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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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Dog was given away without me knowing it, how can I get him back?
Q:

I had trouble finding a dog sitter, so I contacted the lady that gave me my dog to watch him till school is over. The next day she texted me saying that my dog and their dog were having troubles getting along and she asked if its too much trouble for me to find someone, she will give him away. I told her to "wait on that and let try to convince my parents and I will tell you if its okay for you to give him away."  Then my dog was given away without me knowing it. Am I still able to get my dog back from the other family?

A:

Individuals can bring a lawsuit for the return of an animal that they believe is being wrongfully withheld. When a pet “parent” is advised that a boarding situation is not working out, he/she should act swiftly to retrieve their animals and take them to board elsewhere or take them home if that is feasible. There is a law in Minnesota (and several other states too) which provides a mechanism for animals left for boarding to be deemed abandoned. These laws vary. For example, Minnesota’s abandoned animal law applies to animals left with a veterinarian, boarding facility, or commercial facility pursuant to a written agreement. Some states’ laws are only applicable to veterinarians while New York’s law, for example, is much broader and applies to any person with whom an animal is left for treatment, board, or care. It is difficult to predict how a court will decide most pet custody cases. Courts will review the evidence to determine whether the pet “parent” gave away or abandoned the animal and whether the person boarding the animal acted in accordance with the law. These cases get more complicated when the person being sued no longer has the animal. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area regarding next steps. 

 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My brother isn't giving me my dog back, what can I do?
Q:

Hi, I had a labrador puppy from 8 weeks old, she is now 15 months old. Last week my brother and I agreed he would look after her for a week so I can get my garden tidied up and not lock her inside all the time. I asked so politely yesterday for her to come home and he has told me she is not my dog anymore and he is not giving her up. I've begged and begged for her to come home with me but he just isn't allowing me to have my dog back. I need help as I don't know what to do!!

A:

People who believe that their animals are being unlawfully withheld can sue for the return of the animal. The police can also be contacted.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can the shelter charge an impoundment fee?
Q:

So my Nana offered to watch my cat while I moved. Well; without my knowledge she up and takes my cat to the pound. She has done this before and I had to pay to get him out and now I'm faced having to do same thing. Is this legal?

A:

It is common for shelters to charge an impoundment fee to redeem animals. In fact, state and local laws often contain impoundment fee provisions. These laws also provide that after a specified period of time, the shelter can place the animal for adoption or have the animal euthanized. Therefore, it is extremely important for people to act quickly to retrieve their pets. It is generally not lawful for an individual who agreed to board an animal or a boarding facility to surrender animals in their care without the animal’s “owner’s” consent (unless, for example, the animal was abandoned). However, it can sometimes be difficult to prove that an animal was boarded when family members are involved who allege that the animal was given to them, already theirs, abandoned with them, etc. People who have had a bad boarding experience with a facility or a person (including a family member) should consider boarding their animals elsewhere. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do we get our dog back?
Q:

My boyfriend had gotten a puppy recently and he hadn't registered her yet. A friend of his took her away and won't return her, can he get her back legally?

A:

Stealing a dog is illegal, whether or not the dog is licensed. The police investigate pet theft allegations but tend not to get involved in pet “ownership/custody” disputes. These disputes arise in a variety of circumstances, particularly when roommates and couples split up. In these situations, civil lawsuits are sometimes commenced (commonly referred to as a replevin action) for the return of the animal. Courts will consider the evidence to determine who “owns” the animal. Sometimes courts will also consider the animal’s interests but one should not count on that (all the more reason for people to try to resolve these disputes more amicably with the animal’s best interests in mind).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I expect the shelter to contribute toward necessary dental surgery?
Q:

I adopted a 7 year old domestic short hair female cat. I asked the counselor about her history, medical, etc. I was told that she has a clean bill of health and was just given rabies and distemper vaccines and is up to date on shots. I was assured that the cat received a full exam from their vet. After finishing paperwork and payment I received a printout of times the cat was seen by either a vet or assistant. This form said tartar/gingivitis. I asked the counselor about that and was told that the cat has some tartar "as most cats her age do" not to worry about it. Though, I may want to consider having her teeth cleaned at some point. Having cats all my life I had expected to have teeth cleaning done at some point. But, once home it was clear that this cat's teeth were bothering her (dropping kibble, refusing water) Can I expect the shelter to contribute toward necessary dental surgery? 

A:

Adoption agreements contain provisions regarding the rights and responsibilities of the parties (shelter/rescue and adopter). Usually adopters are responsible for the veterinary care of their newly adopted animals although sometimes a shelter/rescue will assume the responsibility if an animal is diagnosed with a pre-existing condition soon after adoption.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do they people who found my dog have the right to keep him?
Q:

My dog had escaped on December 24th in which a couple from SC were there and found him and decided to take him all the way to SC, a couple of weeks of the new year, they contacted us and we both agreed that we would pick him up but due to personal reasons and issues getting there we told them that it might take a bit long for us to head there until they responded us saying that due to the length of time do they have the right to keep him, what do we do? ​

A:

 Individuals who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can commence a legal action to try to get their animals returned and can also contact the police. Of course, if a more amicable resolution can be reached that is usually preferable. The clear lesson from this is that people who lose an animal should quickly redeem the animal after being notified of the animal’s whereabouts. Animals who are brought to shelters may be adopted or euthanized after a specified amount of time (the legal hold time varies throughout the country). Good luck.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can we get custody of our roommates dog?
Q:

My fiance and I took on a roommate - a young girl who needed a roof over her head. To keep a long story short, it's not going well, and my fiance and I are worried for the long-term health of her 9-month old shepherd. We feed the dog, let her out, house-trained her, and have even bought food when her owner knew she was out. Whenever the owner is around, the dog is nervous and the owner doesn't pay attention to her at all. The dog loves us and our pup. Is there a way we could claim her as ours for her sake?

A:

Depending on the facts and circumstances, a court could determine that an animal’s “owner” gave away, sold, or abandoned his/her animal and thus should lose rights to the animal.  Some courts have also considered the animal’s interests. In one such case involving roommates, the court reportedly awarded the cat to the roommate who did not “own” the cat on the grounds that the cat’s happiness was of higher priority than the “owner’s” property rights. However, one should not count on such a decision (they are few and far between). If at all possible, an amicable agreement (in writing) to purchase or adopt a roommate’s animal would generally be a better way to proceed.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What kind of legal action can be taken if my cat has kittens?
Q:

A couple weeks ago a girl posted on Facebook that she had 3 female cats that she needed to give away I had been wanting another cat so I said I can take one. I picked the cat up who's name is Muffin brought it home and have been taking care of it last night I've seen it on top of my female cat I already had checked Muffin to find out she was actually a he. I'm upset because my female cat is not spayed because she is an inside only cat and didn't think it was necessary, so now I may end up getting stuck with kittens I didn't want and the cost to get one spayed/neutered. I can't just give Muffin or my other cat away because I have four kids who love them. What kind of legal action if any can I take in this situation? ​

A:

I suggest that you take your cats to a veterinarian immediately. Even when there is no error in representing the sex of an animal offered for sale or adoption, newly acquired animals should be examined by a veterinarian, tested for certain diseases, vaccinated, spayed/neutered, etc. This is particularly important when there are other animals in the household. An individual who believes that he/she is owed money can sue. Small Claims court is an inexpensive and user friendly court to attempt to resolve small monetary disputes. However, one should not count on a court ordering a person who mistakenly identifies the sex of a cat he/she offers for adoption to pay the adopter for spaying/neutering and expenses to care for a litter (unless those obligations were included in the adoption agreement). People should have their dogs and cats spayed/neutered regardless of whether the animals are kept indoors. It only takes one unexpected incident for an animal to get out, particularly when there are four children in a household! Spaying and neutering also provide health benefits to animals. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do former owners of a dog have any legal grounds?
Q:

Our quasi friend was extremely abusive to a four month old Chihuahua puppy. He and his wife asked us to take the dog to find a new home. We did, 30 days later the husband is asking for the dog back, threatening to call the police. We gave the puppy to our sister-in-law who is taking great care and loves this little puppy. He is going back over my dead body, this guy is a pet abuser. Prior to our sister in law taking the dog, I have email documentation requesting two local pet foster care networks to take the puppy. Does this guy have any legal grounds?

A:

Generally when a person gives his/her animal away, such person has no further rights to the animal (unless there was an agreement granting such rights). 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do we get custody of a dog that keeps running away from his owner to us?
Q:

My family took in a stray dog about a month ago and after 2 days finally found his home. Since then he's been back to our house twice. Each time we have contacted the owner to let them know we have him and let them come pick him up. This time, they haven't shown up to get him. We live less than a block away so there's no reason they can't come pick him up. When he runs away, he always shows up on our front porch and waits patiently to go inside. We love him and would love to keep him. At what point, if any do we get to keep him as our own? He's clearly underfed and not cared for and our family would love to make him a new addition to our family. He definitely thinks he already is a part of that. 

A:

This dog is lucky to have you in his life. While there are laws that specify how long an animal must be held at a shelter to give the animal’s “owner” an opportunity to redeem the animal before the animal may be adopted, the laws do not address when a person loses rights to an animal if he/she fails to retrieve the animal from an individual finder who keeps the animal (rather than bringing the found animal to a shelter). The most expedient way to resolve these issues (if all are in agreement) can be for the parties to enter into a written agreement whereby the animal’s “owner” relinquishes his/her “ownership” of the animal to the other party. Sometimes it is necessary to pay a fee to get an “owner” to agree to transfer “ownership” and sometimes these situations resolve on their own with the neglectful “owner” doing nothing (essentially abandoning the animal). If litigated, courts would consider whether or not the original “owner’s” actions constituted abandonment or a gift to his/her neighbors.​ 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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