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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 find out if my friend is responsible for my pet chicken's death?
Q:

I went away for 4 days and asked 2 Friends to watch over my chickens. One in the morning (F#1) & one in the evening (F#2). The last day I was gone F#1 checked & all was good, did not hear from F#2. When I got home I found one chicken dead (the most sweetest trusting one). I tried to contact F#2 whom was the last to check on her and asked when did she last go? What did she feed? Anything happen who came with her, but no reply for almost 2 days. When she did reply she did not mention anything about my chickens or answer any questions I asked. She only needed me to help her with her problems (changed subject, was not important). When I told her my chicken was dead she was not surprised just said ya I loved her too, but still no explanation, no sympathy only changing subject to her needs. It's been almost a week and I have heard nothing from her still. F#1 was shocked & told me last time she was there & what happen (all pets were fine). I suspect F#2 is passive aggressive & is also an alcoholic. She has disappointed me in the past many times as a friend but this is too much. I can't sleep, I feel angry, sad, guilty for leaving her in charge. What do I do? Our family have been friends for years, our kids are friends, husbands are friends, her husband probably has no idea. I need closure. I need her to tell me what she knows, and show some kind of remorse. I'm devastated. Any advice?

A:

I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your sweet chicken. In terms of legal liability, one would typically have to show that the pet sitter did not exercise appropriate care. Without a cause of death, this may be difficult to do.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have any rights to the pugs I sold that are now malnourished?
Q:

Back on 2/15/2013 I sold a pair of twin Pug girls to a young lady. A friend of mine noticed an Ad on Craigslist Orlando for their sale. The young lady was given the puppies still owing me $100 balance which was due on 2/22/2013 which I have the receipt for. I had approached her several times for the balance due but she always had an excuse. Ex: my boyfriend has my debit card so I can't get the money. When she received the puppies which were 2 months old at the time she promised she would take very good care of them. The pictures showed them very unhappy and under nourished(skin and bones). The friend that informed me of the Ad really wants the twins and contacted the young lady (21 years) but she has since removed the Ad since it had been flagged. I know the area in which she lives though the transaction was done at her previous place of employment and they have not heard from her. I emailed her and got no response back. My friend has tried several times herself with no contact. I want to get them back due to the lack of care of these soon to be 7 month old pups on the 21st of this month. Do I have any legal rights and if so what can I do? I am extremely worried about them. I know that Pugs eat a lot and require a lot of attention. I own their parents so I do know what to expect. Please I need your help. Thank you in advance.

A:

If you can locate the dogs, I suggest you contact the local authorities with the power to enforce the animal cruelty laws to ask that they conduct an investigation. If there is a breach of a sales agreement, one can also sue for the return of animals or monetary compensation (depending on the terms of the agreement). Breeding animals and selling them online is a risky proposition for all, most importantly, the animals. When animals are no longer in one’s possession, getting them returned or ensuring their welfare is difficult. I hope you get those dogs who you still have spayed and neutered.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have a right to know how the animals I surrendered are doing?
Q:

On Jan. 11, 2013 I was evicted by the State of --- from my home and I was current on all payments. It was a wrongful foreclosure. I quickly called ---- and said they could not take all of my animals on that short of a notice. One that I myself did not know was happening. I called the ----and they came and picked up three horses, three dogs and six birds. I was devastated and went into a depression. Now last week I called them to see how they were doing and I was told that they could not give out any info on them to me at all. That they owed them because I signed something. I do not remember doing this and was under extreme duress at the time this happened. All I wanted to know was how they were doing. ----was great. loving and caring towards me but ---- was not. After calling and leaving messages of inquiry to connections their staff connected me too, they had an Attorney call me. I told him all I wanted to know is how they were doing. He treated me like I was a criminal and informed me that they can't do that. That I signed away my rights. And that I used foul language, which I did not. He would not and did not care how I felt. I had no choice or time as to who to call that they would quickly respond to this situation. And all I cared about was my animals being ok. Is it wrong to want to know how they are? The least they could have done was lie to me about it. The whole ordeal was cold and uncaring towards me. What can I do about this? I don't think what they said or did was right. I have been trying to look up ---laws and can't find anything about this. I was told in the beginning by --------at ------------and by the director, -------- that I could call anytime to find out how they are. It took me along time to get over this and when I did call that was the reception I received. I want to know if I have the legal right to know how they are doing? I want to know, even if they had to be put to sleep. They were all healthy and had their shots and were neutered and spayed and well cared for and very loved by me. Please let me know what I can do about this. Thanks.

A:

Shelter surrender agreements usually state that a person who surrenders an animal has no further rights to the animal. Once a person has no further rights to an animal, the shelter would normally not be required to inform that person about what happened to the animal. Of course, that doesn’t mean that a shelter cannot provide general information about the animal, but typically the shelter would not be legally required to do so.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I sue my friend for declawing my cats without permission?
Q:

I had to move out of my condo due to a breakup and move back in with my parents that would not allow me to take my cats with me. I asked a friend if he could care for them until I was able to get my own place again. I have kept in communication asking how the cats are, asking for pictures, and have even visited them a few times. I told this friend I was going to be moving out the 1st of next month which would imply I would be getting the cats. This morning this person has informed me the cats were at the vet being declawed; something I have always been against? What can I do?

A:

It seems as if you and your 'friend' may have different viewpoints regarding the animal care arrangement. Usually a pet-sitter would not bring another person’s animal to a veterinarian for declawing unless the animal’s ‘owner’ gave permission. If a veterinarian is made aware that the declawing is not authorized by the animal’s 'owner,' the veterinarian would likely not to do the procedure. It is so important that when making animal care arrangements the agreement be in writing and the terms of the agreement be very clear. Visiting with animals, asking for photos, and ‘implying’ that one will take animals back may be considered in court along with other evidence but alone do not necessarily prove that one still ‘owns’ an animal. I hope you and your ‘friend’ can agree to do what is best for the cats.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have any rights to a friend's dog I am boarding?
Q:

I have a friend who asked me to look after his dog after a breakup left him without stable housing. The dog has been with me for 3 weeks and a limit was not determined. She was never socialized and is iffy with my dog and HORRIBLE with dogs outside, she is leash reactive, she is food reactive and she suffers from extreme anxiety. Nothing was done in her entire year of life to help her with any of this. He provides her food but nothing else. I have had to buy her a harness, water, treats, etc and handle her vet care. What, if any, rights do I have to the dog if I did not want to send her back to him? I honestly believe she is neglected emotionally. She is fed but there is much more to caring for a dog than food.

A:

I agree that caring for a dog humanely requires much more than providing food. However, when one agrees to temporarily care for another person’s animal, the caretaker usually does not gain ‘ownership’ rights to that animal unless the ‘owner’ consents. There are a few exceptions. Several states have enacted laws to provide that an animal can be deemed abandoned when left for boarding or at a veterinary hospital and not retrieved within a certain amount of time after the scheduled release date or after being informed (letters are usually required) that the animal is ready to be discharged. Additionally, animal ‘ownership’ rights can sometimes be terminated after a person is convicted of animal cruelty. Consider discussing your concerns with your friend. I hope you can work out an arrangement that is in the best interests of the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Who owns the dogs - my ex or me?
Q:

My ex-boyfriend and I acquired 2 purebred dogs while together. I paid for the dogs and the vet bills. We are no longer together. Both names are on the AKC registration. I have paid for the license which is in his name. Who owns them??

A:

In pet custody/ownership cases, courts will consider several factors to determine who gets to keep an animal, including, for example, who purchased/adopted an animal, under whose name an animal is registered, licensed, and/or microchipped, who paid for the animal’s care, and who is the primary caretaker of the animal. Sometimes a court will consider the best interests of the animal. Courts that consider animals as mere property (and many courts do) may simply award one dog to each person, and not consider that separating the dogs may not be in the dogs’ best interests. I hope you and your ex work out an arrangement which is best for the dogs.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Which state law covers my transaction in regards to consumer protection and puppy health?
Q:

If I bought a dog in a state that does not have a consumer protection law with regard to puppy health, and the breeder shipped a very sick animal to me, but I live in a state with consumer protection laws. With no mention in any contract as to controlling law, which state law covers the transaction and do I have any legal recourse for the vet bills?

A:

State pet sale laws typically regulate in-state pet dealers. There are additional requirements governing the importation of animals from one state to another. For example, dogs and cats imported into New York are supposed to be accompanied by a health certificate signed by a veterinarian, legally qualified to practice in the state or country of origin, which indicates, among other things, that the animal has been examined and that such examination revealed no clinical evidence of an infectious or communicable disease (except parasites and fungi).

Even in the absence of a specific state pet sale law, consumers can have protection under more general consumer protection laws, such as the Uniform Commercial Code which pertains to the sale of goods generally (goods include animals) by merchants (persons who in the ordinary course of business sell the goods). Courts have awarded consumers reimbursement for veterinary expenses in cases involving the sale by a merchant of a sick animal on the grounds that the seller breached a warranty of merchantability (the animal was not fit for sale). Attorneys General may also get involved, particularly if they believe there has been fraud or deception or if a pet dealer has a history of selling sick animals. I suggest you have an attorney review your sales contract as well.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What are my rights to dogs I rescued from an online site?
Q:

I rescued two chihuahuas from the FL Chi Rescue site. They had been abandoned after the dogs were found inside the home of a man who had been dead for more than 2 weeks. The police surrendered the dogs to his neighbors and told them it was legal for them to find homes for them. The brother of the man spoke to the neighbors telling them his brother had overdosed on illegal drugs. He also gave the name of the dogs but did not want them. Now, an ex-girlfriend of the deceased got out of jail on drug and domestic violence charges. She got my cell number from the neighbors and is calling with threats. What are my rights?

A:

An ex-girlfriend/boyfriend of a deceased person usually does not have rights to a deceased person’s animals unless the animals were bequeathed to such person in a Will or other legal document. Sometimes a person might claim that he/she is the real ‘owner’ of the animal or ‘co-owner’ and that presents legal issues that courts may consider if a case is commenced.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have any grounds to sue a pet sitter who didn't show up?
Q:

I booked the services of a pet sitter that we have used a few times. She told us verbally that she would come 3 days to care for cats, dogs, chickens and horse. She never came and will not answer phone or return calls from us. She gave us no reason and these animals went without food and water for 3 days. I feel she should have let us know (she had plenty of contact information) if she was not going to take care of our pets. Would this be grounds for a suit or some kind?

A:

I hope your animals survived and are doing well after their terrible ordeal. Courts have awarded pet ‘owners’ monetary compensation for the injury to or death of their animals caused by the negligence or intentional act of others. It is possible a court could reduce monetary damages if the court determines that the pet ‘owner’ was partially at fault. The police and humane societies with law enforcement authority can also be contacted. Cruelty to animals is illegal in every state.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can we get our dog back from a NY rescue?
Q:

Going back to work left our highly active & destructive dog in a crate too long. 2 weeks ago we gave him to a NY rescue, asking to be kept informed & that we'd take him back if a better home wasn't found. 10 days later we couldn't take it any longer and said we wanted him back. They refused saying he had just been adopted. We've been in touch every day since and they refuse. My dog is registered to us in CT.

A:

Once one signs a surrender agreement, it is usually difficult to get an animal returned. Shelters and rescue groups are concerned that the individual who surrendered the animal did not have the requisite commitment to the animal and that whatever caused the individual to surrender the animal could very well happen again.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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