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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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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
Vet won’t release my cat – what can I do?
Q:

Took my cat to be neutered was told it would cost $200 +$20 for booster shot. Went to pick him up and could not make it before vet office closed. Now he won't release him until bill $220 + $80 a night is paid in full but I have surgery money. He won't work out an arrangement or anything and I really need my cat home, he is all I have please help what can I do I'm in NJ.

A:

Worth noting is the following NJ law:

NJSA section 45:16-15. Humane disposal of unretrieved animals; notice to owner

A veterinarian or boarding kennel may elect the humane disposal of an unretrieved animal no sooner than 4 days after the owner or agent thereof has signed or refused to sign for the receipt of a certified letter from the veterinarian or boarding kennel owner indicating intent to humanely dispose of the animal, which letter shall be sent to the owner's or agent's last known address. In the event the owner cannot be notified by certified mail, return receipt requested, the veterinarian or boarding kennel owner may elect humane disposal any time after 4 days following return of the certified mail receipt. The veterinarian or boarding kennel manager shall keep an accurate record of the date and method of disposal and the name, address and telephone number of the person or shelter receiving the animal.

There is an organization in New Jersey, Lawyers in Defense of Animals, www.njlida.org, which states on its website that it gets involved in legal matters affecting animals. However, if they cannot locate an attorney to intervene pro bono (for free), consider it would probably cost more to pay an attorney than to pay the veterinarian to get your cat released. One who believes he/she made an overpayment as a result of an animal being held ‘hostage’ may sue for a refund (and more). Then it would be up to a judge to decide the rights of the respective parties, but at least the animal would already be home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Does everyone in my household need to agree to a new adoption?
Q:

I was wondering can you legally adopt an animal from a shelter if someone in your house refuses to allow you to adopt it?

A:

The goal of most animal shelters is to place homeless animals in loving, forever homes. Therefore, many shelters require that everyone in a household agrees to the adoption.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I take a dog back from a friend who is not being a good caretaker?
Q:

I sold a Husky puppy to a friend and they are not taking care of them. They are covered in fleas and have not seen a vet. What can I do?

A:

Sometimes a purchaser/adopter who has not bonded with a recently purchased or adopted animal is willing to sell/return the animal. Also, at times people are unaware of humane animal care and need to be educated. Animal cruelty/neglect is illegal in every state. Reports of suspected cruelty/neglect can be made to the local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA), humane society, and the police. Even if the humane organization one contacts does not have law enforcement powers, they should be able to provide information on who to contact in the area to report the mistreatment of an animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My dog conceived while at doggie daycare - is there anything I can do?
Q:

I took my two dogs to a doggie care. I informed the workers at the place my female dog was in heat. August 5 my dog had puppies. I do not have them in the same room at all. Down to taking them to the doggie day care we drove the two dogs in different cars. Based on the dates she (female dog) conceived while in the doggie daycare, is there anything I can do?

A:

I suggest you have your dog spayed as soon as your veterinarian says your dog is ready after nursing her pups. I think it is highly unlikely that a doggie care facility will assume financial responsibility for a pregnancy under circumstances where one has an unspayed female dog and an unneutered male dog. I suggest you also have your male dog neutered. There is a dog and cat overpopulation crisis in the United States.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have any rights as a foster parent to breach a breeding contract?
Q:

I have been fostering a dog for almost 2 years now. I have been responsible for her care, upkeep, food and other expenses. I have grown to love her and I signed a contract with the breeder for her to be bred 3 to 4 times at the breeders request and if I breach the contract the breeder states she can sue for $10,000.00 My question is, do I have any rights, and if I want to keep her as part of my family, what can I do?

A:

I strongly suggest that you retain an attorney in your area to thoroughly review the entire contract. Such contracts sometimes contain provisions that courts may not enforce. The agreement you signed sounds quite onerous to you (and to the dog). Also, if a veterinarian determines that an animal has a congenital problem or that breeding can be detrimental to the animal, the breeder may consent to spaying and adoption.


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

My fiance bought me a sphynx kitten & he is registered in my name & address. My boyfriend broke off our engagement & took the kitten. I have asked for him back but he won't give him to me. I'm the rightful owner of the cat. He was a gift.

A:

When a pet ‘custody/ownership’ dispute cannot be resolved amicably, lawsuits are sometimes commenced.. Mediation may be worth considering if both parties are amenable. Courts will review evidence to determine if an animal was abandoned or given as a gift. Courts are likely to consider evidence regarding an animal's registration, licensing and microchipping (including the timing of such registration, licensing and microchipping) along with other evidence. Sometimes courts also consider the animal’s best interests. The police usually do not get involved in pet custody disputes but sometimes they do if they believe an animal was stolen.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can I do to get my cat back from my ex-girlfriend?
Q:

My girlfriend and I broke up. We went our separate ways, and she offered to take care of my cat while I got an apartment, so I could then get my cat. But after I was settled in my new apartment, my ex changed her number and would not respond to my emails. I adopted that cat myself from the ASPCA...and I want her back...What can I do? What rights do I have? Please help.

A:

You can sue for the return of the cat. Generally if an individual purchases/adopts an animal, that person is the ‘owner’ of the animal. There may be exceptions for animals acquired during a marriage. Also if a court believes that an animal was subsequently given away or abandoned the court might decide that the animal now belongs to another person. In making such a determination, courts may consider who paid for the animal’s care, who was the primary caretaker (who fed the animal, who took the animal to the vet, etc.), under whose name an animal is registered/licensed and when such licensing/registration took place. Sometimes courts also consider the best interests of the animal. For example, in one appellate cat custody case in New York, the court stated, “Cognizant of the cherished status accorded to pets in our society, the strong emotions engendered by disputes of this nature, and the limited ability of the courts to resolve them satisfactorily, on the record presented, we think it best for all concerned that, given his limited life expectancy, Lovey, who is now almost ten years old, remain where he has lived, prospered, loved and been loved for the past four years.” Another case in New York involved the following fact pattern: Man acquired dog from his parents. At the time he received the dog, he was living with his girlfriend and they both cared for the dog. When the couple split, the ex-girlfriend cared for the dog while the ex-boyfriend looked for an apartment. The ex-boyfriend subsequently took the dog but then returned the dog to his ex-girlfriend while he traveled. After the trip, the ex-girlfriend refused to return the dog. The ex-boyfriend filed a replevin action (basically an action for the return of property wrongfully withheld). The court held that the ex-boyfriend had a “superior possessory right” and ordered the return of the dog to him. As you can see, it is not always clear how a court will decide pet custody cases. If at all possible, the disputing parties should try to reach an agreement that considers the best interests of the animal. The courts might not.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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