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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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Trying to get my dog back from a foster home.
Q:

My dog ripped his chain out of the ground and ran away. The pound picked him up, I am not sure what day. I looked at the pound at first but he wasn't there, so I thought maybe someone stole him. The pound then gave him to a foster home and they posted pictures of him I recognized him and and asked if I could have him back. The lady remembered me because my dog is an escape artist and she knows he's mine but she said I cannot have him back because I put him on a chain and I didn't get him fixed. She is makin up a bunch of reasons to not let me have my dog. Is there anything I can do please?

A:

Although one can sue to try to get an animal returned, generally (but there have been exceptions), if a pound/shelter holds an animal for the time period required by law, the ‘owner’ of the animal loses rights to that animal. Of course, sometimes if the animal is still at the shelter after the redemption period expired, the shelter will return the animal. However, if the shelter has concerns about the prior care the animal received (for example, the animal constantly got lost or was chained), the shelter would naturally be less inclined to return an animal if it is not legally required to do so (such as after the time prescribed in the law for the ‘owner’ to retrieve a lost pet is over). Please consider that tethering for extended periods of time is inhumane. Dogs require exercise, socialization, and the ability to move without continuous restraint. When chained for long periods of time, dogs can become anxious and aggressive.
 



Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
We were told our adopted dog was spayed. Can we recover fees?
Q:

We adopted a dog from the Southeast German Shepherd Rescue in October. We paid a $250 adoption fee. Included in the contract was a statement that the dog (Sally) had been spayed.
Last Thursday she started spotting and our vet confirmed that she's in heat. The GSR has offered to have one of their vets perform the spaying operation after she's out of heat but we prefer to use our vet we've used for nearly 30 years and distance is a factor.  
Do we have grounds for remedy? In full disclosure, we would have accepted the dog w/o spaying but would have immediately scheduled the operation. As you can only imagine, our house is now a mess and we have 2+ weeks to go. And just like a teenager, we can't let her out unsupervised--if you know what I mean.

A:

Hopefully, you will be able to work out a satisfactory arrangement with the animal rescue group, particularly since this was likely just a mistake on the rescue’s part and you would have adopted the dog anyway. A court may award monetary damages incurred as a result of a misrepresentation in a contract. A court could decide (but very possibly may not) that monetary damages should be reduced if such damages could have been mitigated (such as if the services of a private veterinarian were used, rather than the rescue group’s veterinarian).
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can we do to get the County to take my neglectful neighbor's dog?
Q:

We live part time in Lake Arrowhead CA, San Bernadino County 92352. Next door dog is left out in cold 24/7. Does have a room with food-water but door is left open. Night temps in the 20s. Dog is skinny and suffering. Reported to County over 3 times. They served notice to owner who each time manages to show up in time to talk his way out of it. He leaves dog for 3-5 consecutive days. Dog barks all day, most nights. What can we do to get County to take dog away?

A:

I suggest contacting local humane societies and rescue groups to request their help. It is important in dog abuse and neglect situations to focus on the abuse and neglect, and not the dog barking. Also, attempting to purchase a neglected animal is another way to possibly save an animal from dire circumstances when law enforcement fails to act.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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
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