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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 my daughter do to share custody with her ex?
Q:

My daughter and her boyfriend adopted a dog 5 years ago. During that time the dog resided here 70% of the time. The dog is listed under the boyfriend's name because of my daughter's age at the time. My husband paid for the dog but we have no record because it was cash. Since breaking up, they have shared custody every other week. Now the ex is saying he won't allow her her to get him and share custody. What can she do?

A:

Shared custody of animals can be very difficult---for the humans and the animals. These arrangements are often difficult to sustain as the individuals move on with their lives. All that said, I have heard of situations where shared custody has worked. Your daughter can sue her ex-boyfriend for custody. The fact that her ex-boyfriend has possession of the dog and the dog is registered to him will probably help him in the court case.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my bird back from a trial adopter?
Q:

After considering rehoming my pet bird, I met someone who wanted her and I agreed to let her have the bird for a week or two to see how the bird would do. After I dropped her off, I really felt concerned about the home since it was a really old trailer and worried that if the lady could not afford better living conditions for herself, maybe she shouldn't be taking on an animal. So, I told her that I just couldn't part with her and asked if I could go ahead and pick her up the next day. She said I could. The next day when I went to get her the lady said no and when I pressed a bit, she said that I couldn't even come visit to check on the bird as we had agreed. I can provide my adoption papers from when I adopted the bird and a vet bill. How do I go about getting her back? I never agreed that this was to be for sure the final arrangement - it was tentative.

A:

You can sue for the return of the bird. Consult with an attorney in your area. Keep in mind though that just because a person still has adoption records does not prove that he/she did not subsequently sell or give an animal to another person. When one voluntarily places an animal in another person’s possession, and the other person is not a boarding facility, it may be difficult to convince a court that the arrangement was temporary (unless there is a written agreement which states such terms). Saying that you were concerned about the woman’s living conditions and then giving her the bird anyway (even temporarily) may not work in your favor. I hope the bird is receiving good care.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Was the vet negligent in not scanning the dog for a microchip?
Q:

2 weeks ago my Chinese crested intact male went missing. The day after we notified all shelters and vet clinics in a 60 mile radius. We provided photos, contact info and the dogs microchip number. I was contacted by a shelter yesterday and was told that a vet clinic had a Chinese crested male in for a neuter that day and that I should call. I called the clinic (which HAD been notified with flyer, photos, info and microchip for my missing dog) and I was told the owner and dog were new clients and that the description of the dog matched mine. They however DID NOT SCAN THE DOG. By the time I called, the dog had been picked up so I could not go there nor could they scan it. Isn't this negligent on their behalf? What legal rights do I have? Can I have a court order to have the information released to me? I believe strongly this was my dog as this breed is rare, and even rarer in this area. Hard to swallow when the shelter said the dog matched my photos exactly and the clinic failed to scan the dog.

A:

Consider immediately asking the veterinarian to call his/her client to explain the situation and to request that the dog be brought back to the office to be scanned. The longer someone has an animal, the less likely they are to be cooperative so time is of the essence. Consult with an attorney in your area. The attorney can attempt to resolve this matter for you and, if necessary, commence a lawsuit in which he/she would seek a court order to have the animal scanned, based on probable cause that the dog is yours. However, it is unclear from your e-mail what role the shelter had in this situation and how the shelter knew this dog was at the veterinarian’s office. If the dog was held for the legal hold time at the shelter and then adopted, the case is more complicated—but not a lost cause.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can the vet withhold my dog until the bill is paid in full?
Q:

I just got a pug from a lady who couldn't take care of him anymore. When I got him he was skinny and when I was trying to get him up to weight I ended up having to take him to the vet. When I got there, because it was in the middle of the night, I told the vet that I didn't have any money until my husband got paid this Friday. He said that it would be fine, that when I came and got my dog that we would work out a payment plan to pay the bill. Well he called me today saying that I couldn't come and get him unless I paid $100 now and $200 later and if I didn't come in 24 hours he was going to keep the dog. What can I do? I just got him so I have nothing to prove that he is mine. This is the first vet visit he has had since I got him.

A:

It seems that the issue is not whether or not the dog is yours, but if the veterinarian can refuse to return your dog to you for lack of payment. There is a Michigan law that says that a veterinarian may “dispose” of an animal placed in the veterinarian’s custody and abandoned by its “owner” if the “owner” does not respond in a timely manner to letters sent by the veterinarian alerting the “owner” that the animal will be “disposed of.” The law is not clear about the owner’s rights if the owner cannot pay on time, but I think it would be hard for a veterinarian or other animal care facility to declare an animal abandoned when the owner has been in contact and needs a little extra time to pay the bill. Consider also that given the dog’s condition, the veterinarian may think the animal has been severely neglected. Evidence of your adoption (lady’s name and contact information) may help to allay concerns that you were the person who neglected this animal. Veterinarians are allowed to report suspected animal abuse to law enforcement authorities.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Please help! Should the dog legally be mine?
Q:

Hello, I recently was kicked out of my boyfriend's mom's house. I had a pitbull that is 6 months. He wasn't a gift to her, but he was left there by her ex who neglected him and left him without food. I ended up moving in and taking him as my own. She said that I could have him and that I had to take care of him and when I moved out I was to take him with me. I bought him all his food, toys, and got him a cage. Me and her had gotten into a few problems, and she kicked me out, but said I could not have the dog, even though she never paid for the dog, or anything for him. I got him shots too. But now she is trying to sell the dog, and I don't know what to do.

A:

It can be difficult to prove the contents of a verbal agreement. When a dispute arises, each party often has a different version of the agreement. One can sue for the return of an animal. However, sometimes it is more expedient to buy the animal since it can be costly to litigate a case and the court’s ruling may not be in one’s favor.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Who do the puppies belong to?
Q:

My neighbor's lab has lived at my house for over 2 years now. She may go home occasionally. She has had puppies under my house. I have found good homes for them but the owners insist they are now going to come get their puppies.

Whose puppies are they and what can I do to prevent them from removing these babies from my property?

A:

Sometimes there is no clear answer to a question. Your question falls into this category. It sounds as if you and your neighbor “shared” the mother dog. You actually refer to the dog as your “neighbor’s lab.” The puppies should not be under anyone’s house, but rather the mother and puppies should be given humane care inside one of your homes. You and your neighbor should consult with a veterinarian and then try to work out an amicable arrangement. The mother dog should be spayed as soon as the veterinarian says it can safely be done.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to return my dog given to me last Christmas?
Q:

I was given a dog for Christmas last year and have spent over $600.00 in vet, grooming, microchipping, and toys and such on him, now they want him back. I have all my receipts for showing the dog has been cared for. While the dog whom was a puppy at the time they had him was never given any puppy shots, not even rabies shot. So we had to start from the beginning and catch him up along with blood test to test for heartworm.

A:

Usually when one receives a gift, one is not required to return the gift.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to provide my home address to a previous owner suing for pet visitation?
Q:

A woman gave me a parrot about a year and a half ago. She no longer wanted it, and couldn't sell it, so we finally agreed I would give it a good home. She has asked a few times to come to my house to visit my parrot and I have tactfully and politely avoided the question. The answer would be "no" because I think she is weird and being around her makes me feel uncomfortable. I just don't want her in my home.

Now she has filed a civil suit seeking visitation of my parrot. I was served at work. The response to the summons, which she will get a copy of, asks for my address. I don't want her to have my home address. Must I record my address on that document?

Also, do you think the case will actually be heard? It seems absurd to me but I guess people can sue for anything.

A:

You should check with the court and/or an attorney in your area about using your work address or a post office address. Perhaps the person who gave you the parrot wants to make sure the bird is getting good care. Have you considered sharing a video, photos, or veterinary records? Attorneys sometimes make motions to have cases dismissed without a trial when, for example, there are no facts in dispute. However, often parties do not agree on the facts.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my adopted puppy back?
Q:

I adopted out a puppy that I rescued. I adopted him out with shots and de-wormings for a small fee and an agreement with the new adopter stating if, for any reason, they cannot keep the puppy he comes back to me and me only. They agreed, but it wasn't on paper, but I do have it saved in a text message. So now I see the new adopters are trying to sell the puppy after only 4 weeks of having him and she refuses to admit she is when I ask her why she is selling him and that I want him back. So I created a fake email and sure enough she IS in fact trying to sell him. I want him back. I don't want him being rehomed to just anyone! What can I do? If I can get her to meet me somewhere while having her think I'm someone else and then I just take the puppy will I get in trouble for "stealing" even though she agreed in a text to return him if she was unable to keep or care for him? Please help.

A:

Purchasing the dog can be the most expedient and surest way of getting a dog back in these types of situations. Using self-help, that is enforcing what one perceives to be his/her rights without using the legal system, can be problematic. The police may intercede. Also, if in the meantime the dog is sold to another person it will be that much more difficult to get the animal returned. Lawsuits for the return of a dog can be time consuming and costly and there is no assurance of winning the case.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can a Vet hold pet ashes hostage until bill is paid in full?
Q:

My mother, who is 84 and frail, had a VERY SICK, OBESE, OLD dog who was taken to the vet, by my sister, due to not eating and lethargy. The vet kept the dog 2 days running tests. The dog went into cardiac arrest and died.

Instead of the doctor telling my mother (family) that the dog was old, very sick, and obese and that she needed to be put down, this vet conducted $900 worth of tests, including boarding the couple of nights. Let alone the dog was diabetic and had seizures, along with a liver problem.

I would like to know if this is common practice, now of days, to do heroic measures on an old, sick dog, running up a HUGE bill, knowing the dog is on its death bed, instead of just putting them down.

And second, I said I'd pay for the cremation of the dog, but they will not release the ashes until my mother has paid the bill in full. My mother does not have the money to pay it off right now, but wants to pay payments. The office said that would be fine, but she can't have the ashes until the bill is paid in full. Is this legal to hold the dogs ashes hostage?

A:

I am so sorry to hear about your mother’s dog. Just how sick the dog was may not have been able to be determined until tests were done. The fact that a dog is old, sick and obese does not necessarily mean that the dog is dying or needs to be euthanized. The Baltimore Sun recently reported that the Maryland Board of Veterinary Examiners was discussing a regulation (which may soon take effect or already be in effect) to require veterinarians to issue informed-consent forms to pet “owners” before providing treatment. Many veterinarians already use such forms. If your sister signed a consent form, it should be reviewed. Also, every state has a veterinary board which reviews complaints against veterinarians. The Maryland Board of Veterinary Examiners has a complaint form online.

While there is a specific law in Maryland pertaining to rights of veterinarians when an animal's guardian does not retrieve his/her animal in a timely manner, this law does not address remains of deceased animals. The veterinary board may have an opinion on this sensitive subject so I suggest you contact the board about this issue as well. Consider obtaining the services of an attorney in your state who may be able to negotiate a mutually satisfactory arrangement between your family and the veterinarian, although keep in mind that the attorney’s fees may be more than the amount due to the veterinarian.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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