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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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What can be done if dog was cremated without permission?
Q:

What can be done if your sweet dog was cremated without permission?

A:

One can sue. In a NY case involving the wrongful destruction of a dog’s body, the court, in awarding the dog’s guardian monetary compensation, stated, “In ruling that a pet such as a dog is not just a thing I believe the plaintiff is entitled to damages beyond the market value of the dog. A pet is not an inanimate thing that just receives affection; it also returns it. I find that plaintiff Ms. Corso did suffer shock, mental anguish and despondency due to the wrongful destruction and loss of the dog's body.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What are my daughter's resources for returning a cat?
Q:

My daughter purchased a cat ($85.00) from a Vet Clinic and when she got home the cat attacked her. She has numerous scratches on her face and arms. The Clinic told her they would not refund her money but would give her another cat. She would like a refund. What are her resources?

A:

It can take some time for a cat to adjust to a new environment. One should not ‘judge’ a cat based on the cat’s initial behavior in a new home. When one is not satisfied with a settlement offer, one can sue.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Will a rescue dog ever legally be mine?
Q:

I recently adopted a young dog from a rescue organization. I've had him for six months and he ran off while I was watching him one day. He vanished when I put shoes on to go get him. He was across the street, but one of his tags had the rescue organization on it and the samaritan who found him called. Instead of calling and telling me he was safe and 50 ft away, they let me sweat it out for 10 hours looking for him, and sent someone 100 miles to pick him up. Now I have to drive down to pick him up, pay $200 to them for "recovery", and have been scrutinized for letting him pee unleashed. My question is will they be able to take my dog away for any minor infraction forever? Will the dog ever be legally mine?

A:

Thankfully your dog is alive and well! Unfortunately, not all animals and their guardians are so lucky after an animal goes missing. Oftentimes when animal shelters and rescue groups place animals for adoption, they do so with certain conditions which are usually spelled out in an adoption agreement. This is done to better ensure that the animal will be cared for and have a forever home. Rescue groups and animal shelters are concerned about the welfare of the animals they place for adoption and are generally in no rush to take animals back for minor “infractions.” You need to review your adoption agreement to better understand your rights.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can I do to get my stolen indoor/outdoor cat back?
Q:

I moved recently from a rental in Bethlehem, PA and my neighbor was caring for my indoor/outdoor cat while I got settled in my new place. I was coming by twice each day to feed him and get updates. On the 3rd evening, my neighbor told me a woman came by to show my former rental and took the cat with her when she left. I contacted her and she replied several weeks later giving me a phone number of someone she had given the cat to. When I contacted that person (via text) I was told that I abandoned the cat and was unfit to get him back. Now I can't get any info, and I want my animal back. What can I do?

A:

You can sue and it will be up to the court to decide who “owns” the cat now. If the court determines that you abandoned the cat, it is unlikely you would win the case.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Will the pet store reimburse me for purchasing a sick dog and vet bills?
Q:

I bought a puppy from a store in Long Island. The puppy was 8 months old in November 2012. The dog was a Dachshund and by December 30th the dog was sick and had a spinal problem. I spent $2,000 to try to save the puppy but it died. The vet said that it was nothing that I did, that those dogs have spinal problems but not that young. The puppy was not even a year old and I barely had her for two months. What are my rights? Can the puppy store reimburse my money for the purchased dog and can they also pay for the vet bill?

A:

I am very sorry for your loss. According to NYS law, if within 14 business days following the purchase of a dog or cat from a pet dealer (which includes pet stores and many breeders), a veterinarian certifies the animal was unfit for purchase due to illness or a congenial malformation which adversely affects the animal’s health, the purchaser has certain remedies. These remedies include the right to reimbursement of veterinary expenses up to the purchase price of the animal, the right to return the animal and receive a refund, or the right to exchange the animal and get an animal of equivalent value. This law also states that pet dealers may not knowingly sell any animal that has a diagnosed congenital condition or contagious disease that adversely affects the health of the animal without first informing the consumer, in writing, of such condition. However, since you purchased the dog several months ago, this law is not likely to be helpful to you. Also, it may be difficult to prove that the seller knew of the animal’s spinal problem or that the spinal problem was congenital. Sometimes, purchasers can be successful in lawsuits against pet stores even if the purchaser does not act within the time frame set forth in NYS’s pet sale law. Purchasers could allege a violation of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The UCC is a more general law that pertains to the sale of goods by merchants (in your situation, the pet store). This law generally requires merchants to sell goods that are merchantable (fit for sale) unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties. Again, it may be difficult to prove that your dog had health issues at the time of sale or that the seller knew about the health problems.

Dogs sold at pet stores often come from puppy mills--- breeding facilities where animals are kept in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. The result is large scale suffering (remember the breeder dogs spend much of their lives in cages and without socialization). There is also inbreeding (which can result in congenital problems that may not be immediately detected).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can I do to get my microchipped Shih Tzu back?
Q:

So we lost or someone stole our dog. The case is a vet in Houston scanned him and called us that he was found. The new owners refuse to give him back and I don't know what to do. Because I don't live in Houston, Texas. I live in New Braunfels, Texas. I have made a police report in Houston & the police say they can't force her to give him back. What can I do?

A:

You can bring a civil action for the return of your dog. Consult with an attorney in your area immediately.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can I do about my dogs wrongly being seized by the breeder?
Q:

One dog on breeding contract. One not on any contract. Both were taken without notice on grounds of a breached contract. Contract was not breached. Do I have rights to my dogs or the right to tell them not to sell my dogs until I take them to court?

A:

I suggest you contact an attorney in your area. Sometimes one can get a court order to prevent/enjoin the sale or other disposition of property or animals pending the outcome of the case.


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

I adopted a greyhound from ------- greyhound trust after my dog ran away. My dog has since came back. The lady from the greyhound rescue center persuaded me to let the adopted dog go back to them. I wasn't thinking straight; I want the dog back but they won't let me. I have the signed adoption papers, can I do anything to get him back?

A:

Normally when one surrenders an animal to a shelter/rescue, one signs a surrender agreement which states that the person surrendering the animal has no further rights to the animal. Just because a person has a signed adoption agreement does not mean that the person still “owns” an animal if that person subsequently surrendered the animal to a shelter/rescue or gave or sold the animal to someone else. However, some agreements are vague and occasionally animal shelters and rescue groups will agree to re-adopt an animal to a person who surrendered the animal. If you still want to pursue getting the dog back and cannot work out a re-adoption with the rescue group, consult with an attorney in your area who can review your paperwork and advise you about your chances of success in a lawsuit.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What should an owner be aware of when researching pet boarding services?
Q:

There are hundreds of dog walkers, trainers and other pet professionals who offer home boarding for your pet in their homes or apartments. Some of these sitters have impeccable reputations who I would certainly prefer rather than leaving my dog in a commercial kennel. Are these businesses operating "legally" in the city of New York -- or is this a gray area? If this is indeed a legal & regulated industry, what business licenses, regulations, etc., should a pet owner be aware of when investigating these services?

A:

After Cindy Adams’ dog Jazzy died at a kennel in upstate New York, she worked successfully for the passage of a New York City law, "Boarding Kennel Regulation Act.” This law states, in part, that boarding kennels may not accept dogs unless provided with proof that the dog has been vaccinated against rabies, distemper, hepatitis, para influenza and parvo during the previous three years and against bordetella during the previous six months, unless the dog’s “owner” provides a written statement from a veterinarian indicating the dog should not be given the vaccination because of a “standard veterinary contraindication and that such dog does not show symptoms of the disease or diseases for which such vaccination is contraindicated.” The law defines ‘boarding kennel’ to include "a facility other than an animal shelter where animals not owned by the proprietor of such facility are sheltered, harbored, maintained, groomed, fed or watered in return for a fee." The law further requires boarding kennels to maintain records and to make such records available for inspection by the Department of Health.

The New York City Health Code also provides that persons who operate a grooming parlor, boarding kennel, or training establishment for small animals must have a permit from the New York City Commissioner of Health. According to the Health Code, persons charged with the supervision of a pet shop, the boarding or grooming of small animals, animal training, or similar types of operations must obtain a certificate indicating the successful completion of a course, acceptable to the Department of Health, in the care and handling of animals. Pet stores that exclusively sell dogs and cats are regulated by New York State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets, while other pet stores are regulated by the city.

Zoning laws, lease provisions, and condo/co-op rules sometimes are pertinent when people conduct a ‘business’ in their apartments or keep animals in violation of a lease or rule.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can the shelter make me return my adopted dog for living out of state?
Q:

I live in TN but adopted a pet from GA. We picked up the dog then bought toys, food, etc. Two days later the adoption agency asked for the dog back, stating they are denying our application because we live out of state. We told the woman straight out, we are not driving two hours to return the dog. She is going to call the sheriffs office and report the dog stolen. Do we have any legal grounds to keep our "adopted" dog? Technically the agency didn't run our credit card info, so they are stating we didn't pay for her yet. But we signed the agreement and they made a copy of our credit card info.

A:

The rights of the adopter and animal adoption agency with respect to “ownership” of an animal are generally spelled out in an adoption agreement. Usually an adoption agency will not transfer possession of an animal without first approving the adoption application. It is unclear if your application contained misinformation regarding where you live and if the adoption agency is now alleging that you adopted under false pretenses. Since the adoption agency transferred possession of the dog to you, it is not likely that law enforcement officers would consider this a case of pet theft. However, if the police believe that fraud is involved, it is possible they would investigate. If the police will not get involved, the adoption agency can sue for the return of the dog. Their likelihood of success would depend largely on the terms of the adoption agreement. It is not common for animal adoption agencies to sue adopters. Rather, animal adoption agencies usually will work with adopters to ensure that an adopted pet is given good care.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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