Is It Ever Right to Break the Law?


I adopted this dog from the Humane Society Naples (HSN) yesterday.


Some of you may be saying, “BFD. Happens all the time.” But hear me out before you exit, because my particular story has a moral dilemma that could use your input.

You see, in order to adopt Macie, who I had been fostering for the past 6 weeks, I had to clear 2 hurdles.

One problem is that HSN doesn’t generally allow fosters to keep and adopt their charges, because they are in danger of losing the volunteer’s services. If you know anything about animal shelter and adoption, you know that foster homes are in short supply and big demand by shelters and rescue groups everywhere. So the rule or policy is a benefit (easy, less-costly adoption) versus risk (losing volunteers) issue.

With the first problem, I felt that the shelter could make their own benefit-risk assessment and do what they felt was best. And they knew that, as a foster, I wasn’t going to leave them.

The second hurdle was, in my mind, the BIG ONE. Collier County, the political jurisdiction where I officially live, has the same 3- dog-per-household limitation that almost every urban area in the USA has. I already have 3 dogs, and we’re not talking internal policy here, we’re talking LAW.

There are good reasons why these dog limitation laws exists.  Barking, wandering, odor, hoarding, and other signs of improperly cared for dogs is a nuisance to others, and the more dogs one has the bigger the nuisance can be. But regardless of the merits of the law, we don’t let individuals decide whether a law is worthy of enforcement.  As a former police officer, I strongly believe that is the way it should be. I can imagine the damage that might ensue if we let each driver decide if it was necessary to stop at a red light, or if an employer could decide whether overtime was justified after a 40-hour work week.

Think about your internal HR policies, too. One of the things you know is that they must be consistently enforced, or they will have no legal teeth when you really need them to. If you decide that employee A,B, and C should  follow the policy, but employee X and Y don’t have to, you have lost your credibility, and makes it hard to enforce that policy  at all.

In other words, sometimes a risk-benefit analysis just doesn’t cut it.

So what do I do when I want to adopt a 4th dog who fits into my household, is quiet and well-behaved, and will not overrun my 1 and 1/3 acre, totally fenced in property? Do I break the law? And does the shelter overlook that law when they know that the animal – and they – would benefit?

Based on the first sentence of this post, you know what happened.

But was I – and were they – right?


I would really like to hear your thoughts about this.  Individual consideration or uphold the law/policy/rule? And who will bail me out if the Collier County Sheriffs Office reads this? Comments appreciated. :-)



6 thoughts on “Is It Ever Right to Break the Law?”

  1. Hi, Congrats on your new addition.

    Almost all of us break the law. I know I do almost every time I drive and my speed creeps up over the posted limit… We all make the decision that 5-8 miles over is fine, but 30 is probably not. I think we need to make those kinds of decisions at work, too. As HR people, we’re frequently faced with ethical decisions and sometimes people come right out and ask us to break the law. More than once an employee has asked us to falsify documents so that they can get their child in a desired school. Is a citizen, I think it’s despicable that the quality of our children’s education depends on their address, and as a mom I empathize with their plight, but as a company official, there’s no way I’m risking prosecution and the possible negative press. There’s more I’d like to comment on, but I have to go walk my own pups and get myself to work!

  2. Lois – keeping the neighbors happy is part of the plan! But, of course, it doesn’t deal with a potential problem like this: random person is driving down street and sees the 4 dogs in the yard. Calls the sheriff, because s/he is an irresponsible pet owner who has been cited in the past. S/he doesn’t have to give a reason, because “it’s against the law.” From a police perspective, I have handled a lot of complaints like this. And, unfortunately, a judge isn’t going to care for motives, because she or he can’t. I would be ordered to comply.

    I wouldn’t have kept her if I didn’t really think it was right, but the possible risks are huge because I can’t pay a fine and keep her.

  3. Krista – it really is all a risk-benefit analysis from the law-breakers point of view, but from the enforcement point of view (police, judge, etc.) there is no analysis – wrong or illegal is just that. You won’t take the risk at work because the consequences are so high, but the risk is low to speed 5 or 8 miles over the posted limit.

    But if you walk into court, the judge won’t care about it being 5-8 miles – it’s just did you or didn’t you? With the dog, the risk is high because I can’t pay a fine and walk away – I would be forced to get rid of her (or one of the dogs). Not sure how we justify the rightness of this when the risk is high. Maybe there is no answer.

  4. A SWAT team comprised mostly of ferrel cats are suiting up to execute a raid on your home right now. Beware the feline.

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