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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 I get my lost dog back from a new adopter?
Q:

My dog was in a shelter who holds pets for seven days BEFORE OFFERING UP FOR ADOPTION. I found my dog on the seventh day on an adoption site, not a lost or found site. The very next morning we went to get him. The pound had sent him away a half an hour before we arrived. They said he had already been adopted out which wasn't entirely true because he wasn't in anybody's possession yet he had been sent to the vet to be neutered. I thought shelters were about putting dogs in their homes. I feel helpless, do you think I can get my dog back??

A:

Generally, an original owner will lose rights to an animal if a shelter held the animal for the amount of time required by law before adopting the animal to another person and if the shelter otherwise complied with the law (which may, for example, require notification of “owners” of identified animals that the animal is at the shelter). However, since the facts of each case differ, one cannot predict exactly how a court would decide any particular case. Often shelters will try to accommodate the original “owner” if the animal has not yet been placed with the new adopter and some shelters will reach out to new adopters to let them know that the original “owner” is asking for the animal to be returned.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to return the cat I've been caring for?
Q:

About a year ago I took in a cat from a friend of a friend who couldn't care for her any longer due to personal problems. Now a year later she is asking to have the cat back. I have provided a better home and care for this cat. She came to me with asthma and poor socialization. A year later she doesn't have asthma and is super friendly with new people. Do I have the right to say she can't have her back or to at least receive payment for food, vet, and other needs?

A:

If one gives an animal away, he/she usually would not have any further rights to that animal unless the gift was conditional. For example, sometimes animals are given away on the condition that the animal be provided with a certain type of care or on the condition that the original “owner” have the right to visit the animal. If the conditions are breached, the original ‘owner’ might have a legal basis to try to reclaim the animal. However, if an animal is not given away but rather the “owner” asks someone to care for the animal temporarily, the caretaker would not then “own” the animal. There could be exceptions to this rule too. For example, if a person asked a friend to watch an animal for a week or two and a year goes by, the caretaker could argue that the friend abandoned the animal and lost any rights he/she had. Entitlement to financial compensation for caring for an animal would also be dependent on the terms of the agreement, if any. When there are no set terms for compensation, a court might award reasonable costs for the animal's care.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I recover vet costs from my groomer due to negligence?
Q:

I brought my dog to the groomer. The groomer did not board its cats and lets them roam. A cat scratched my dog's eye. I had to take her for visits to the vet and to an eye specialist to the tune of $1,000. She is better now. Is there any way I can recover the vet costs incurred?

A:

A court may find that the groomer owed you (and your dog) the duty of reasonable care and that the groomer was negligent in the handling of your dog. In New Hampshire, one can sue in Small Claims Court for up to $7500.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can we do about breed misrepresentation from a pet store?
Q:

We purchased a golden retriever puppy from a pet store for over a thousand dollars. They did provide papers but a DNA test has proven he is a mix and not a pure bred dog. We love the dog and do not want to return him because we have had him for 7 months. Yet, I feel there should be some action we can take. We were lied to. What can we do?

A:

Florida law provides that a pet dealer “may not knowingly misrepresent the breed, sex, or health of any dog or cat offered for sale within the state.” You can file a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Animal Husbandry. You can also sue for the difference in the monetary value of a purebred Golden and a mixed-breed dog. While breed DNA tests have been considered by some courts, most notably in cases involving breed discrimination ordinances (usually ordinances which ban Pit Bulls), it is possible a court may not deem the dog breed DNA test to be reliable or admissible as evidence.

A large number of dogs at pet stores start their lives at puppy mills. Dogs at puppy mills are kept in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Breeder dogs live their lives in squalor for years, without necessary exercise or socialization. Inbreeding occurs, which can result in congenital problems. Puppy mills would close and the lives of so many dogs could be saved if more people adopted homeless animals from animal shelters and rescue groups.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is the boarding facility liable for cat's illness and treatment?
Q:

We recently left our two cats in a home boarding facility for 3 weeks. Upon their return, one cat is increasingly ill and is getting worse daily. While they were in boarding, they came into contact with many other cats. Legally, am I able to hold the boarding facility liable for the illness and thus, treatment, of the cat since it is more than likely that the cat contracted something there?

A:

Check out your boarding agreement, if you have one. However, even if the agreement states that the boarding facility will not be liable if an animal becomes ill, you may still have rights. Prior to accepting an animal for boarding, reputable kennels will require that animals be up-to-date on vaccines. There are laws in some states and localities which mandate that kennels require proof of vaccinations before accepting an animal for boarding. Keep in mind though that boarding kennels can be breeding grounds for various diseases, particularly for young animals and animals with compromised immune systems. Consider also that it can be difficult to prove that an animal contracted a disease at a particular location so that too could influence a judge’s decision in determining liability. I hope your cat gets better very soon!


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I keep my ex-boyfriend's dog he abandoned?
Q:

My ex-boyfriend abandoned his beautiful shepherd, husky, lab mix at my home 8 months ago. In those 8 months I have taken loving care of Bruno. He wasn't well taken care of when he first came here especially his coat and he was a bit overweight. My then boyfriend complained that he was tired of cleaning up after him because of his shedding and not having the time to spend to deal with him because nobody else would help him out. He was referring to his 2 daughters. When Bruno came here I immediately loved him. I immediately started caring for him. Bathing him properly, walking & hiking with him, introducing him to the other neighborhood dogs so he can have playmates to socialize with, took him to the vet's, licensed him in my town. I joined Jeff Gillman's email & Youtube to learn how to train Bruno in a few areas where he needed training which we both enjoy doing together. Everything he needs. Not to mention he has become a superstar in my home business. Everyone loves him, especially me. We are always together. Now out of the blue my ex-boyfriend wants to take him back. I don't want to give him back. I love him so much. He is my best friend. He will be miserable if he has to go back to that life. I will be miserable. My question is: Can I legally keep Bruno?

A:

When a person gives an animal away, the recipient of the animal generally can keep the animal (unless a third party has rights to the animal). If a person leaves an animal at another person’s home and does not return for the animal within the time agreed upon or a reasonable amount of time, a court may construe such action as abandonment. However, when a dispute regarding “ownership” of the animal arises and the matter is litigated, a court must decide if the animal was, in fact, given away as a gift, abandoned, or temporarily boarded. I hope this works out well for Bruno.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Why does the shelter want our resold dog back?
Q:

My husband surprised our kids a few days before Christmas with a new dog. The kids are in love with this dog as am I...he is a great dog. Now we get a call from the people we bought him from saying that they got a call from the shelter they bought him from months ago. The shelter is asking for the dog back. We have paid for the dogs care and bought him for Christmas for our kids. We paid for his chip to be changed to us as well. If we have to give the dog back, it will break our kids hearts. The people we got him from for $100 said the shelter wants an additional $300 for the dog from us. Though they (the people we bought him from)already paid for and adopted him for $300 months ago.

We consider him our dog. The shelter said they want him back and will place him in a kennel until he gets adopted again. None of this makes sense...

A:

Many shelters include provisions in their adoption agreements requiring the adopter to return an adopted animal to the shelter if the adopter no longer wants to keep the animal. This type of provision is included so that the shelter can better ensure the animal’s well-being. However, I have found that some shelters will not enforce such a provision once the shelter is satisfied that the animal is in a good home. In such instances, shelters will change their records to include the new adopter’s information. If the shelter wants to pursue the new adoption fee and the "new" adopter does not want to pay the fee, the shelter can commence a legal action and try to recoup the money that way. I do not think it is common for shelters to take this kind of action. However, consider that shelters spend a lot of money to care for homeless animals and that a donation to help them to help more animals may resolve your situation and provide closure.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get my surrendered dog back from the rescue?
Q:

I surrendered my dog to a rescue about 3-4 days ago, I have been a mess about this since he's been gone, as well as the rest of my family! My question is - Is there anyway I can go back & get him? They gave him his shots already & will be neutering him next week which I gave him $100.00 to help with that. Can I go get my dog back???

A:

Usually when one surrenders an animal to a shelter or rescue group, one signs a surrender agreement which typically states that the person surrendering the animal will have no further rights to that animal. On occasion, a rescue group or shelter will re-adopt an animal to a person who surrendered the animal. However, since rescue groups/shelters want to place the animal in a humane forever home, they will have to be convinced that the person who surrendered the animal will provide such a home. In these situations, it can be difficult for a person who surrendered the animal to demonstrate that he/she will provide such care. After all, whatever caused the animal to be surrendered in the first place could occur again--- and then what? Animals can get sick, may sometimes misbehave, and life can get tough. A commitment to an animal's well-being should be life-long, even during difficult times.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to return the dog I rehomed but recovered due to microchipping?
Q:

I rehomed a pet 6 months ago who was licensed and microchipped in my name. I interviewed and made a verbal agreement with the new pet parent that if they could not keep the pet to call me first. Two weeks ago, I received a call from an animal shelter 150 miles away. They never changed the address on the license or chip. Irresponsible pet ownership! I drove the 150 miles and picked up the dog and brought him home. Someone other than the person I made arrangements with now wants the dog back. Do I have to give the dog to them?

A:

When a person gives an animal away, the person usually does not retain rights to the animal, unless there is an agreement stating otherwise. When these agreements are verbal and a lawsuit is commenced, the parties usually have a different “story” to tell. Perhaps the person to whom you gave the dog would acknowledge that she agreed to call you if she/he could not keep the dog, but perhaps she/he would deny ever making such an arrangement. The fact that a microchip is not registered to a new “owner” does not in and of itself mean the new “owner” has no rights or that the person under whose name the microchip is registered still “owns” the animal. These cases are decided on a case by case basis depending upon the evidence presented. Hopefully, you and the person claiming the dog can reach an agreement that considers what is really best for the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What legal recourse do I have against a Rescue that sold a sick cat?
Q:

I adopted a cat from a rescue within PetSmart 8-9 months ago and a vet diagnosed him the other day with stomatitis. This was something I noticed as a kitten at the rescue but I did not know it was a serious disease. I thought the bad breath and red gums could just be gingivitis. So I asked the rescue for help and they told me to just give my cat back. Do I have any legal recourse in a civil court?

A:

Unless there is a written agreement in which an adoption agency commits to providing health care for adopted animals, it is unlikely that a court would award an adopter money for an adopted animal’s healthcare nine months (or any time) after adoption. If you have an adoption agreement, I suggest you review it to see what it says, if anything, regarding health care. I hope your cat responds well to treatment.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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