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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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Surrendered dog after mean boy let him out of yard.
Q:

A 13yr old boy let my dog out of my fence then called animal control saying my dog was loose. I paid fine and surrendered him. Can I get him back? I was in shock when I surrendered him. I did it same day he was taken. The boy told my sister what he had done. I'm going to say I have him on video to try and get him to admit it, but I have been sick to my stomach from stress, cant sleep or eat. My son is stressed, he's only 11. My dogs brother is stressed. The boy told my sister it was because he didn't want me to have the dog. He and his brother were treated, well always taken care of, up to date on shots. The boy is just mean. Anything I can do? If I get him on my camera in yard admitting it will that work? I really want my dog, we love him so much. I wasn't thinking when I surrendered him. Dog is being killed on 27th. I cant stand it. I have 3 sons, my human 1 and my dogs. Please help.

A:

I am so sorry to hear of your ordeal. I suggest that you immediately retain an attorney in your area. Perhaps an attorney can get a court order to stop any planned euthanasia or intervene and convince animal control to act more humanely. Typically when a person surrenders his/her animal to a shelter, such person has no further rights to that animal. Even if one could prove that an animal ended up at a shelter due to someone else’s misconduct, that misconduct would not necessarily overturn a subsequently signed surrender agreement. In any event, perhaps reason will prevail and at least the dog will not be killed. ​Good luck.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my Ex give away my cat if I don't remove it from former home?
Q:

I am currently not 100% living at my house due to a domestic issue with my roommate/former fiance. The house is currently for sale. He has a cat of his own, as I have one as well. My cat is currently staying at the house because I cannot move completely out until the house sells. He is now saying that if I don't come get my cat, he is going to take him to a shelter. Can he legally give my cat up without my permission?

A:

I suggest that if you want your cat you immediately get your cat, and make other arrangements for his care. A court might consider that by leaving the cat in the house and then failing to retrieve the cat when given the opportunity to do so, you relinquished ‘ownership’ of the cat. In any event, by the time a court heard such a case your cat could be long gone.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I set up a trust for my dogs?
Q:

How do we set up a trust for our dogs in our wills. We do not have any children and no close relatives or friends who would take our dogs in if something happened to both of us at the same time. Does North Shore Animal league has facilities to care for dogs in this type of situation?

A:

Yes, North Shore Animal League America has a Surviving Pet Care Program. For more information about this program, contact the League at 516-883-7900, extension 354 or safehaven@animalleague.org. If you go on North Shore Animal League America’s website and type in "Surviving Pet Care Brochure" and "Safe Haven Surviving Pet Care," you can read about the program. You should consult with an attorney in your state who can draft a trust provision, which may be included in a Will or other agreement.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get me dog back from rescue organization?
Q:

I surrendered my dog to a private rescue organization about three weeks ago. I have called several times asking about her and wondering if I can get her returned to me. They have only answered to tell me she is in a foster home awaiting to be adopted. Can I get her returned? I have been crying constantly about leaving her there.

A:

Usually when one surrenders an animal to a rescue organization, all rights to that animal are surrendered, unless the agreement states otherwise. Oftentimes rescue groups are reluctant to return an animal because of concerns that whatever caused the individual to surrender the animal in the first place will ultimately cause such person to surrender the animal in the future. However, at times rescue groups will return an animal if they believe it is in the animal's best interests to do so.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my friend get her dog back or can I adopt for her?
Q:

My friend gave her dog up years ago because she could not care for him. Now however, years later, she is stable and is able to have a dog financially. However, the rescue he has gone to now will not even talk to her because she asked about getting him back. Is there anyway she can get her dog back?? And is it illegal to adopt for someone else?

A:

When one gives a dog away, one generally has no further rights to that animal unless there is an agreement stating otherwise. Many shelters have adoption screening procedures and do not allow persons to adopt for another person. I hope the dog has a guardian who can provide him with a loving forever home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Online breeder wants more money to ship my puppy.
Q:

I just purchased my husky puppy online and the seller took it to a company to get him sent to me and they want to charge me an additional $785 for a crate to send him in. I was not aware of an additional fee when I sent the $250 for my puppy. The company has him now and will not let me go and pick him up. And they're saying it will be sent to a shelter if I don't pay the money. What can I do?

A:

This sounds as if this could be a scam. Consider contacting the police and the Indiana Attorney General’s (AG) Consumer Protection Division. The AG’s office investigates consumer complaints. It is risky to purchase an animal online. It is even possible the animal being offered for sale does not even exist! Consider adopting a homeless animal from your local animal shelter or rescue group.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Foster parent not giving up adopted cats.
Q:

My fiance and I adopted 2 kittens from a rescue and at the moment they are being taken care of by a foster parent. Our arrangement was for us to bring home the kittens once we move in to our newly bought townhome. We paid the deposit and signed a contract regarding the adoption and now the foster parent completely stopped communicating with me, and the rescue team. What can we do at this point?

A:

Individuals who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get the animals returned. The rights and responsibilities of adopters, rescues, and foster care “parents” are often spelled out in adoption and foster care agreements. These cases can get more complicated if the adoption process was not completed or there is a discrepancy between the adoption and foster care agreements (for example, the foster care agreement gave the foster care “parent” first rights to adopt).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My dog was abused by a dog groomer.
Q:

We live on Long Island in Sea Cliff. We use a local pet groomer, and today the groomer did our six month old labrador puppy for the first time and I could hear a lot of banging from inside my house. I walked out my front door, which is at the top of about 20 steps on a cliff when suddenly the puppy came out of the truck like she had been thrown out the door. No collar nothing. Luckily she ran up to the house wet and covered with feces. She could have just as easily run into the street and gotten hit by a car. I walked down to the truck and the groomer would not say a word, threw the collar and leash at me and drove away. The puppy is limping and very upset and the groomer is gone.

A:

I hope your dog is doing better by now. Some municipalities, such as New York City, require groomers to have permits but care standards are generally minimal. While there is a New York State law banning the use of cage dryers containing a heating element (several animals have died at grooming facilities when left in cages with the heat on), there currently are no specific standards or licensing requirements for groomers statewide (although legislation is pending before the NYS Legislature). Nevertheless, aggrieved pet “parents” can sue groomers for harm caused to their animals and if it is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the court that the groomer was negligent, the pet "parent" will likely be awarded some monetary compensation. Local consumer protection agencies and better business bureaus can also be contacted.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is my ex husband financially responsible for the family dog?
Q:

I have a daughter who is 10 years old. My husband got a dog 9 years ago, who is 9 years old. Last time we separated he took care of no animals (cats, dog turtle). I am considering divorce and want to know if there is animal custody. The dog is something he purchased and he wanted. He now hates the dog but she is part of the family and I do not consider "getting rid of her" an option, she is family. Can I request financial support due to the fact he plans to provide no care?

A:

Ideally when individuals separate or divorce, they can reach an amicable agreement for the care and custody of the family pets, including who gets the animals and pays for their care (which is typically the person who gets custody of the animals). While a divorcing spouse can request financial support for the care of animals, there have not been many cases where “petimony” has been awarded. In one case where the divorcing spouses agreed to share custody of the dog, the court ordered the husband to pay up to $150 a month for the dog’s care. Reportedly, the ex-wife of former NYC Mayor Giuliani sought more than $1000 a month for the family dog’s needs (but her request was denied). 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have right rights to my dog if its microchip is in another's name?
Q:

My girlfriend passed away recently. We have two dogs and one is in her name only. We agreed that if she paid the adoption fee I would buy everything for the dog and pay for the vet bills until I had paid the equivilant to adoption fee then everything would be split after. This was a verbal understanding between us.

Now her parents want to take the dog from me that I have raised for 3 years with my girlfriend. I have three years of statements proving I paid for nearly 90% of the food and vet bills also. Most of the vet bills are in my name along with the town liscense. The microchip is in her name as of now. Do they have any right to the dog?

A:

I am very sorry for your loss. Normally property and animals of a decedent are distributed pursuant to the terms of a will or trust (if they exist) or pursuant to intestacy laws (where next of kin generally have rights to the property/animals of the decedent). However, if it can be demonstrated that an animal was given away by the decedent prior to death, will/trust provisions and intestacy laws are often inapplicable. If an animal is “co-owned,” a “co-owner” may (but not always) gain full “ownership” of the animal after the other “co-owner” dies. Proving “co-ownership” can sometimes be difficult but that depends on the facts of each situation. Consult with an attorney in your state for further information and next steps. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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