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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 breeder take my dog if I owe them for another dog?
Q:

I owe a breeder $80 for a puppy. She wouldn't return my calls, but she came over when I wasn't home and stole my other dog. Is she allowed to steal my dog because I owe her $80?

A:

No. I suggest you contact the police. Pet theft is against the law. A person who believes they have a monetary claim against someone can sue, not steal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I sue pet store for medical costs for sick puppy?
Q:

I bought a puppy from a pet store around August and the lady at the pet store told me that the puppy was in great shape and condition. We bought him when he was exactly two months old, and she said that they had sold 2 of his brothers a couple weeks earlier which was less than two months old. Now my puppy has been having seizures for the past year ever since he turned 5 months. Is there anything I can do to sue the pet store and make them pay for my puppy's medical costs since I am unable to afford it? Thanks!

A:

Several states, including New York, have pet sale laws which provide remedies to purchasers of sick animals from pet stores and certain breeders. Under New York’s law, one such remedy is reimbursement for veterinary costs to treat the dog or cat---up to what was paid for the animal. However, there are limitations in the law. The law provides, in part, that the purchaser may be entitled to reimbursement for veterinary expenses if the purchaser obtains a veterinarian certification within14 business days following the animal’s purchase (or receipt of written notification from the seller about the consumer’s rights under the pet sale law, whichever occurred last) stating that the animal was unfit for purchase due to illness, or within 180 calendar days following the sale of the animal or receipt of the notification, whichever occurred last, that the animal was unfit for purchase due to a congenital malformation which adversely affects the health of the animal. This latter provision allowing purchasers 180 days for congenital malformations, rather than only14 days, took effect January 2014. The law also requires purchasers to follows other requirements, including, for example, providing the seller with the veterinary certification within three business days following receipt.
 
Purchasers are not limited by the pet sale laws which can be very restrictive. Other laws, such as the Uniform Commercial Code, governing the sale of property (including animals) by merchants do not contain the same time restrictions as in the pet sale laws and may be helpful in cases against pet dealers who sell sick animals or animals with congenital problems.

The NY Attorney General recently established an “Animal Protection Initiative.” According to the AG’s website, “This initiative will use civil and criminal remedies to target allegations of animal cruelty and unscrupulous sales of pets and other animals.” Complaints may be made online or by calling 866-697-3444.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my cat back from a neighbor?
Q:

In New York, do I have any recourse against a neighbor who stole our cat?

A:

It is illegal to steal another person’s cat. I suggest contacting the police and local humane organizations, such as a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA). In NY, many SPCA's enforce animal cruelty and related laws. Be prepared to prove that the cat was yours. If law enforcement refuses to take action, one can also commence a civil action for the return of an animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my Ex give away my cat if I don't remove it from former home?
Q:

I am currently not 100% living at my house due to a domestic issue with my roommate/former fiance. The house is currently for sale. He has a cat of his own, as I have one as well. My cat is currently staying at the house because I cannot move completely out until the house sells. He is now saying that if I don't come get my cat, he is going to take him to a shelter. Can he legally give my cat up without my permission?

A:

I suggest that if you want your cat you immediately get your cat, and make other arrangements for his care. A court might consider that by leaving the cat in the house and then failing to retrieve the cat when given the opportunity to do so, you relinquished ‘ownership’ of the cat. In any event, by the time a court heard such a case your cat could be long gone.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What rights do I have against neighbor and doctor who fixed my dog without permission?
Q:

I recently went out of town for four days, when I rturned home I was informed by my neighbor that she had my dog fixed. I am wondering how did the hospital do the procedure without my consenT as my name is the only name on my pets paper work. I would just like to know what possible actions can I take on my neighbor as well as if possible the pet hospital. thank you in advance.

A:

Every state has a veterinary licensing board which investigates complaints regarding veterinary malpractice or misconduct. It is unclear from your question who was in charge of your dog when you were away and what ‘consent’ such person might have given to your neighbor or to the veterinarian. While a pet ‘owner’ may have a claim for damages for loss of breeding potential when his/her pet is spayed/neutered without consent, please consider that unspayed and unneutered dogs can contribute to an already serious overpopulation of dogs. Spaying and neutering help to reduce the overpopulation of dogs and cats and provide many health benefits to animals.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get legal papers in my name?
Q:

Hello, I am currently taking in an 11-week fullbreed german shepard from a cousin. I was wondering how to get the legal papers in my name.

A:

Purebred dog registries have procedures to transfer ‘ownership.’ The registry should be contacted for further information. Municipalities have procedures to change dog license registrations and microchip companies also have procedures to change ‘ownership’ information. Even among family members, one should consider a written agreement where it clearly states that one party is transferring ‘ownership’ of the animal to the other party and that the original ‘owner’ has no further rights to the animal (or other terms regarding the transfer).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
A friend licensed and fixed my dog without permission. How can I get him back?
Q:

I had a woman that I've known for a while watch my dog for me. She said he would be fine with her until I moved in to another home. She got him fixed and licensed under her name without my permission. Now she won't give my dog back to me. I never got him licensed because I rescued him from a homeless man who beat him. I've got proof and witnesses that show that he is my dog. Can I sue her and get my dog back?

A:

One can bring a lawsuit for the return of an animal who is being wrongfully withheld. Where an animal’s ‘owner’ voluntarily relinquished possession of an animal, the court, in trying to determine who rightfully ‘owns’ an animal, will attempt to establish whether the animal was temporarily boarded, abandoned, or given away. The court may consider, for example, if the person who alleges he/she left the animal only for temporary boarding paid anything for the animal’s care while being boarded (such as food and veterinary expenses), the length of time the animal was boarded, and if the animal was visited by such person.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
A friend licensed and fixed my dog without permission. How can I get him back?
Q:

I had a woman that I've known for a while watch my dog for me. She said he would be fine with her until I moved in to another home. She got him fixed and licensed under her name without my permission. Now she won't give my dog back to me. I never got him licensed because I rescued him from a homeless man who beat him. I've got proof and witnesses that show that he is my dog. Can I sue her and get my dog back?

A:

One can bring a lawsuit for the return of an animal who is being wrongfully withheld. Where an animal’s ‘owner’ voluntarily relinquished possession of an animal, the court, in trying to determine who rightfully ‘owns’ an animal, will attempt to establish whether the animal was temporarily boarded, abandoned, or given away. The court may consider, for example, if the person who alleges he/she left the animal only for temporary boarding paid anything for the animal’s care while being boarded (such as food and veterinary expenses), the length of time the animal was boarded, and if the animal was visited by such person.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back after a breakup?
Q:

I adopted a dog from a lady in December, since then I have been staying at my boyfriends for the most part, except when I was working or had class. Last week we broke up and he took my dog. What can I do?

A:

One can bring a civil action for the return of an animal if an animal is being wrongfully withheld. Also, while the police will investigate pet theft allegations (pet theft is a crime), the police will usually not get involved in pet custody disputes between people who know each other and have lived together with the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my puppy back from questionable adopter?
Q:

I gave my 4 month old puppy to a craigslist owner. After he picked her up I sent follow up texts about her diet. When I still didn't recieve an answer I began searching his Facebook and online social medias. I found out he is a habitual drug user and seller. I am mortified and cannot reach him anymore. What legal action can I do to keep him away from her and bring her back to my home?

A:

Usually when one gives an animal away, one loses all rights to that animal. It is so important to screen prospective adopters prior to, not just subsequent to, placing an animal in a new home. I wish you luck in finding the person who has the dog and hope that you are able to ensure the dog gets a loving and forever home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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