat highlights ways in which obsession with following post-Talmudic laws can overshadow staying true to the heart of the laws outlined in the Torah.
Nora Isacoff
Highland Park
October 8, 2013
For Nora
Nora, on what basis do you make that assumption? Please see our article, "Do Animals Have Rights". Also see "Feeding Animals."

The Torah teaches compassion for animals and forbids us to cause them unnecessary pain. There is an ongoing controversy in the Jewish community over these matters, but the voices for compassion are being heard and harkened to.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
September 13, 2013
Doesn't it strike anyone else as problematic for a rabbi to be more concerned with petting a dog on Shabbat than force feeding (i.e., torturing) other animals during the week? The priorities seem to be off.
Nora
NJ
April 30, 2013
Orthodox Jews CAN Have Dogs!
Kosher dog food exists, and even though it's Shabbat, there's nothing wrong with asking for help in walking dogs!
Lisa
Providence, RI
April 11, 2013
pet restrictions
Over the years I have had many dogs and cats. I have no problem violating shabbat if the animal has a medical issue that needs attention. And have done it without even questioning myself or rabbi. That includes urine that has red tinge, abnormal breathing, (high or low), blood sugar checked, fireworks or thunder. My animals are part of our household. Caring for them includes petting them, feeding them, fresh water, air, leash.
Janice Wheeler
Sacramento, CA
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