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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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How can I get the seller to mail me papers for my purebred?
Q:

Hello,
I bought what is supposed to be a healthy purebred off of a family and paid $300.00. The owner was supposed to mail me the papers and now she is refusing. I also had taken the dog to my vet two days after I bought her and found out that she had a bad UTI, hook worm and also might need surgery for her shoulder. I would like to see if I could get my money back but the main thing I want is the papers.

A:

Pennsylvania’s pet sale law provides consumers with remedies if they purchase a sick dog from a licensed kennel or pet shop. Similar laws (sometimes referred to as puppy lemon laws) exist in several states. The provisions of these laws differ, with some applying to dogs and cats, others just to dogs. The amount of money one can get reimbursed for veterinary expenses to treat a recently purchased sick animal differs as does the amount of time consumers have to present the seller with proof that the animal was unfit for sale. These laws generally include provisions concerning the dog’s registration papers and provide for a refund of part of the purchase price if the papers are not provided to the purchaser within a specified time period. These laws can be restrictive, but consumers may also rely on other laws pertaining to the sale of goods generally (including animals) by merchants. However, the sale of sick animals by persons who do not fit within the various definitions of ‘merchant,’ ‘pet dealer,’ or ‘seller’ is not similarly regulated. When one purchases an animal from another individual and the animal is not in the condition as promised, the purchaser can sue. If there is a written contract and the contract was breached, certainly the case would be easier to win. When a case is based on a verbal agreement, often the parties have a different version of the agreement. I hope your dog gets better soon and is spayed.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What are my options for the return of my stolen pet?
Q:

My pet was stolen by someone I know. Charges were filed and the person was arrested but the charges are going to be dismissed in 6 months and I still don't have my pet. What are my options?

A:

If the return of the animal is not part of the disposition of a case in criminal court, one would typically have to commence a civil action for the return of the animal. I suggest you ask the assistant district attorney who handled the matter if the state has taken or plans to take any action to have the dog returned to you as part of the disposition of the case.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Are we entitled to get our lost shelter dog back from its original microchip owners?
Q:

Hi my question pertains to my dog who we adopted from a shelter 3 years ago. Recently, he ran away, was found and scanned for his microchip (we didn't know original owners info was on it) and given back to original owners. Since he was at an animal shelter and we officially adopted him and have had him for 3 years, shouldn't we be entitled to get him back?

A:

Generally, when one adopts an animal from an animal shelter that has held the animal for the time period required by law, the adopter “owns” the animal, not the previous “owner.” However, if a microchipped dog was lost and ended up at a shelter and the shelter failed to check for the microchip prior to adopting out the animal, a court might be sympathetic to the person who lost the pet (not likely though if the dog was surrendered to the shelter by the "owner"). In Illinois, the law states that shelters must check for a microchip but the relevant laws in most other states are not as specific in large part because most of these laws were written long before microchipping was prevalent. Nevertheless, many laws, while not specifically mentioning microchips, require shelters to hold on to identified animals for longer than unidentified animals and to contact the “owners” of the identified animals. Many shelters check for microchips just as they do for tags, tattoos and other means of identification so that they can reunite animals with their “owners.” If you and the original “owner” cannot agree on custody, your option is to sue for the return of the dog. Courts will consider the evidence presented (not just the microchip) in determining who “owns” the dog now.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to pay the vet for unneeded treatments & surgery?
Q:

Took my pet to see the vet because he was sick. They did a Parvo test, it came back negative but treated him for it anyways. Then something was in his stomach that needed to be surgically removed. Did surgery but found nothing. Now vet is charging for a treatment he didn't need and for a surgery he didn't have to have. Now the vet is withholding my dog until I pay the bill. Should I have to pay for their malpractice and how do I get my dog back

A:

Every state has a veterinary licensing board. You can contact the Texas State Board of Veterinary Examiners to file a complaint and to get clarification about Texas’ law concerning veterinarians’ withholding of animals. The Texas Attorney General’s office issued an opinion several years ago regarding veterinarians’ withholding of animals. The Attorney General’s opinion states, in part: “… we have determined that a veterinarian may not hold an animal for nonpayment of fees if the owner demands his animal's return.” In this opinion, the Attorney General also references a specific Texas law pertaining to the abandonment of animals at veterinary facilities. This law provides that animals may be deemed abandoned if a veterinarian sends a certified letter to the client giving such person 10 days to retrieve his/her animal and such person does not do so by the 11th day after the date the veterinarian mails the notice. Most importantly, the Attorney General’s opinion states: “The statute does not specify that either payment or a promise to pay is a condition for retrieval during this period.”

The laws pertaining to the right of veterinarians to withhold animals for lack of payment vary from state to state. Pet ‘parents’ should be very careful since some states' laws provide that animals shall be deemed abandoned and may be given away or even euthanized if the pet ‘parent’ does not pay and retrieve the animal in a specified time period.

Also, one can sue a veterinarian for malpractice, negligence, or for other reasons. However, in order to prove veterinary malpractice, oftentimes one needs an expert witness who will testify that the veterinarian being sued acted below the professional standard of care required of competent veterinarians.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it legal for my home insurance to request we euthanize our dog?
Q:

Hello it is time to renew our home insurance and the insurance company says my dog is considered dangerous. The salesperson told my father to kill our dog by Monday 4/19/2013 just so we could get insured by them. Is that legal?

A:

There is legislation pending in many states to make it unlawful for insurance companies to refuse to issue or renew a homeowner's insurance policy or to cancel or charge an increased premium for such policy based upon the keeping of a dog of a specific breed or mixture of breeds. Until these bills get passed, insurance companies generally have wide discretion in most states. Not all insurance companies have the same policies so it is important to shop around. Also, there are regulations pertaining to the number of days notice one must get before a policy is not renewed or is canceled so that should be checked out. Contacting one’s state insurance commissioner would be a start. There are also companies that specifically offer a separate liability policy which covers dog incidents. Although I cannot recommend any particular company, Dog Fancy magazine indicated in an article that the Lester Kalmanson Agency in Maitland, Florida issues stand-alone dog policies. According to this article, the breed of the dog does not matter, although the dog’s biting history might.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to return the dog to a lady that threatened its life?
Q:

I work at a pet store and last week a lady came in and asked several of us if we knew of anywhere she can take her dog because she didn't want her anymore. It was after 5pm so all the places were closed where she could drop her off. Then she said "if nobody here takes this dog, I am dumping her on the interstate". So of course being an animal lover, I took the dog. The lady even said she would come back and give me her food and all the things she had for her but she never showed again. The lady adopted this dog about a month ago from the Dallas, TX animal shelter. Today, a week later, she calls me and wants the dog back. I fell in love with this dog and she is a part of our family now. Do I HAVE to give the dog back to the lady that threatened this dog's life?

A:

Usually when one gives an animal away, the person giving the animal away does not retain rights to that animal unless there is an agreement stating otherwise. The person who was given an animal that he/she suspects was not cared for in a humane manner will generally not voluntarily return the animal. If the person who gave away the animal sues for the return of the animal, it is up to the court to review the evidence, determine what really happened, and who should get the animal. People who abandon their animal or threaten to dump their animal on a highway are not the people most likely, in my opinion, to go through the time and expense of bringing such a lawsuit, but one never knows. Other things to consider are making a complaint of animal abandonment with local law enforcement authorities or contacting the animal shelter since adoption agreements sometimes contain provisions allowing the shelter to reclaim animals from an abusive adopter and to re-adopt the animal to another person. However, in these scenarios one cannot know for sure what actions the police or shelter would take.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it legal for a vet to keep a dog as collateral until they have received payment?
Q:

Is it legal for a vet to keep a dog as collateral until they have received payment?

A:

The laws vary in each state. Generally (but not always), a veterinarian can withhold an animal pending payment (but must take proper care of the animal during this time). However, it is important to also note that many states have laws which provide that an animal may be deemed abandoned if the animal’s “owner” or "owner's" agent does not respond in a timely manner to letters sent by the veterinarian which give the “owner” or person who left the animal at the facility a specified amount of time (as provided by the state’s law) to retrieve the animal. In some states if the animal’s “owner” or agent responds to the abandonment letters and attempts to retrieve the animal within the specified time period, the animal cannot be deemed abandoned even if the veterinarian’s bill has not been paid. New York’s law, for example, requires the veterinarian to return the animal to the animal’s “owner”/agent if the veterinarian sent the abandonment letters and the animal's “owner”/agent responded within the time period provided by law, even if the bill remains unpaid.

Below is Iowa’s law regarding animals left at a veterinarian/kennel. I suggest you also consult with the Iowa Board of Veterinary Medicine. Sometimes these boards have their own rules of conduct. Some states also have lien laws which may be applicable as well.

Iowa law 162.19: Whenever any animal is left with a veterinarian, boarding kennel or commercial kennel pursuant to a written agreement and the owner does not claim the animal by the agreed date, the animal shall be deemed abandoned, and a notice of abandonment and its consequences shall be sent within seven days by certified mail to the last known address of the owner. For fourteen days after mailing of the notice the owner shall have the right to reclaim the animal upon payment of all reasonable charges, and after the fourteen days the owner shall be deemed to have waived all rights to the abandoned animal. If despite diligent effort an owner cannot be found for the abandoned animal within another seven days, the veterinarian, boarding kennel, or commercial kennel may humanely destroy the abandoned animal. Each veterinarian, boarding kennel or commercial kennel shall warn its patrons of the provisions of this section by a conspicuously posted notice or by conspicuous type in a written receipt.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Anything we can legally do to get an adopted out dog back from the owner?
Q:

I work for a small non-profit. We adopted out a timid dog to a woman with a boyfriend, she knew the dog had issues especially with men but wanted to be "the one" to break her out of her shell. She said it wasn't working out and we agreed to take the dog back. Now the day before she was going to drop the dog off she said that she has found a foster home for her and she will not tell us where or who the dog is going with and has told us to leave her alone. In our contract it does state that any animals adopted out have to come back to us but it does also state that after 6 months we will not take an animal back. Is there anything we can do legally?

A:

Lawsuits for the return of animals are sometimes brought when animals are unlawfully withheld. If the case is based on a breach of contract and the language of the contract is confusing, it is likely a court would construe the ambiguous contract provision in a manner most favorable to the person who did not draft the ambiguous language. If the adopter gave the animal away within the first six months after adoption, your case may be stronger. Of course, these cases can be difficult when the person being sued no longer has the animal. The court must decide whether to require the release of the second adopter’s name. I suggest you re-word your contract for future adoptions.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I take action against my vet for a wrongful communal cremation?
Q:

March 30th I very unexpectedly had to have my 13 year old dog put to sleep due to sickness. I brought her to a Vet that I had trusted and had been to before. I paid for private cremation and for my dog's ashes to be returned to me (should have had her remains back within 72 hours.) Needless to say, I recieve a call from the Vet's Manager regretting to inform me that I will not be getting my beloved dog's ashes after all because the Vet Tech made a mistake and tagged my dog wrong. The tech tagged my dog to be in a "communal Cremation" after the box that was checked off on the paper work clearly states that the remains are to be returned to the owner.

I not only had to make the heart wrenching decision to put her to sleep, but I do not even have her remains to take home. Is there any legal action I can take against them.

A:

I am so sorry to hear about your dog. There was a 1979 case in New York (Corso v. Crawford Dog and Cat Hospital) involving similar facts. A woman brought her fifteen-year-old poodle to the animal hospital for treatment but once euthanasia was recommended she had the dog euthanized. The poodle’s “owner” planned a funeral for the dog. Upon opening the casket at the pet cemetery, she found a dead cat. Her dog’s remains were never located. The court held that the destruction of the dog’s body was actionable. The court also stated that “In ruling that a pet such as a dog is not just a thing I believe the plaintiff is entitled to damages beyond the market value of the dog. A pet is not an inanimate thing that just receives affection; it also returns it. I find that plaintiff Ms. Corso did suffer shock, mental anguish and despondency due to the wrongful destruction and loss of the dog’s body.” The court awarded Ms. Corso $700. It is difficult to predict how other courts would decide the amount of damages to award in such a case.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I forever have legal ownership over my dog's puppies?
Q:

My dog had an accidental litter before we were able to get her fixed. A wonderful mom to 6 healthy puppies who are very well taken care of by grandma (me) as well. The pups are now 8 weeks & I am very nervous about sending them to new strange homes. My question is, after I send the pups to new homes do I have any legal right to check on them and/or take them back if they are being mistreated?

A:

It is possible to have a contract signed by both parties to an animal sale or adoption indicating the rights of each party. Many animal shelters and rescue groups use adoption agreements which state that the shelter/rescue has the right to do inspections of the animal in his/her new home. Some rescues/shelters do home checks prior to adoption. Adoption agreements often state that the shelter/rescue can condition the adoption based on the home visit and can remove the adopted animal if there is a breach of the agreement. Adoption agreements usually contain animal care provisions, including, for example, that the animal be provided with necessary food, veterinary care, and shelter. Some agreements require the return of the animal if the adopter chooses not to keep the animal. Many breeders also use contracts which contain provisions for the return of animals. Individuals can use similar agreements.

Many shelters/rescue groups do reference checks (including checking with the interested adopter’s veterinarian) before placing an animal in a new home. Some states have requirements governing the sale of animals by pet dealers (pet shops and some breeders). Nonetheless, once possession is transferred it can be very difficult to get an animal returned. Therefore, it is important to carefully screen potential adopters/purchasers.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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