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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 get my dog out of the pound before it's put down?
Q:

My 2 year old dog was laying on the deck and bit a family member, here's the thing I had to leave my dog at my grandparents because I couldn't take it with me to my new place until July 30th. My grandma has changed her story x times saying that 3 people were around to no one was around. Well she has signed it over to the pound as the owner an it is to be put down July 5th unless I can do something. I've raised the dog, it lived with me and my girlfriend has taken it to the vet. I've bought its food, everything, now she's saying she's the owner because I've had no contact with it in 30 days...Please help me I can't lose my dog.

A:

Sometimes when shelters are made aware that there is a dispute as to ‘ownership’ of a dog, they will not honor a surrender agreement authorizing the killing of the dog. If one wants to claim 'ownership' of an animal at a shelter, it can be helpful to present the shelter with adoption/purchase records, dog license, vet records---anything showing 'ownership.' Of course, it is always simpler when the person who surrendered the animal informs the shelter that he/she has reconsidered or is not the ‘owner’ after all. However, when an animal’s life is at stake, as it appears in your situation, it is often necessary to hire an attorney to intervene to stop the shelter from killing the animal. You should also speak with an attorney in your area about the potential liability associated with being the ‘owner’ of a dog who has bitten a person. I hope you can convince your grandmother to work with you and the shelter immediately. Also, sometimes the media can be helpful in highlighting a situation such as this and sometimes local legislators will intervene to try to save an animal's life.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can a cat foster parent charge me for vet costs?
Q:

My mother passed away and I had to give her cat up to a foster cat provider(I am not allowed to have pets in my apartment) in April. I just got a call from her saying that the cat has a mouth infection and its vet cost is $700. It is June 27th and she says it is not her responsibility to pay the bill. I can't afford it and now I fear for the cat's safety there.

A:

One’s obligation to pay for the care of an animal in foster care depends on the agreement between the parties. Usually the term ‘foster’ refers to a temporary placement of an animal. In these temporary placements, sometimes the agreement is that the person placing the animal in foster care will pay for expenses, including veterinary care, and sometimes the agreement is that the person fostering the animal will pay. Usually when an animal is placed for adoption, the arrangement is permanent and the adopter is generally responsible for paying for all fees for the adopted animal. However, some shelters and rescue groups agree to pay for certain expenses and particularly veterinary care if the animal placed for adoption has a known pre-existing health problem. Again, the obligations of the adopter, foster care ‘parent’ and the individual, shelter or rescue organization that placed the animal for adoption or in foster care depend on the agreement between the parties. I hope your mother's cat gets the necessary care.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My puppy died less than 2 hours after leaving the vet - what are my rights?
Q:

On 6/22/13 my dog gave birth to 3 Maltese puppies 2 girl and 1 boy. The girl was not doing well so on 6/25/13 I called the vet and was told to bring her in, they examined her and stated that her heart rate was low, she had eclipsed lip and that she would need surgery when she gets to about 3 months. I left the vet and within 1 to 1 1/2 hours the puppy died. I paid the vet $44 for the exam and $7 for the milk. I would like to know what are my rights since my puppy died less than 2 hours after leaving the vet.

A:

I am so sorry to hear about your puppy. Every state has a veterinary licensing board. These boards can take disciplinary action against veterinarians, although these boards tend not to get involved in fee disputes. If you wish to file a complaint, contact the Florida Board of Veterinary Medicine at 850-487-1395. One can also sue a veterinarian for money. However, sometimes fee disputes can be worked out amicably making a lawsuit unnecessary. I suggest that your dog be spayed after the puppies are weaned and a veterinarian determines that it is safe for your dog to be spayed.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
I'm low income and want my dog back from the animal shelter
Q:

I surrendered my dog over to the animal shelter. Now I want her back. I'm low income and they don't want to help me out.

A:

Usually the person who surrenders his/her animal to an animal shelter loses all rights to that animal, unless the surrender agreement states otherwise. Shelters are often reluctant to return a surrendered animal because whatever caused the animal to be surrendered in the first place may occur again. In other words, the shelter would have concern about the animal’s future well-being and about the “owner’s” long term commitment to that animal. It is so important for people to consider the consequences of their actions before surrendering their animals to a shelter or giving their animals away.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I lose my dog for not neutering him in the time frame specified by my breeding contract?
Q:

I signed a contract that I would neuter my puppy by 20 weeks or have to give the dog back. I had him neutered at 24 weeks. The breeder now wants him back since I was 4 weeks later than the contract. Would this hold up in court and would I lose my dog?

A:

I suggest that you have an attorney in your area thoroughly review your contract. I cannot say whether a judge would order you to return the dog. A court could limit strict enforcement of a contract provision to avoid what the court perceives to be an unconscionable result. However, since the timeliness of compliance with a spay/neuter provision is important--- a delay can result in unintended and unwanted litters--- I cannot say for sure.


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

I recently sold my English bulldog 2 weeks ago because my daughter was not giving her as much attention as I thought she should have. The next day I asked the lady if I could buy her back because my daughter was deeply saddened with her gone and still is. I explained this to the lady and she kept saying give it a couple days so we went to the end of the week and my daughter was still upset so I begged the lady one last time and she ended up saying no. Is there anyway I can get her back? There was no written agreement upon selling her.

A:

When an individual sells an animal, that individual usually loses all rights to that animal. If there is no written sales contract, courts will look at other evidence to determine the arrangement between the parties. For example, was there an advertisement for the sale of the animal? Were the animal’s toys and papers given to the alleged purchaser? Sometimes purchasers will sell an animal back or return an animal. However, purchasers can quickly bond with an animal and decide that the person who sold the animal could not really have had much of a bond with that animal. Dogs can live for a couple of decades and should have a forever loving home. An adult needs to be the primary caretaker of an animal. I hope that the dog is happy however this works out.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have any recourse to obtain joint custody of my dog with my ex?
Q:

My significant other and I lived together for 15 years and are now separated. Six years ago we bought a dog and we both love her dearly. When we separated we agreed to share her in one month intervals and to sign a notarized contract stating that she was jointly ours. Now she says that she won't honor any part of the agreement. The ownership papers are in her name. The bill of sale is in my name. Do I have any recourse to obtain joint custody? Thank you very much for your valuable time.

A:

You can sue to enforce the contract. Some courts will review these contracts, uphold their validity, and mandate joint custody as delineated in the agreements. However, other courts may reject the joint custody arrangement. In one such case, the court analogized a dog visitation schedule to a visitation schedule for a table or a lamp. Nevertheless, as more courts are recognizing the special bond between people and their companion animals, it is more likely that such contracts will be more readily enforced. I hope you and your ex are able to work out your situation in such a way that is best for the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Am I liable if a person I rent a room to has a dog that bites someone on my property?
Q:

I rent a room in my house to a friend that has a pitbull. If his dog bites someone on my property, am I in any way held liable for his dog biting someone?

A:

Generally, landlords are not held liable for the conduct of a tenant’s pet unless the landlord had knowledge that the tenant kept a dangerous animal, the landlord had the right to have the animal removed from the premises, and the landlord failed to do so. However, courts distinguish the facts in each case to determine liability. When a landlord lives in the same building as the leased premises, it is more difficult for a landlord to argue that he/she did not know of a dog’s dangerous propensities (that’s assuming, of course, that the dog exhibited such tendencies). Since one cannot predict how every judge will decide every case and because injured persons sometimes sue not only the dog’s ‘owner’ but the landlord as well, it is important for landlords (and tenants too) to procure liability insurance. It is also important that one make sure that the insurance policy includes dog bites, covers the breed of dog that is kept on the premises, and includes defense costs (including attorneys' fees). Even if a landlord is not ultimately held responsible for the actions of a tenant’s dog, the cost to defend a lawsuit could be substantial---all the more reason to have sufficient insurance coverage.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I keep a dog I found?
Q:

4 days ago my wife found a dog running by the woods next to her mother's home. The dog had no collar or tag. The next day the alleged owner of the dog contacted my wife's mother saying that they know we have the dog and has called the local dog warden. My concern in returning the dog is that I am not sure if this is the actual owner and that the dog has obviously been abused. What are my options in keeping the animal?

A:

If an animal is not at a shelter, the law is not that clear regarding when an ‘owner’ might lose rights. Redemption laws exist throughout the country which basically state that dogs (sometimes cats too) at a shelter must be held for a specific amount of time before the shelter can adopt out or euthanize the animal. The purpose of these laws is to give ‘owners’ of lost animals the opportunity to reclaim their pets.

If a finder of an animal makes reasonable and timely efforts to find the ‘owner’ of the animal and cares for the animal for an extended period of time, some courts have extinguished the rights of the original ‘owner.’ However, the Katrina cases have shown that courts are not likely to extinguish ‘ownership’ rights of original ‘owners’ all that readily if the original ‘owner’ wants the animal returned and made concerted efforts to find the animal. In some states, it is larceny to keep an animal that one does not ‘own’ without contacting animal control or law enforcement authorities within a specified amount of time. Even without a specific law, it would be wise for finders to make a found animal report with local authorities. Doing so gives the animal the opportunity to be reunited with his/her family, could further the rights of the finder if the original ‘owner’ makes a claim much later, and may be helpful to avoid pet theft charges.

In pet custody cases, a few courts have considered evidence about animal abuse but it is important to remember that sometimes animals who are lost are in poor condition because they have been wandering the streets for days or longer or have health issues that have not been addressed since the animal was lost. If one is concerned that an animal has been abused, one should contact local law enforcement authorities, including societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals that have the authority to enforce animal cruelty laws.

One can require reasonable proof of ownership before returning an animal. Animal shelters require proof as well to make sure that the animal is being returned to his/her rightful ‘owner.’ This can include such things as veterinary records and photos. Also, since microchips cannot be seen without a scan, I suggest that found animals be scanned to see if the animal is microchipped. Shelters and veterinarians often have scanners. Worth noting too is that sometimes people are willing to sell or give away an animal to a finder who wants to keep the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My dog was guaranteed against defects when purchased - do I have grounds to ask for money back due to luxating patellas?
Q:

In December I purchased a puppy. I brought her to the vet three months later and the veterinary orthopedist said that she has luxating patellas and will require surgery. In the contract I signed when I purchased her, it stated the she was guaranteed against defects. Do I have grounds to ask for a portion or all of my money back? Or should I push for the store to pay for the surgery?

A:

I suggest you review the contract to see if it includes any time period for the guarantee against defects and if it includes an explanation of your remedies. New York’s pet sale law (which probably won’t help you) gives purchasers certain remedies if within 14 business days following the sale of an animal by a pet dealer, a veterinarian determines that the animal was unfit for sale. These remedies include returning the animal and getting a refund or animal of equivalent value or getting reimbursed for veterinary fees to attempt to cure the animal, up to what was paid for the animal. However, purchasers are not limited by this law (and its time restrictions) and may still succeed in a claim against a pet dealer if the purchaser can demonstrate that the animal was unfit for sale. The Uniform Commercial Code, which pertains to the sale of goods (including animals) by merchants (persons who routinely engage in the sale of such goods) may be relied upon (in addition to or instead of the pet sale laws) in some cases involving the sale/purchase of animals. Unless specifically excluded in a contract, most sales of goods by merchants include (even if not specifically stated) a warranty of merchantability (that the goods were fit for sale). If you can demonstrate that your dog’s condition was congenital, you might be successful in recouping some money. The court would have to believe that your puppy’s condition was not caused by a trauma or other incident while in your care. I suggest your veterinarian check out your puppy’s other knees as well. If they are also compromised your claim may be enhanced. How much you ask for, how much a court would award, or how much the pet dealer might settle for would be dependent on a few factors, including, for example, the terms of your contract, the cost of surgery, and the puppy's purchase price. Courts would be reluctant to award more than the purchase price unless one can show that the pet dealer knowingly sold a dog with congenital problems.

Many dogs from pet stores start their lives in puppy mills, large commercial breeding facilities where dogs are kept in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions. Inbreeding is common as are congenital problems. Adopting homeless animals from shelters and rescue groups saves lives.

I hope your puppy gets better very soon.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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