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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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My ex stole my puppy
Q:

My ex attacked me, got arrested, released, came into my house with police escort when I wasnt home and took things including the 1 yr old puppy I bought. My room mate let them in and didn't notice the removal of my pet. I reported theft to police but they said it will have to be a civil suit and out of their hands. I want my puppy back! What are my options. I have no money for lawyers.

A:

Other than trying to find an attorney who will handle a case on a pro bono (free) basis, a person who cannot afford to pay an attorney can represent himself or herself (pro se). Court clerks can be helpful.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get my cats back?
Q:

I gave my cats away to a family in Idaho because I was going to school. I want them back if possible. They are my babies. I plan on visiting them because the lady hasn't kept in touch and I'm worried about them. What are my rights if I want them back?

A:

They are not your babies anymore! When a person gives his/her animal away, such person typically has no further legal claim to that animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Pet sitter fee?
Q:

Please advise!!! I hired a local pet sitter who is a vet assistant and totally reliable I thought! A home monitor installed to view pet sitter activity. She did not provide the pet service I had asked for. She only fed my chi's once a day my chi's get fed twice a day.  She told me she fed them. She didn't show up the first night so my pets didn't get fed. She said she was there and fed my pets. I felt so helpless. I was out of town for a week and I knew my pets were not being cared for. She is charging me full price $30.00 a day and not performing as requested. What should I pay her? Thank you.

A:

I can’t tell you what you should pay, if anything. When people cannot resolve disputes involving relatively small amounts of money, actions are sometimes commenced in Small Claims Court (by the party who believes he/she is owed money). When there is no written contract, the disputing parties often have different recollections of the agreement. Also, pet “owners” who are aware that their animals are not getting necessary care and do nothing to rectify the situation could be charged with animal neglect along with the pet sitter, depending on the severity of the situation. It is bewildering why one would have a home monitor to view pet sitter activity, learn that his/her animals are not being properly cared for, and not take steps to rectify the situation while it is actually going on. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dog taken by animal control
Q:

Ok here is the story.  My son an commercial electrician goes from job to job has his 2 dogs with him in a hotel which he pays extra for.  Anyway 2 weekends ago he got intoxicated and had to be transported to the hospital and the hotel wen into his room and called animal control and he has not  been able to get them back and no one will return his or my calls.  What is our next step?

A:

Animal control procedures vary around the country but there is often a local shelter where seized animals are brought and housed. In order to preserve rights, “owners” of seized animals should immediately attempt to reclaim their animals and that includes going to the shelter. Sometimes animals are withheld pending a criminal case if animal abuse/neglect is suspected, but otherwise animal “owners” are usually able to reclaim their animals. However, often impoundment fees must be paid, a dog license must be procured, and sometimes the animal must be spayed and neutered prior to release.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What should I do about my dog's puppies?
Q:

So I had my dad keep my chihuahua for a few day's because I was going to be away. I wasn't aware his dog was in heat until I came back and she was pregnant. Guess who the father is - my dog. Now she has given birth to four pups and he plans on selling all of them. The problem with that is, he doesn't have papers for his dog and I have papers for my dog. So wouldn't that mean half of the litter is mine.

A:

My first suggestion is that you and your dad get your dogs spayed and neutered. There are so many wonderful homeless animals waiting to get adopted. Random breeding adds to the already tragic overpopulation of dogs and cats. Proving “pupternity” may arise in a dispute involving rights to puppies. Establishing “ownership” of a dog does not necessarily prove that the dog impregnated another dog. Hopefully, you and your dad can resolve this situation in an amicable manner. An individual can sue if he/she believes that his/her animals are being unlawfully withheld or that he/she is owed money from another person. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Sick adopted cat
Q:

I adopted a cat from the original owner through a Bengal rescue. She was through them to adopt out a healthy cat. When I got him home, he peed blood on me and I had to take him to the vet. He now is under vet care for a kidney problem. Is the original owner responsible for the vet bills?

A:

Sometimes an adoption agreement will include a veterinary care provision. Also, usually adoption agreements state that the person placing the animal for adoption does not guarantee the health or temperament of the animal. Even animals who people purchase for thousands of dollars often don’t come with a health guarantee. Nevertheless, if a person knowingly misrepresents the health of an animal, a court could find that such person is liable for veterinary costs to treat the known but undisclosed ailment. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Rescue Organization Took My Cat
Q:

I started to foster a cat about five years ago. As part of the agreement, the vet bills and food were supposed to be covered. For the first few months, they were. But, eventually the food subsidy stopped and the vet affiliated with the rescue group told me vet was not covered. I hadn't heard from the rescue group rep in years, so considered the pet adopted. But, I was about to take a trip and wanted a back up pet sitter for the one I had lined up. The rep I had previously worked with surprisingly responded and said she could be for up to three months as long as I didn't dump the cat on her. She also said that she was willing to cover a dental cleaning for the cat despite what the vet said. Upon bringing him in for prep work (checkup, blood draw), she decided she didn't want me to leave the cat with the pet sitter I had lined up, and despite having cared for him as my own for years, had the vet withhold him from me and wouldn't let me even see him--even though the vet herself stated that I was "such a good, stress-free home" that he went from needing blood pressure medication to no longer needing it. So, for five years I cared for this cat, and he bonded with my other cat, and yet she withheld him from me although she had not put forth any money or time to care for him in five years. She claimed I was still just a foster, although I have never heard of a foster period lasting five years. She is now unresponsive to my attempts to communicate. And, now I am very sad (as this cat was my baby) and my other cat is anxious (he was her support). Is there anything I can do?

A:

A strong argument can be made that after such a long time without contact or support from the rescue group, the cat was no longer “owned” by the rescue. Unless the rescue believes that the cat has not received appropriate care, it is hard to figure why the rescue would withhold the animal (after all, the mission of rescues is to find humane forever homes for their animals). It also is hard to understand why the vet would withhold the animal (assuming you have been paying for the cat’s care and listed as the cat’s “owner”). One can sue for the return of an animal who is wrongfully withheld. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area as soon as possible. Once an animal is placed with another adopter, these cases tend to get much more complicated. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Surrendered my ill Dog to be euthanized
Q:

My grandmother surrendered her ill Dog to be euthanized, at least that was what she was told.

The veterinarian told her that the dog was on it's way out and the best step would be to euthanize her. 

A couple mouths later my grandmother got a call from another shelter saying that they had her dog... My grandmother picked her up and is in complete shock. How does this happen and what step can we take legally?

A:

I would think that if the dog is in reasonably good health, the dog’s family would be elated. Surrender doesn’t necessarily mean euthanasia, particularly if an animal is not terminally ill and suffering, even though one may be told that the animal may be euthanized. Every state has a veterinary licensing board that accepts complaints. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get my dog back?
Q:

Good afternoon, I gave my Shorkie away for free 6 days ago to a family member. After 4 days I realized I made a huge mistake and desperately want her back and they refuse to give her back to us. Do I have any legal right to get her back in the state of Florida? They did not pay for her.

Thank you so much for your help, I am desperate! 

A:

Generally when a person gives an animal away, he/she has no further rights to that animal. That is one reason why it is so important to carefully consider this decision before giving an animal away, not after. Often people will not return an animal because they have bonded with the animal (even after a very brief time) and/or they feel that the person who gave the animal away was not sufficiently bonded with the animal and may act hastily again (which is also very unfair to the animal). Consult with an attorney in your state if you wish to pursue this matter.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can you do for an abandoned dog?
Q:

I work at a popular kennel in Connecticut, and as an animal lover I've been stuck between a rock in a hard place. Three months ago an 8 month old German Shepard was dropped of at the kennel. Since then, we've had pretty limited communication with the owners. They keep saying they are coming to pick him up, and they never do. My family and I are animal lovers, and would do anything to get this animal out of a cage before it permanently effects him for life. He's starting to look like he is slimming down, and he has very little strength considering he's been in a cage for so long. What can we do?

A:

First, I suggest that the dog get sufficient exercise, which would include taking the dog out of the cage and taking him for walks. If he appears ill, he should be taken to a veterinarian. Second, Connecticut law provides a mechanism for animals left at commercial kennels and veterinary hospitals to be deemed abandoned and placed for adoption. The law states, in part, that the kennels and veterinary hospitals “may transfer any abandoned animal in its custody to a nonprofit animal rescue or adoption organization which annually places ten or more animals in private homes as pets. An animal shall be considered abandoned if the owner or keeper of such animal fails to retrieve the animal within five days of the date on which such owner or keeper was scheduled to retrieve the animal. Prior to transferring such animal, such kennel or veterinary hospital shall give notice of its intention to do so to the owner or keeper at his last-known address by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, and shall allow a period of ten days to elapse after the receipt is returned before transferring such animal. Each such commercial kennel and veterinary hospital shall post in a visible location the procedures provided for in this subsection and shall give a written notice of such procedures to any person who boards an animal at such kennel or with such veterinary hospital. ...” I suggest that the kennel consult with an attorney in Connecticut to ensure that it satisfies the requirements of the law and to review the boarding contract (if any) signed by the parties. In the meantime, the kennel should ensure the well-being of the dog. It is legally required to do so.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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