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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 a breeder keep a desposit?
Q:

I put a deposit down on a puppy so the seller can hold hte puppy for me until it can leave its mom. I texted the breeder and asked if they could send pictures of the dad because the mom looked bigger than what we were thinking and if we changed our minds can we get our deposit back. Last text from them was; "the dog clearly isn't welcomed in your home so I hope you find what you are looking for good bye". I didn't cancel the deposit, I just asked if that was something we could do. She will not respond to me now. Does she have to give us the dog or the money back or can she just keep the money?


A:

The issue of whether a deposit for an animal is refundable is usually addressed in a contract. Breeders' contracts vary but often provide that the deposit is not refundable if the purchaser chooses not to go through with the deal. An aggrieved purchaser can commence a lawsuit for either specific performance (the animal) or money (for example, the deposit) if a purchaser believes that a breeder is breaching a contract by refusing to sell the animal and refusing to refund the deposit.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How long does the owner have to reclaim their pets?
Q:

A neighbor was evicted and abandoned all her pets, a dog and several cats. I took them in and have had them for 8 months and have been trying to find homes for them. All the cats were pregnant and had kittens. The dog also became pregnant and had puppies. The owner now has reappeared and is demanding the dog and puppies so she can sell the puppies. Does she have the right to claim them?

A:

It is against Pennsylvania’s cruelty to animals law to abandon an animal. Law enforcement authorities should be notified when animals are abandoned. A person who believes that his/her animals are being wrongfully withheld can commence a civil action for the return of the animals. Courts would likely be very reluctant to order the return of animals (and their offspring) to a person who moved and left their animals behind for eight months, even if such person was not convicted of animal abandonment.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Falsely accused of neglect.
Q:

My pekingese is a very old dog not exactly sure but she's about 11 or 12 years old. She did have a messed up home haircut so she looked rough when she ran away. She was is good shape other than being incontinent when she ran away or was taken. The police in my town found her and thought she had a lot of issues like  side wounds, missing hair, burns, possible tumors, etc. She had none of that besides the messed up haircut and bad skin when she left. Could they charge me with neglect even though I have proof to dispute. I have pictures taken before she left showing nothing other than bad haircut/skin. She is not neglected. What should I do?


A:

Individuals who are charged with animal cruelty/neglect (or any crime) will have the opportunity to present a defense. People who cannot afford to pay for an attorney are often represented by a court appointed attorney.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Am I entitled to a refund for paying a vet bill for an animal I do not own?
Q:

If I have paid a vet bill for a cat I do not own, the owner was abroad and left the cat with no supervision, am I entitled to a refund from the owner for the bill?


A:

A court could rule that a pet “owner” must reimburse a caretaker for veterinary expenses incurred for the “owner’s” animal. Issues that might arise in such a lawsuit include the authority of the caretaker to incur the veterinary charges (for example, was the “owner’s”  consent obtained or even sought and was the animal so ill or injured that the failure to get the “owner’s” consent was reasonable under the circumstances). Important to note as well is that persons who have taken custody of an animal can be charged with neglect if they fail to provide adequately for the animal. Animal abandonment is also against the law and local law enforcement authorities should be notified when this occurs.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is a rescue liable for an animals behavior?
Q:

We wanted to bring a 3rd dog into our family.  We have a 13 year old male Jack Russell and 7 year old female rat terrier.  I went thru the process filling out application and paying the fee to take in a rescue. On the application it asked what would keep me from adopting the pet.  I wrote aggression.  I met the dog and introduced the dog to my two dogs and we took the rescue dog in.  Two week later the rescue killed our prescious rat terrier.  We are heart broken. Is rescue responsible for anything? Do they have any guidelines that are held to them?

A:

I am very sorry to hear about the death of your dog. Often adoption agreements provide that the shelter or rescue organization will not be liable for any harm or damage caused by the animal. There are so many variables that can contribute to an animal acting differently in a new home than at a shelter, rescue, pet store, or breeder. Unless there is evidence demonstrating that the adoption entity or seller knew about a dog’s dangerous propensities and failed to disclose it, it is unlikely that they will be held responsible for the dog’s subsequent behavior in a new home.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dog given away without permission.
Q:

Can I sue or file a lawsuit against someone who gave my dog away without my permission, even though it happened several months ago? It's just been difficult and I haven't been able to try to sue the person in the past.

A:

An animal’s “owner” can sue a person who gave his/her animal away without permission. The lawsuit would typically be for the return of the animal and/or money. The statute of limitations (time within which a lawsuit must be commenced) varies based on the cause of action and other factors but typically exceeds several months (but notices of claim against a municipality often must be filed sooner). A court may consider whether the person who is alleging that his/her animal was wrongfully given away had abandoned the animal (thus possibly entitling  the person with whom the animal was abandoned to give the animal away). In some states, including California, there are laws which provide that animals shall be deemed abandoned when they are not retrieved from a veterinarian, kennel, or other animal care facility within a certain number of days after the animal was scheduled to be picked up. 
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Owner cannot provide a home for dog
Q:

My ex boyfriend has been admitted to hospital and left his dog with me for what was supposed to be 2 days, it's been 10 days so far. He does not own a house and has no where to bring him when released. I found dog a great home but ex refuses to sign ownership rights over to me. I have been caring for this lab but have 4 rescue pets of my own and cannot take on any more. This sweet dog is a year old and 85 lbs. This dog deserves a better life than what his owner can give him. What rights do I have?

A:

Generally, a person who agrees to care for a friend’s pet when the friend is in the hospital does not gain “ownership” rights to the animal. While under certain circumstances a court could determine that an animal who was not retrieved in a timely manner should be deemed abandoned, this is not likely to happen if the “owner” is in the hospital and thus unable to get the animal.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Pet sitting at an apartment complex.
Q:

Hi my question is that I'm pet sitting for my friend he's in the navy and his dog is a service dog. My apartment complex told me I counldn't pet sit here or that his breed was not allowed on the complex grounds. I'm getting reported for taking care of the dog, what can I do?



A:

There are several laws that require housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who need assistance animals. An animal sitter who is caring for a disabled person’s assistance animal in the animal sitter’s apartment is not likely to be afforded protection under these laws. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area who can review your lease and try to negotiate a satisfactory resolution to this situation until your friend returns.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Relinquishing rights to ownership of my dog.
Q:

I am giving away my pet dog to a friend, how do I make it legal to relinquish all my rights?

A:

Just as animal shelters utilize written adoption agreements, individuals who are giving away or selling their animals could/should spell out the terms of their transaction in a written agreement signed by both parties. A provision could be included which makes it clear that one party is relinquishing all rights to the animal.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can legal action be taken against a neighbor?
Q:

I'm involved with a cat rescue organization that recently became involved in a 14-cat rescue operation in which these animals were being kept in highly unsanitary conditions for several years after the property owner died.  My organization paid for the trapping/neutering/vaccinating of 13/14 of these cats, and rehomed most of them, as well as donating time and materials to set up a feeding/housing station while we rehomed them. A neighbor that was helping feed them grew impatient waiting for the last two to be taken to their new home (already set up and waiting for them) so she had them euthanized without telling my organization and without permission.  Can any sort of legal action be taken against her?


A:

There are laws providing for minimum hold times for animals at shelters before the animals can be placed for adoption or euthanized. These laws tend not to apply to “owner” surrendered animals (but local laws on this differ). A  person who unjustifiably caused an animal to be killed  could be prosecuted under animal cruelty laws (for example, a person who was not an animal's “owner” but represented himself/herself as such and surrendered the animal for euthanasia). The decision to make an arrest would normally be up to the police and local law enforcement authorities, including the SPCA in some counties, and the decision to prosecute would normally be up to the district attorney. A person/organization who is not the “owner” of the euthanized animal would probably not have standing in a case for monetary damages for the death of the animal against anyone, including, but not limited to, the person who brought the animal to be euthanized (but the reverse may be true if "ownership" could be established).
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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