License yourself for live animal sessions

Portraits that unite children with small animals such as rabbits and ducklings are popular with clients especially during the springtime. If you're photographing a client with their own pets, you're free and clear under the law. But if you're bringing these animals into your studio for sessions, you're considered an animal exhibitor under the Animal Welfare Act, which means you'll need to obtain an animal exhibitor license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. 

Here's a step-by-step to obtaining that license: 

  1. Request a licensing and application kit from the USDA.
  2. Complete the application and submit it with a $10 application fee.
  3. An APHIS inspector will call you, discuss the requirements, and let you know how to prepare for your inspection.
  4. Schedule an inspection with the inspector.
  5. The inspector will examine the area where the animal will work and be housed, feed to be provided for the animal, and ensure that you have any required vet records for the animal. If you pass the inspection, the application will be accepted.
  6. Allow plenty of time for this process before your planned animal portrait event. The license fee is based on the number of animals and the type of license. Using up to five animals will cost about $30 initially and $40 a year thereafter, for example.
  7. Contact your state’s Animal Care division (search online for that office or contact your Animal Care Regional Office.

Also find out if there’s a governing body that regulates animal welfare for your county to learn if you need additional licenses or permits.

There is no definitive list of animals covered under the Animal Welfare Act. As a rule, all warm-blooded animals (including rabbits, in this case) are regulated. Standards are currently being developed for birds. Farm animals are exempt.

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Source: Tanya Espinosa, Public Affairs Specialist for USDA-APHIS