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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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Do I have enough proof of ownership to get my pitt bull puppy back from my ex?
Q:

A few months ago I bought a 6week old pit bull puppy from my friend, it was for me and my girlfriend. Well a month later we broke up and she kept the dog. She didn't pay for her. I paid for the shots and food and toys. I also have a signed statement from the friend I bought the dog from saying I am the one she sold the dog to. Is this enough to get my dog back if I take it to court? Or if I show the police? I'm not sure how to go about this situation


A:

The police do not generally get involved in pet custody disputes unless they believe pet theft is involved (which is usually not the situation when two ex-partners/spouses are claiming rights to a “shared” animal). One can commence a civil lawsuit for the return of an animal who he/she believes is being wrongfully withheld. While proof of purchase or adoption is one indication of “ownership,” it does not tell the whole story. Courts will consider other evidence. For example, sometimes an animal is purchased by one person but then given to another person as a gift. Leaving an animal behind when a relationship ends may (or may not depending on the circumstances) also indicate an intent to relinquish whatever “ownership” rights one may have. I hope you are all putting the dog’s best interests first. Not that this is your motivation, but all too often ex-partners and divorcing spouses use pet custody as a means to hurt the other person and overlook what is really best for the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I be forced to euthanize my dog over freak accident?
Q:

So I have a 75 pound dog that has been the best choice I ever made. There was a cat already there when I got her and my dog and the first cat stay out of each others way. We rented a room out and this person had 2 cats and a dog and the dogs are best friends. But one time while not in the house the door to the room with the cats was opened and not properly locked so the kitten and my dog came in contact and well the kitten was killed. My dog has never acted this way towards another dog or humans as well as the cat that was already there before her. She wants me to put the dog down but it was a freak accident. The owner of the kitten has told me to either put the dog down or it will go to small claims court


A:

 I am so sorry to hear about the tragic incident. Ohio’s dangerous dog law does not provide for the euthanasia of dogs who kill a cat. However, Ohio is one of several states that has a strict liability dog bite law (meaning that often the owner of a dog is responsible for his/her dog’s actions, unless the dog was being tormented by the victim or the victim was trespassing or committing some other criminal offense at the time of the incident). Nevertheless, if the kitten’s “owner” sues in a small claims court, there is no assurance that a court would find in her favor (or award her very much money) particularly since you were living in the same house (an argument can possibly be made that the cat's "owner"  was also harboring the dog). I hope all of the animals are now provided with a safe and humane environment.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can you keep a dog from owners who have abused it?
Q:

A beautiful dog was witnessed being abused by its owner and thrown on to the street. It has been living with a loving family for a few days but the owners have posted a Wanted sign with a reward.
The dog is happy and safe now, the new family wants to adopt him. How can they go about adopting him and proving his abuse (they have an eyewitness who wants to make a statement)?
Thank you!


A:

Cruelty to animals is against the law. Individuals who witness cruelty to animals should contact their local police and SPCA (society for the prevention of cruelty to animals) which have the authority to arrest persons who violate animal cruelty laws and to seize victimized animals. However, there is no guarantee that the person making the animal cruelty report or the person who rescued the animal will be given the opportunity to adopt the animal.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Looking for a pet friendly lawyer.
Q:

Are there any places to find pet-friendly lawyers, especially in Tennessee?

A:

In addition to checking online, one can contact local and state bar associations for referrals to attorneys who handle animal related legal matters. Also, since local humane societies sometimes work with attorneys they may be able to provide names of “pet-friendly” lawyers. Animal law is a very broad field and not every “pet-friendly” attorney has the same expertise. For example, an individual facing eviction would generally be best served by a “pet-friendly” landlord-tenant lawyer; a person wishing to include a pet trust in a will or other document should retain a lawyer with trusts and estates expertise; and a person seeking to sue someone for negligently harming his/her animal would typically retain a lawyer with personal injury experience. Therefore, when seeking an attorney referral one should be specific regarding the type of help that is needed.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Uncle euthanized my 2 cats without permission.
Q:

Hi, I had to give up 2 of my rescue cats because of my doctors saying I should not have indoor cats; and should not be scooping litter or letting cats sleep with me (I have an autoimmune liver disease PSC). Anyway, my son's uncle offered to take Neo & Zeke (both healthy Neo was 10 & Zeke was only 4-5 yrs old). I just found out that 3 months ago (cats were only with him 8 months) he decided that they were an inconvenience & had them both put down!! He never called my son or me to see if we could take them back!! I'm so angry, sad & guilty for sending them to their deaths by giving them to the uncle! I would have taken them back & found homes or even put in a doggie door so they would not need a litter box - is there any legal recourse? Or do I just have to live with this because I THOUGHT they were going to a loving new home, thank u for any advice.

A:

How tragic. Generally, a person has no further rights to an animal that he/she gives away or sells (unless there is an agreement stating otherwise). Thus, when the person to whom the animal was given or sold subsequently gives the animal away, sells the animal, or has the animal euthanized, the original “owner”  typically has no legal recourse.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I keep my Mom from leaving dog outside?
Q:

I live with my mom and I have a dog that I take care of, not her, and I walk her and pay for everything. If she takes my dog and ties her outside cause she doesn't want her in the house anymore is there anything i can do?

A:

In these situations, one can move, find another family for the dog where she will be allowed in the house and treated humanely, or work out the existing controversy so that the dog can have a comfortable place in the house. Not only is tethering dogs outdoors for extended periods of time unlawful in a few NY municipalities, it is also cruel. In addition, there is a NY statewide dog shelter law (which requires shelter appropriate to the dog’s breed, physical condition and climate) and a cruelty to animals law which, among other things, requires that animals be provided with necessary sustenance and prohibits the causing of unjustifiable suffering. The police are authorized to enforce these laws as are societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals and other designated officers. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Are NY pet stores required to micro-chip puppies?
Q:

Are pet stores in NY required to chip puppies before they are sold? I was told this by a pet store owner. I was looking to buy a puppy, he said this is the law

A:

There is legislation pending before the New York City Council to require pet stores to microchip dogs and cats before releasing the animals to a purchaser. The bill has not passed yet. Microchips help to reunite lost animals with their guardians. No question about that. While it is also a good idea to keep tags on collars, they can be removed or fall off so a microchip provides added protection.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My ex wants my cat, but I have a restraining order.
Q:

I was dating a guy on and off for the past 3 years. In February 2014, my cat was having significant anxiety problems due to a toddler being in my home. I asked him to temporarily take care of my cat while we taught the toddler to be nice to cats. We called this a "cat vacation." We agreed it was temporary.

In April 2014, I broke up with my boyfriend. He begged me not to take back my cat. I told him that he could continue to care for my cat as long as I was able to visit her while he was not home. He agreed to this.

In July, 2014 my ex attacked me and threatened my life. After this incident, I sought a restraining order for my safety and the safety of my cat. The judge approved the temporary restraining order and ordered that the cat be returned by me. The police escorted me to get my cat. The cat is now in my possession. At the hearing, the judge extended my restraining order for 1 year, but said in passing that the cat seems to belong to my ex. (He had presented a text message out of context that convinced the judge of this.) His lawyer asked the judge to order the cat be returned to my ex and the judge stated that he could not do that and that he would have to file a different suit.

After that, I got a lawyer. My lawyer has been calling his lawyer over the past 20 days and the lawyer has not answered the phone, and his voicemail box is full so my lawyer can't leave a message.

Today, 20 days after the hearing, I received a letter in the mail from my ex's lawyer stating "please make arragnements with me for the cat to be delivered to --- If you do not respond, or refuse, I will file suit."

Is his lawyer allowed to do that? Is he breaking the restraining order? He's threatneing me and I feel bullied and scared. I cannot give the cat to my ex because I'm worried he will hurt her. I'm worried he will hurt me, which is why I got the order.

The cat does not belong to him. I bought her 2 years before I met him. I have all the vet bills. I have witnesses to the temporary vacation of the cat being with my ex.

I don't know what to do.


A:

It is common for attorneys to write a “demand” letter prior to commencing a lawsuit. If a lawsuit is commenced regarding the “ownership” of an animal, courts will consider the evidence which may include, for example, who purchased or adopted the animal, who has paid for the animal’s care, and who has been the animal’s primary caretaker. Sometimes the best interests of the animal are also considered. Disputes regarding the “ownership” of an animal are usually adjudicated in a civil, not criminal, action unless there are theft or other criminal charges involved regarding the animal (for example, people who are convicted of cruelty to animals may be ordered to forfeit the animal). Attorneys (with authorization from clients) can also send a letter to another attorney indicating that they are representing the client and that communication be directed to the attorney.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can an adoption agency force treatment?
Q:

We are wanting to adopt a dog from a local agency. However, their policy requires all dogs in the home to be on heart worm medicine or they will refuse adoption. They are the only agency in 3 counties with this requirement. How can they legally force their agenda on pet owners, and still refuse adoption on that issue alone?

A:

Animal shelters and rescue groups often have adoption requirements (which vary although some requirements, such as spay/neuter, are quite common). This helps to better ensure that the animals will be cared for in a humane and safe manner.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
I gave my dog away while under extreme stress. Can I ever get her back?
Q:

I surrendered my beloved puppy to an "animal rescue" locally that I know did good work. I was lied to about her breed (french bulldog) and only found out the day I gave her to them that she was a terrier. This explained how I was starting to feel overwhelmed by how to deal with her needs, especially in the apt I was living in at the time. My living situation and life at that time was so stressful-I was under severe duress. All that has changed. I bought her and she was my constant companion for 8 months 24/7. Pampered to the hilt, vetted, all her needs cared for. NEVER abused, neglected, only loved. I made a rash a decision but they will not give her back. They hurried me throughout, even when signing their agreement. My copy is not even signed. They promised she would be homed immediately. It's been 3 and half months and she's still available but they will not let me plead my case. Their mission statement was to "keep families together first" - help with training, even financially. She NEVER offered this-just scooped my beloved pup up within 24 hours. We have been begging for her return since. I have doctors that are willing to submit ppwk stating my stress levels @ the time. Should I hire an attorney? Do I have a case for her return?

A:

When an individual signs an agreement surrendering all rights to an animal, he/she usually has no legal right to the return of the animal. Rescue groups and shelters are often reluctant to return an animal to an individual who surrendered the animal for fear that whatever caused an individual to surrender a “beloved puppy” may happen again. After all, the mission of rescue groups and shelters is to place animals in humane forever homes. If you choose to pursue this matter, consult with an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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