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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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Neighbors want my dog out of building.
Q:

Help? My neighbors are trying to have animal control take my son's dog away. He is a rescue dog, boxer hound mix who loves everyone, even other dogs. They have a personal grudge against me & have made a complaint to the building that they are afraid of my dog & want him removed. They are two old men who drink & harass me in the hall when I have my son in my arms. I won't get involved in a hallway dispute while I carry a baby. What can I do? Can animal control just take my dog? Can a building that allows dogs kick mine out without cause?

A:

Tenants who live in pet friendly apartments cannot generally be evicted for having a pet or ordered to remove their pet unless the pet is of a species/breed/weight, etc. that is prohibited under the lease or by a law or if the animal is creating a nuisance. It is up to the landlord to prove to the court that the alleged nuisance is significant enough to justify an order of eviction or removal of the animal. Often in nuisance cases, the tenant is ordered to ‘cure’ the nuisance by correcting an undesirable situation (noise, odor, etc.).  I suggest you consult with a landlord/tenant attorney in your state who can review your lease and advise you further. Depending on the type of housing, lease renewal rights can be an issue as well. Animal control officers usually will not seize a dog unless the dog is running at large, has bitten someone, or presents some other public health concern. I suggest that you take extra precautions to ensure that your animals are leashed on public property and in common areas of your apartment building and that they are properly supervised. If your pets are seized, carefully review any documents the animal control officers or shelter personnel ask you to sign. All too often when animals are seized, people mistakenly sign away their rights when there is no legal requirement for them to do so.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can they take back our dog?
Q:

Hello, my girlfriend's family was recently given a dog by the family of her brothers friend, about 3-4 days ago. My girlfriend says that they gave her the puppy because their original family dog just had a lot of babies and there was no way they would be able to take care of so many. Now they are trying to ask for her back but my mom, my girlfriends mom, her pets, my dog, we've all formed a bond with the little one already. Do we have to give her back?



A:

Generally when one gives a dog away as a gift, such person loses all rights to the animal and has no further claim to the animal. However, sometimes people have a different understanding of the ‘deal.’ While one person may say the animal was given to him/her as a gift, another person may say possession was transferred just for temporary boarding. If litigated, courts will consider the evidence and determine who should get the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What rights do I have to get dog out of possible abuse situation?
Q:

I recently came across a very sweet pit bull, she looked like she recently had puppies and had been dropped off. After a day or two I decided since no one had come to get the dog ( I walked her around the neighborhood to see if anyone would recognize her) I decided I was going to keep her. I took her to the vet, got all of her shots, got heart worm guard, and made plans to get her spayed. I bring her to my boyfriends house (where I first found her) and people that were outside claimed that this dog was theirs. There was some verbal communication, and misunderstandings. We willingly gave the dog back as long as they would pay the expenses that I had payed for taking her to the vet. I have reason to believe that they are not treating her right. As I said earlier she looked like she had puppies recently and I have reason to believe that they are trying to breed her again. What their motives are I have no clue, but I have no solid proof. Is there anything I can do to reassure that the dog is being taken care of and if she is not, what legal steps can I take to get the dog away from them?

A:

Animal abuse and neglect are against the law, as is animal fighting. If you suspect this animal is abused, neglected, or used for fighting, contact your local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA), humane society, and police and ask that an investigation be conducted. However, unless there is evidence that a law has been violated, law enforcement entities are not likely to be of much assistance. Sometimes, offering to purchase an animal can get an animal out of undesirable circumstances.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Violating Pet Custody Agreement
Q:

After my mother died when we were teenagers, my sister and I signed an agreement within the court to split time, cost and care for our family dog (after she witheld him from me for a year and a half during court proceedings). We normally pick up/drop off every Sunday and Max spends 2 weeks at each of our homes each month. She refuses to drop him off to me and will not respond to my requests to sit down and talk about things.
What options do I have? I'm finishing college and don't have the income to hire a lawyer. I tried to meet with the judge from our agreement and the court said that wouldn't be possible. Could I bring our agreement to the police with their help to reinforce?
I don't know what to do....

A:

One can ask, but it is unlikely the police will intervene to enforce a pet custody contract. While not an ideal situation, sometimes when people cannot afford to hire an attorney, they handle a case on their own (pro se). Court clerks can be very helpful to pro se litigants.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Who has legal rights to the dog?
Q:

Hello, my sister brought a Maltese 3  years ago. When the Maltese was 3 weeks old she asked me to watch the dog for a week. 9 months later she wanted the dog back. I returned the dog. After a month she told me come get 'your dog' I went and got the dog. When the dog made 2 yrs my sister wanted the dog back again. With tears and heartbreak I gave her the Maltese again. 2 months later she begged me to take the dog, of course I did. Now a year has past and she wants the Maltese. I had the Maltese 3 years now since she was 3 weeks. The dog loves us. My sister is threatening to call the police me. Can she do this? I love my Maltese.



A:

While anyone can call the police to make a complaint, usually the police will not get involved in animal custody disputes. Even if the police do an investigation, once made aware that possession of an animal was voluntarily given to another person (as compared to being taken without consent), it is unlikely the police would take any action, other than to advise the parties that it is a civil matter (which means that one can sue for the return of the animal). If such an action were to be commenced, the court would consider the evidence and make a determination regarding ‘ownership.’ Courts occasionally consider the best interests of the animal, particularly when evidence indicates that one party was neglectful or abusive towards the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Does my daughter's boyfriend have any rights to dog he gave as a gift?
Q:

Hello, my daughters boyfriend bought her a boxer with no paperwork about 3 years ago and has been living with us for most of that time (all 3 of them), which has made me the caregiver for this dog since I'm a housewife and home all the time. My daughter works full time and as of last October her boyfriend has been in jail and gets out in April. She has since broke it off with him and he is trying to get his dad to come take the dog away from her, which to me seems like he's trying to punish her for breaking it off. My husband and I have paid all the medical bills for the dog including a very expensive neutering beacause he was full grown before they would do it. We have 2 Boston's of our own and their dog is very comfortable here with all of us. Does the boyfriend have the right to take him away seeing he hasn't really been there at all to take care of him. I have all the paperwork from the vet. He is a boxer name Cuba and he is just the best dog around and it would kill us to see him go to the boyfriend's dad especially since we know that they don't treat him very kindly. What can we do and does he have any rights over the dog?

A:

Usually when an animal is given to someone as a gift, the person giving the gift has no further rights to the animal. If the case is litigated (for example, the ex-boyfriend sues to get the animal), the courts, based on the evidence, would consider whether or not the dog was given as a gift or was abandoned. In making its determination, the court may consider such factors as where the animal has been living and for how long, who has been the animal’s primary caretaker, and who has been paying for the animal’s food, veterinary care, and other necessities.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get a dog back that I have rehomed?
Q:

I rehomed a dog to my neighbor and her boyfriend. She is no longer there and I have a key so the dog is taken care of. I bathe him, walk him, and cut his nails because the boyfriend isnt doing it. Do I have any legal right to take him back?

A:

When one gives a dog away, such person usually has no further rights to the dog, unless there was an agreement stating otherwise. Sometimes an individual who doesn’t make the time to care for his/her animal may be willing to give away or sell the animal, although it is unclear from your question if the neighbor (who moved and may have cared for the dog) intends to return for him.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What rights do I have to get dog back from rescue group?
Q:

I was detained by police in March '14 and no charges were filed. My dog was taken to the pound where her microchip went back to RG(rescue group). I rescued her Aug '12 and they never bothered to complete paperwork or adopt fee because and I quote"so happy she found the perfect home the papers didn't matter to me". Now they are holding my dog saying she's not adoptable and waiting until I'm in better head space. I'm 100% fine so who gives her the right to decide when that is or the legal right to hold my baby girl? I want her back, she's a good girl, is deaf and a beautiful white Bull Terrier. I've spent over 20k on my last three dogs health in 2 years before they passed. Never have I not had a dog to care for. I feel a little lost. What legal recourse do I have or what should I do? I went to file a judgement but it takes time, in which I'm hoping there's not a legal time period they have her and default my rights to her. Please help, please. Thank you, and I love your work!

A:

The mission of rescue organizations is to find safe and humane homes for homeless animals. Therefore, it is not surprising that a rescue group would be concerned when an animal it placed for adoption or foster care ends up at a pound. If you cannot quickly resolve this matter with the rescue group and you want to try to get the dog returned, I suggest you retain the services of an attorney in your state. An attorney may seek an injunction to prevent the adoption of the animal to another person during the pendency of the lawsuit. Once an animal is adopted to another person, getting the animal returned can be more difficult. Without adoption papers, it may be hard to establish that an animal was actually adopted and not simply temporarily fostered. However, if litigated, other evidence would likely be presented, which may include testimony and written documentation regarding the rescue’s normal adoption and foster care procedures and policies. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it too late to get my dog back?
Q:

My ex and I broke up over a year ago. Entering the relationship I had a dog. A dog that I had since the day he was born since my sister's dog gave birth to him and I was living with her. We signed a lease agreement of a year for an apartment. I paid for the pet rent and pet deposit. Im sure I would be able to get proof of payment under my name if need be. I have all his shot records and proof he was neutered under my name and bank information. It has been over a year and my ex and his mother are refusing to let me have my dog back. I'm just not sure what to do because it has been so long. I was forced to move out of the apartment as my ex was very abusive and I was scared for my own well being. They agreed to watch him until I found a new place to live as I was staying with my mom, and dogs aren't allowed in her apartment. Once I found a place they wouldnt give him back and I didnt have any proof at the time. Please help me get my dog back. I dont know where to go or what to do.

A:

One can bring a civil lawsuit to try to get an animal returned. Consult with an attorney in your state. The police usually will not get involved in pet custody disputes between people who lived together.  Generally if a person adopts or purchases an animal prior to marriage, such person is the animal’s ‘owner.’ However, there are many exceptions to this general rule, including, for example, if the animal was subsequently given as a gift to another person or abandoned.


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

My now recent ex boyfriend of almost 4 years left me in October of 2013 via moving van while I was at work and left our pit bull behind, which is fine due to the fact I was the only one involved with raising him. Since then (currently March 2014) he has made no attempt to see him or help financially, but has texted a mutual friend that he is moving to L.A. and wants to take my dog.  How do I prevent this from happening? My dog is all I have left of everything he took.

A:

It is unclear who owns or leases the apartment or house where you and the dog are living.  Oftentimes, people change locks so that unauthorized people cannot gain access. I suggest you safeguard your dog to prevent theft.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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