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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 my dogs back from an adopter who is breeding them too often?
Q:

8 months ago, I found out that my parents gave my 2 huskies away. I have had them since I got them as puppies from the breeder, and I paid for them. The lady who took them stopped answering my family when I tried to get in contact with them to find them. She stopped answering completely and got a new number. I finally got a name and a number and contacted her after 8 months of searching. I found out that she has been breeding them 2 times each already (4 litters of pups) in the past 8 months without a license and after agreeing with my parents that she wouldn't and failed to inform us this. I feel as though this is bad for my dogs because you cannot constantly breed dogs every heat cycle and I want to get them back. She took my dogs under false pretenses and is breeding them without my permission and after lying and saying she just wanted family dogs. How can I get them back?

A:

Generally, when one gives away or sells an animal such person relinquishes all rights to that animal, unless there was an agreement to the contrary. If you or your parents did not want the dogs to be used for breeding, the dogs should have been spayed/neutered prior to selling them or giving them away. You are right though that it is not good for the dogs to be breeding. One can sue to try to get animals returned based on breach of contract, fraud, or other cause of action.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back from animal control?
Q:

I am a pregnant single mother of three girls and a couple weeks ago, as my six year old was leaving for school, our little shitzuh puppy ran out the door. I searched for her for hours before calling animal control. They had her. Anyways, since I only get so much room, long story short, they tried to charge me over four hundreds dollars to get her back! And when someone offered to pay for me, they would not let him because he didn't know me! I have no history with animal control and they have no reason not to return our puppy! I requested a hearing and they ignored me. They had my puppy up for adoption but immediately hid her somewhere when they realized I was looking for her. Aren't they supposed to help people?! I mean what is this? Because I'm not rich????!!! Can you please please help my girls and I get our dog back please!

A:

If animal control will not return the dog to you, I suggest you retain an attorney in your area, although I realize that due to financial constraints this may be difficult. Municipalities can charge redemption fees for the return of animals. Most redemption fees are far less than $400. Animal control is supposed to help animals and must abide by the law while doing so. I cannot say what their reason is for not returning an animal to a person claiming ‘ownership.’ Possibilities could include, for example, inadequate proof of ‘ownership,” failure to pay redemption fee, or animal neglect. If the dog has been to a veterinarian, it may help to have the veterinarian contact animal control to confirm that you are the dog’s ‘owner’ and have taken good care of the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can the shelter reclaim the cat we adopted?
Q:

So today a person from a shelter we adopted a cat from back a few months ago came by to see how the cat was doing. After arriving and looking around she decided that we didn't have enough food saying that we needed 10 cans of wet food at all times and a full bag. She also said that she thought she "saw" diarrhea in the litter box. She then took the cat and said we could meet with her later about getting him back. Can she legally do this since we already have the adoption papers and paid.

A:

Adoption agreements sometimes contain provisions which allow shelters to reclaim an animal if there is a breach of the agreement, particularly the animal care standards. One’s rights and responsibilities are at least partly dependent on the terms of this agreement. The agreements I have seen are not specific in terms of the number of cans of wet food or bags of dry food one must have in stock at any given time.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I be taken to court if the original dog owner still has the papers?
Q:

A girl gave me her dog after saying she couldn't keep him. Then 2 weeks later she said she is going to court to get her dog back? Can she do that? Lying to us saying he has no papers?

A:

A person can commence a lawsuit, but that does not ensure success in the lawsuit. Possession of papers does not definitively prove ‘ownership.’ In determining ‘ownership’ of an animal in a case where possession of an animal was voluntarily transferred, courts will likely consider evidence which demonstrates whether the dog was given away, sold, temporarily boarded, mistreated, or abandoned.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can we get my daughter's dog back that was stolen by her ex?
Q:

My daughter was given a dog by her boyfriend in Nov. 2012. The dog lived with her the entire time. Her boyfriend moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in June 2013, did not want dog and they broke up. She has kept dog, fed, groomed and loved. Last week he conspired with a friend and stole her dog and took him back to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Is there anything she can do to get her dog home. We feel he has done this to be mean to her for the breakup.

A:

When an animal is stolen, the police should be contacted. Pet theft is a crime. However, the police often will not get involved if they think that there is a pet custody dispute, not actual pet theft. One can also bring a civil action for the return of an animal who was wrongfully taken. I suggest that your daughter retain an attorney. These matters can get complicated, particularly when the animal has been brought to another state.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I get my missing dog back who was adopted from the pound?
Q:

My missing dog was adopted from the pound before I had a chance to find her there. They said they only keep the dog for 3 days, they found her Tuesday night and she was adopted Friday morning. How can I get her back?

A:

Courts, including in Georgia, have held (but with some exceptions based on the specific facts of the case) that ‘owners’ of lost dogs forfeit rights to the dogs who had been held by an animal shelter for the number of days required by law and then adopted. One such Georgia case involved a dog (wearing no tags or other means of ID) who had wandered from his ‘owner’s property, found at a shopping center and brought to the Atlanta Humane Society. The dog was held for nine days and adopted out. The court found in favor of the Atlanta Humane Society and stated that, “The owner has a right to redemption if that right of redemption is exercised in three days.” The court further found that it was appropriate for the Atlanta Humane Society to refuse to release the name of the adopter to the original ‘owner.’ However, if a shelter adopts out an animal before it was legally allowed to do so (the 'owner' redemption period had not expired) the original ‘owner’ should have a reasonable claim for the animal’s return though these cases can get very complicated when the shelter no longer has possession of the animal. If the shelter is unwilling or unable to get the animal returned to you, consult with an attorney in your state regarding a lawsuit.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can a rescue take my adopted dog back for not altering it?
Q:

Can the rescue that I adopted my dog from come into my home or property and take my dog back? I am unable to get him altered at this time and now they want him back. What are my legal options at this time? I do not want them taking my dog.

A:

Animal rescue groups and animal shelters generally consider the spaying/neutering requirement in their adoption agreements to be of the utmost importance. The right of a rescue or shelter to reclaim an adopted animal depends in large part on the terms of the adoption agreement. There is a tragic overpopulation problem of dogs and cats which results in many dogs and cats being euthanized and abandoned. There are many low-cost spay/neuter programs. For more information about such programs, contact your local humane society or North Shore Animal League America’s SpayUSA, a nationwide network and referral service for affordable spay/neuter, www.spayusa.org, 800-248-SPAY (7729). Spaying and neutering also provide health benefits to animals.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Who is responsible if an animal dies at a groomer?
Q:

If an animal dies while in the process of being groomed, who is responsible for that death if, indeed, there is responsibility. The owner did not fully comprehend the disclaimer she signed upon leaving her pet there.

A:

Who (if anyone) is responsible when an animal dies at a grooming facility depends on the facts of each case. Disclaimers (waivers of liability) are often enforceable but if the language of the disclaimer is not clear or if the party who caused the harm acted intentionally or was grossly negligent, many courts will not uphold the waiver, no matter how clearly it is written. Several lawsuits have been brought against grooming facilities for injuries and death caused to animals (for example, some dogs strangled while tethered and others were burned, suffered from heatstroke or died from being kept in heated cage dryers).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My Grandma gave my dog away – how can I get it back?
Q:

I left my grandmother my dog while I went away. When I came back she had given my dog away. It's been two months. Is it possible to get him back if I have the papers for the dog?

A:

One can sue to try to get an animal returned. Of course, it generally makes sense to request an animal’s return prior to suing. Registration, licensing, and adoption/sale papers provide some indication of ‘ownership,’ but these papers do not prove that one still ‘owns’ an animal. A court would likely consider other factors which demonstrate who owned the dog when he was given away to his new family. A court might also consider that the dog has been with his new family for a couple of months. I hope you also consider what is best for the dog and whether you are in a position to provide lifetime care for him.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Foster family is refusing to give my dog back – What rights do I have?
Q:

When I found out I had to move to NY for family reasons for 6 months, I set up a temp foster home for my dog. Not even a week after I left the woman began asking for my dog, I told her no, she then told me to find another foster home. I did and we arranged for her to be picked up but she is now refusing to give back my dog. I have signed over power of attorney to my dog to her new foster home. But because this woman lives on base, city police have no jurisdiction and military police aren't doing much to help. This woman has no legal right to my dog and I just want her placed with her new foster and away from that woman. What can I do?

A:

When one believes his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld, one can sue to try to get the animal returned. I suggest you hire an attorney.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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