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Legal Q&As

Great tips and advice from the Animal League Experts.

Below are Q&As on legal that relate to cats or dogs. Not what you're looking for? Use the form below to change your criteria, or submit your question to one of our experts.

Pet Legal Disclaimer
Please note that responses to legal inquiries are not meant to replace seeking legal advice from an attorney in your state. The materials in this website and any responses to questions are for informational purposes only and are not intended, nor should they be construed, as legal advice. This website, the information contained herein, and any responses to questions directed to this column are not intended to create and do not establish an attorney-client relationship. You should not rely or act upon any information provided on this website or in any response to your inquiry without seeking the advice of an attorney in your state regarding the facts of your specific situation.

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Can landlord legally evict me if dog is certified for emotional support?
Q:

I hired a realtor to find me an apartment that accepted dogs. The listing on the computer says that the building indeed accepted dogs. The day I went to sign the lease the lease claimed that dogs were not allowed. I was still advised by the realtor to sign the lease and did so out of desperation, we were homeless. There are dogs on every floor of my building and some just as big as my dog if not bigger. I've lived here 6 months now and the landlord sent me a notarized letter from the courts to get rid of the dog or face eviction. I got the dog registered as an emotional support dog online and read online if I keep a dog openly and notoriously and the landlord or his employee know about the dog and don't decide to take legal actions within 3 months then the rule is not enforced and they waive the right for me to keep him. Is this true? How should I proceed?

A:

NYC pet law provides that that if a tenant keeps a pet or pets openly with the knowledge of the landlord (owner) or owner's agent, and the owner does not commence a legal proceeding within 3 months to enforce a no-pet lease provision, the no-pet lease provision is waived for that pet(s). (NYC Administrative Code, § 27-2009.1). Sometimes after tenants (or their attorneys) remind landlords of this law, the landlord will not proceed any further (but sometimes landlords commence legal actions anyway---although they do not always win!). Westchester has a similar law. There are also laws that protect people with emotional support or service animals. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), if a person has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity and the animal works, provides assistance, or performs services for such person, or provides emotional support that "alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person's existing disability," the housing provider must make an exception to a "no-pets" rule or policy. It is often helpful for tenants to get a letter from their health care provider that makes it very clear that the animal is medically necessary. According to HUD rules, housing providers should evaluate requests for assistance animals as follows:

(I) Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability - i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?

(2) Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person's existing disability?

People who believe that they are being discriminated against for having emotional support or service animals can file a complaint with HUD (www.hud.gov/complaints/housediscrim.cfm, 1-800-669-9777).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Beloved dog killed by neighbor dog.
Q:

My dog was killed by a neighbors dog in my fenced in backyard when the neighbors dog pushed through a section of fence and entered my yard. We sat eating quietly when we saw the dog approach and grab my dog by the throat. He snapped his windpipe. The owner was alerted by another neighbor and called him home. My dog was treated for a week through surgery and medical intervention but he didn't survive. They paid the vet bills but kept the dog; a Staffordshhire terrier pit breed. We wonder what if any recourse we have to provide for our safety.

A:

My sincere condolences for the loss of your dog. This goes almost without saying but I suggest you have the fence secured to prohibit access by your neighbor�s dog. People may contact the animal control officer or police in their municipality to commence a dangerous dog proceeding. Under New York State law, if a dog is declared dangerous, the judge must order spaying/neutering and microchipping and may order an evaluation by a behaviorist, secure confinement for a period of time, restraining the dog on a leash when in public by an adult of at least 21 years of age, muzzling when the dog is on public premises, and maintenance of a liability insurance policy. The judge may order euthanasia or permanent confinement for harm caused by the dog to other animals only under limited circumstances: �the dog, without justification, caused serious physical injury or death to a companion animal, farm animal or domestic animal, and has, in the past two years, caused unjustified physical injury or death to a companion or farm animal as evidenced by a "dangerous dog" finding pursuant to the provisions of this section.� Many localities have their own dangerous dog laws (including, for example, New York City) so people should check with their localities for more information. Local laws must be at least as stringent as the state law and may not be specific as to breed. Therefore, local laws in NY may not ban particular breeds.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Shelter said dog was spayed, but was not.
Q:

I adopted a dog from a shelter and they stated, and even gave me paper stating, she was spayed. Six months now she has gone into heat. I called them and they said I must bring her down there (2 hours away) if I wanted her to be spayed. I feel that is not a way I want to go, especially to bring her back where it terrified her. I asked them to give money towards the spaying and they said no. Is there anything legally I can do? Is it right that they gave me a paper saying spayed dog and she's not?

A:

It was likely an honest mistake. Sometimes adoption agreements contain provisions regarding spaying/neutering (although these days many shelters spay/neuter prior to releasing animals for adoption). Generally if an adopter chooses not to avail himself/herself of the free or low-cost spay/neuter services that the shelter/rescue offers, the adopter is responsible for paying for the spaying/neutering. People who believe they are owed money can sue. I hope your dog is doing well.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How to get my two puppies back?
Q:

My son took my two puppies and gave them away. They're mine and the people that have them won't give them back. Legally the pups belong to my husband and I, our female dog had the litter. And the two pups is all she had. I'm so upset about it they're my babies. Part of our family. Please help me?!?

A:

People who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can commence a civil lawsuit (replevin action) to try to get their animals returned. The police can also be contacted (they enforce pet theft laws) but will not typically get involved in pet custody disputes involving family members.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My son's girlfriend stole my dog while in Georgia.
Q:

I live in Vermont and bought a dog. I have bill of sale and vet record. My son brought the dog to Georgia. His girlfriend was living with him and he had the dog there for 2 days. She decided to move out and took my dog with her. How do I get my dog back?

A:

People who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can commence a civil lawsuit (replevin action) to try to get their animals returned. The police can also be contacted (they enforce pet theft laws) but will not typically get involved in pet custody disputes involving friends and family members. Of course, it is always simpler to try to more amicably resolve these disputes whenever possible.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I legally take back dog I gave to a friend?
Q:

Hi, I searched for a home for my dog because I worked so much and it was hard to potty train her. I let a friend have her with the agreement that I can see her when I'd like. It's been almost 2 months and he has not let me see, what I still consider my pup. Can I legally take her back?

A:

It is unclear why you still consider the dog to be yours since you mentioned that you gave the dog away. A person who believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld or that an agreement has been breached (visitation, for example) can sue for the return of the animal or the enforcement of the contract (although proving the terms of a verbal agreement can be difficult). I hope you all consider the best interests of the dog. After all, dogs require not only love, but time and attention, veterinary care, grooming, training, etc.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is puppy contract barring breeding valid?
Q:

The puppy contract states that we promise not to use the dog for breeding. There is no penalty listed for violating the clause or contract in general. Is the statement valid?

A:

A contract does not need to have a specific penalty clause in order to be valid. I suggest you get the dog spayed/neutered anyway. Spaying/neutering not only help to curb the serious overpopulation of dogs and cats but also provide health benefits.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can Rescue organization take dog I adopted back if I try to find it a new home?
Q:

Hello a rescue org came to my house and took back a dog I adopted because they found out I was trying to find a home for him (because he had anxiety and my other dog was making it worse). They came last night with a police officer so I thought I had no choice but to give him to her. But, is the dog legally mine still? They dramatically pulled him out of the house in front of my children and we are all very upset. I still have the paperwork. I want him back now as we were only going to rehome him if we found the right family. Do I have any legal recourse?

A:

I suggest you read your adoption agreement. Adoption agreements sometimes contain provisions requiring adopters to return animals they no longer wish to keep to the shelter or rescue. In this way, the shelter or rescue can screen new potential adopters using their own standards (which may be higher than standards used by an adopter looking to re-home the animal). People who believe their animals are being wrongfully withheld can sue (replevin action) to try to get the animals returned.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My roomate intentionally lets dog out.
Q:

One of my roommates is always opening the door, so then my dog can go outside and get killed by cars or get lost. I dont know if thats a crime but everytime he does it. Its when I go out he waits about 5 minutes and then he release my dog. Can someone help me? I want to know if this is a crime, so if something happens to my little dog he will pay for it.

A:

There is really only one word I can think of to respond to your question. Move. It will be too late for your little dog if something bad happens when the door is opened. It is against the law to abandon an animal or to cruelty treat an animal but proving abandonment or cruelty in a situation where a person leaves a door open can be difficult. Ultimately, you are responsible for safeguarding your dog so I suggest that you do. That may entail putting the dog in your room when you go out, finding another place to live, or finding a safe, loving home for the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can breeder take my dog back after I've been caring for it?
Q:

My boyfriend and I were given a dog for free by the breeder who is MY BOYFRIENDS friend. The breeder, my boyfriend, and everybody else who knows us has said multiple times how well I take care of her and that I really seem like the primary caregiver. I am even the one she is registered to when receiving her pedigree. My boyfriend broke up with me while I was in the hospital two weeks ago. he said many times I should still have her. I have been taking care of her alone again ever since I got out. I am slowly getting better and she is still very well taken care of! Now the breeder has decided she wants to take the dog back. She reasons because of my health and because she intended the dog to be for my boyfriend, but I think she is just afraid if I am the sole caregiver we will lose touch and she will not be able to breed her. My dog is blind in one eye so that's another whole issue. My question is: does she have the right or should I fight this?

A:

Generally when a person (breeder or anyone else) gives his/her animal away, such person has no further rights to that animal, unless there is an agreement stating otherwise. If a person believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld, such person can sue to try to get the animal returned (although as noted above, once an animal is given away it can be difficult to get a court to order the animal to be returned).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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