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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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Friend refuses to take dog for surgery.
Q:

My friends dog has large mass. The vet said it could be benign but looked to have small abnormalities. Cost would be between 398 to 597 to fix. I have had her dog insured for 2 years, and pay for the visits. It will cost her nothing. The dog seems to be uncomfortable. She says she's going to do nothing and just make him comfortable. He is only 8 and very healthy, and doc even said he can get it all . Can I take her to court since the operation is paid by me, she will owe nothing. She is taking years away from him.


A:

Generally a dog's "owner" (and “co-owner”) must provide necessary care (including veterinary care) for their dog. Whether a person is a dog's "co-owner" or merely helping out the dog's "owner" is not always clear and needs to be decided on a case by case basis. Perhaps consider getting a second opinion regarding the need for the operation and potential risks vs. benefits. Animal neglect is against the law. In one New York case, for example, a dog’s “owner” was convicted of cruelty to animals after an investigation showed, among many other things, that she failed to provide care for her dog who had a large tumor (she did not show up for a veterinarian’s appointment for the purpose of determining whether the tumor was operable and no other medical treatment was sought).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back from my ex?
Q:

My ex boyfriend knew I wanted this dog so bad that he went and bought it. I have paid the vet bills, and I have proof of that. I paid for the license, I bathe her, I am the one who who lets her out every day. He removed her from a 70 foot trailer to a small four-room home. She has no yard to be chained out in. At least at the trailer she had a huge yard to walk in


A:

Individuals who believe that their animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get an animal returned. This type of civil lawsuit is generally referred to as a replevin action (for the return of property, including animals). While animal theft is against the law, the police will not generally get involved in pet custody disputes. Courts will consider not only who purchased/adopted the animal but who is the animal’s primary caretaker (walks the dog, takes the dog to the veterinarian, pays for the animal’s care). Courts in New York have not been consistent recently on the theory they use to determine pet custody disputes, with some courts basing their decisions solely on property rights and others also considering the interests of the animal. These cases can get complicated so it is preferable to have attorney representation.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do we have case against dogsitter who gave our dog away?
Q:

Me and my fiance hit hard times and asked the person we got our dog from to hold him for 6 months until we got on our feet. The person agreed then they gave the dog to someone else and won't return our calls or speak to us. Do we have enough for a case? We have proof it was only a hold situation through texts and also never consented her giving the dog to someone else.

A:

It is difficult to predict how a given court will decide a pet custody case. There is a mechanism under New York law for animals left for boarding to be deemed abandoned. The law (Agriculture and Markets Law, Article 25-B) provides that an animal left for boarding is deemed abandoned when the animal is not removed after notice to remove the animal within 10 days after the scheduled pick-up date is given by registered letter. If no specific pick-up date was scheduled, the animal can be deemed abandoned if not retrieved within 20 days after notice to retrieve the animal is given by registered letter. Nevertheless, it is still possible that courts could find that an animal’s “owner” either abandoned or gave the animal away depending on the facts and circumstances. These cases can get complex, particularly when the person sued no longer has possession of the animal. It is preferable to have attorney representation. Before proceeding it is important that people consider what is in the best interests of the animal. Six plus months is a long time.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Foster puppy adopted
Q:

Hi, we were fostering a dog and were interested in adopting we were told this was okay. Then we were told the dog needed to be brought in for surgery and we would get him back. We received a call after the surgery telling us the dog had died from complications only to have someone tell us that they saw the puppy being adopted out this weekend. Is there anything we can do about this?
 
 

A:

Often rescue organizations utilize written animal foster care agreements. While these agreements sometimes provide that foster caregivers will be given preference in the adoption process, there are generally no guarantees. Given the scenario presented in the question, one would first need to determine what actually happened to the dog (did he die or was he adopted out?). Even if the dog was adopted out, the next issue would be whether the foster care "parent" had any rights to the animal. That would likely be dependent on the terms of the foster care agreement. These cases get even more complicated when an organization is sued for the return of an animal it no longer has. Individuals who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can sue for the return of their animals.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Gifted puppy with return condition
Q:

I had given a friend a puppy from an accidental litter. When I gave him he puppy, it was under the condition that should anything happen and he could no longer care for the puppy or house the puppy at his residence, it was to be returned to me.
My friend just passed away and his girlfriend is giving me a hard time regarding transferring the puppy back to me. The puppy was given to him not her and I don't believe that she has any legal bearing to keep the puppy from me. Can you give me any idea how to pursue this without going to court?



A:

Death can void certain contracts. Verbal contracts can be difficult to enforce in the best of circumstances (and even more difficult when one of the parties to the alleged contract has died). Also, wills contain provisions for the distribution of property and sometimes wills and trusts contain specific provisions for the care of the decedent’s animals. If there is no will/trust, usually the next of kin will be entitled to the decedent’s property and animals (under intestacy laws). To further complicate matters, sometimes prior to dying a person gives his/her animals away (in which case the will/trust and intestacy laws would not generally be applicable). Consult with an attorney in your area if you want to pursue this matter but please consider what is in the best interests of the dog. I suggest you have your animals spayed/neutered to avoid any further accidental litters.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I get my dog back from a shelter?
Q:

I last month I signed a paper giving up my rights to my dog. I didn't know what I was signing and at the time was having trouble taking care of her and was thinking that an animal control shelter could help. I was wrong; they sent her too a place in Illinois, I live in Indiana. My husband went and asked for her back twice and they refused to give her back. I was crying and asking for help because she had a skin disease I couldn't afford the treatment at the time. They gave me a ticket for abandonment.  Could you help us get our girl back. She is mourning and needs too come home.

A:

Generally when a person signs an animal surrender agreement, such person no longer has any rights to that animal (unless the agreement specifically provides for rights). An animal’s “parent” is legally responsible for ensuring that his/her animals are provided with necessary care, including, for example, sufficient food, water, shelter and veterinary care. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area although it is an uphill battle to try to get an animal returned after an animal surrender form has been signed. I hope that the dog is doing well and that you get some solace in knowing that she may be getting the veterinary care that she needs.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I claim legal ownership of my dog?
Q:

I bought a dog that's AKC registered. But the breeder I got him from said she was keeping his papers because of breeding rights. She is still listed as his legal registered owner on his papers. How do you go about getting his papers and becoming his legal owner on the papers so I can have full AKC and breeding rights to him? I may never breed him but if I wanted to I want to be able to do it and register the litter too. She said if I ever wanted to breed him to call her because she has a female like him. Please help!!



A:

It is important for individuals to carefully read and fully understand their rights and obligations prior to purchasing an animal. Breeders sometimes include provisions regarding breeding and co-ownership rights in their contracts. If the seller agreed to but failed to provide AKC or other registration papers to the purchaser, the purchaser can sue to try to get the papers or reimbursement for at least part of the purchase price of the animal. New York attempts to place a monetary value on such papers (which may/may not be persuasive in other states without a similar law). The NY law provides that pet dealers who promised but failed to provide the registration documents in a timely manner (generally within 120 days from sale) must give the purchaser a partial refund of 75% of the animal's purchase price. Consider that there are so many wonderful animals at shelters just waiting for a second chance for a loving home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I transfer ownership of my dog?
Q:

I have paperwork for my dog who has a chip but I want to transfer ownership to someone else. What do I need to do so I am not legally responsible for the dog?


A:

Microchip companies have “ownership” transfer procedures so I suggest you contact the company that maintains the microchip information for the dog. A written report of a change of "ownership" should also be filed with the municipality in which the dog is licensed.  Individuals who transfer “ownership” of their animals can also enter into a written agreement with the adopter/purchaser which spells out the terms of the “ownership” transfer.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Should I contact the former owner of my dog?
Q:

I adopted my dog a year and a half ago and just found her former owner's information in the adoption packet. I don't know if the packet was supposed to have her info, but I feel like if I were on the other end of this situation I would want to know what happened to my dog. I want to contact her with an offer for updates and peace of mind, but don't want to step on any toes. I wouldn't be opening the shelter up to a lawsuit by doing so, would I?



A:

This is a unique question. Many adopters would be concerned that a person who surrendered an animal might have regrets and that hearing from the adopter could open up a can of worms. Excuse the pun but in this type of situation it is likely that a lot of people would say, “Let sleeping dogs lie.” Lawsuits are brought all of the time, some more frivolous and more winnable than others. It is difficult to know whether a person who surrendered an animal to a shelter would consider suing the shelter for releasing his/her contact information or would instead really appreciate an update about the animal. It might be less complicated to contact the shelter directly to find out if the shelter would provide the person who surrendered the dog with a recent photo of the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Animal Rescue Threatening to Reclaim Puppy
Q:

2 months ago, we adopted a puppy from a local Colorado rescue.  At the time of adoption, we signed a contract that stated we would adhere to several provisions.  One of them was the requirement to have our puppy neutered within 90 days of adoption.
When we went to schedule the neutering, our vet told us to wait until he was 8 months to a year of age with his health interests in mind.  The state of Colorado has a statue (CRS 35-80-106.4) that requires rescue dogs to be neutered or to go out on contract for neuter.  However, that same statute has a provision that allows for exemptions to be made if a veterinarian provides the rescue with a written letter advising the wait.  Which our veterinarian did on our behalf.
Despite this, our rescue is still threatening to reclaim him.  Does the rescue have a legitimate claim to him, what are the legal means they will have to pursue to actually take him from us, and what can we do to protect ourselves and keep our best friend in our lives forever.
Thank you!

A:

As you mentioned in your question, Colorado’s animal sterilization law provides that an animal shelter or rescue may not release a dog or cat for adoption unless the animal has been sterilized or the prospective adopter signs an agreement to have the animal sterilized within 90 days after adoption. The 90 day period can be extended if a veterinarian states in writing that sterilization could jeopardize the life or health of the animal. That language was likely meant to allow an exemption due to the health of the particular animal and not simply because of a veterinarian’s personal opinion that sterilization should generally be performed when a dog is at least eight months of age. However, the language of the statute is broad and may be subject to various interpretations (unlike New York City’s law which makes it clear that the veterinary exemption cannot be based solely on the age of the animal if the animal is at least eight weeks of age). Colorado's law further provides that the animal rescue “may promptly reclaim the animal from the prospective owner” if the rescue is not provided with timely proof of sterilization. The rights of the parties would also be dependent on the adoption contract, any other documents signed by the parties, and any local laws. A rescue organization could commence a lawsuit for the return of an animal for a breach of the adoption contract or other documents signed by the parties or violation of the law. Depending on the contract, law, and circumstances, some rescue groups reclaim animals without commencing a lawsuit (although the legality of doing so depends on the facts of each situation).
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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