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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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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
I plan on appealing my custody case, what motions do I file?
Q:

In a court ruling I lost possession/custody of my dog of 8 years. I plan on appealing the case and am wondering if there are any specific actions/motions I should file.

A:

There are many reasons why a person may lose possession/custody of an animal and the specific actions or motions that a person would file depend on the circumstances. For example, people who are convicted of animal abuse or neglect can lose custody/ownership of the animal.  People who abandoned an animal or gave an animal away are likely to lose rights to the animal. People who did not redeem their animal from an animal shelter within the time prescribed by law may lose rights to the animal. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area who can review the facts of your particular situation and advise you on next steps.

  


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What rights do I have when I foster a dog?
Q:

I drove out of state to Houston, TX to adopt a dog from the rescue organization. I have had her for 6 days doing a foster to adopt, the adoption will be final when I get her spayed. A couple of days ago I asked representatives for help house breaking etc. Today they sent me an email wanting the dog back. We signed papers and I gave them a check for 350.00, do I have any rights? 

A:

Rights and responsibilities of an animal’s foster “parent” and the rescue/shelter which provided the animal for fostering are typically delineated in a written foster care agreement. The goal of animal rescue organizations is to place animals in humane forever homes so most rescues/shelters will try to work things out with a foster “parent” unless there is concern that the foster “parent” and the animal are not a good match or the foster “parent” is not properly caring for the animal. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Animal caretaker wants me to pay for a medical procedure I didn't consent to.
Q:

Hello. My cat caretaker took my cat to the hospital without my consent and had the hospital perform a procedure that costed $2,500.00 and she is demanding me to pay that even though I never authorized it. Now she is suing me in small claims. How do I defend myself?

A:

I hope your cat is doing much better. Generally animal caretakers are legally responsible for the well-being of the animals in their care. In one New York case, for example, a horse’s caretaker was found guilty of violating the state’s cruelty to animals law for failing to provide a horse with adequate food (despite the caretaker’s defense that the horse’s owner did not pay a sufficient amount of money to provide proper care). It is unclear from your question whether the cat needed immediate veterinary care and, if so, whether you were reachable at that time. It is also unclear whether the veterinary care provided to your cat resulted from the caretaker’s negligence (in which case a court might find that the animal’s “owner” should not be responsible to pay the veterinary bill). A court would also consider the terms of a boarding agreement. Consider how you (and the cat) would have felt had the cat died from his/her illness or injuries if the caretaker failed to take the cat to a veterinarian in a timely manner. How a case is defended depends on the facts of each case. ​ 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I be sued for custody of my kitten?
Q:

About a week and a half ago I was given a kitten from my friend. She said a friend of hers couldn't keep them and gave them to her. Well I guess she wasn't able to keep them (there were originally two cats), so she gave one to me and one to someone else. Well the other person lost their kitten,who was microchipped, so they called the original owner, who is now saying she wants my kitten back too. And saying she's gotten a lawyer and is going to sue saying my friend stole the kittens from her. Mind you we have text messages with her stating she's given the kittens to my friend. Can she sue for them back?

A:

A person who believes that his/her animal was stolen or is being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get the animal returned (civil lawsuit) and can file a complaint with the police. The police should get involved if there is evidence that a crime has been committed (theft). The likelihood of success in a lawsuit depends on the facts of each case. Generally when a person gives his/her animal away, such person has no further rights to that animal unless there was an agreement providing for such rights. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I get my dog back from my ex?
Q:

Me and my ex boyfriend split in 2014. I have had "Loki" since birth. My best friend gave him to me as a gift, she has his mom and her sister has his dad. I currently have Loki's daughter. I have been told that Loki now weighs 90 pounds, when I know for a fact he weighed 120. He is not fixed, and has had 3 litters. My ex does not have a set income Loki has been having seizures. I am a veterinary technician and feel that I can provide a better health care for him. I have tried to compromise with my ex, but he just bashes me and is just down right rude. I would like to get custody of Loki so I can have my baby boy home. I did not want to try legal action until I finished school and was financially stable to bring another dog in. Loki has been having seizures and my ex refuses to take him for the care he needs. I feel like I could give him a better and healthier life. ​

A:

People who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get their animals returned. While proof that a person was given an animal as a gift can help to demonstrate “ownership,” courts are likely to also look at what transpired after the animal was given as a gift (for example, whether the animal was subsequently given to someone else or abandoned). Sometimes (but not usually) courts will consider what is in the best interests of an animal when deciding a pet custody case. People who suspect that an animal is being neglected or abused should contact the police and other law enforcement entities, such as the local SPCA (society for the prevention of cruelty to animals). I suggest that all of you get your animals spayed and neutered. There is an overpopulation of dogs and cats and spaying and neutering also provide health benefits.

 

 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I hold my neighbor accountable for the injury of my dog?
Q:

My neighbor agreed to dog sit my 5 month old puppy in his yard while I ran my errands. 20 minutes later I get a call stating my pup climbed under his fence got out and hit my a car. Thankfully he is alive but the damage to his leg is pretty severe and it will be long road to recovery and very pricey. My question is do I have any legal right to hold him accountable since I trusted him to fill his obligations in caring for my furson.

A:

I hope your puppy is doing better. The general rule is that when a person leaves his/her animal in someone else’s care (such as a dog sitter, groomer, dog walker, etc.), the person/entity with whom the animal was left has the duty to exercise reasonable care so that the animal is returned in the condition in which the animal was left. However, when a bailment is just for the benefit of the bailor (person who leaves the animal for care), the duty of care of the bailee (person with whom the animal is left) is typically less. These situations arise, for example, when the bailee is not getting compensated in any way and is simply doing a favor for the bailor.  In “gratuitous” bailment situations, the bailor may need to show that the bailee was grossly negligent or did not exercise even minimal care in order for the court to award compensation. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Friend refuses to take dog for surgery.
Q:

My friends dog has large mass. The vet said it could be benign but looked to have small abnormalities. Cost would be between 398 to 597 to fix. I have had her dog insured for 2 years, and pay for the visits. It will cost her nothing. The dog seems to be uncomfortable. She says she's going to do nothing and just make him comfortable. He is only 8 and very healthy, and doc even said he can get it all . Can I take her to court since the operation is paid by me, she will owe nothing. She is taking years away from him.


A:

Generally a dog's "owner" (and “co-owner”) must provide necessary care (including veterinary care) for their dog. Whether a person is a dog's "co-owner" or merely helping out the dog's "owner" is not always clear and needs to be decided on a case by case basis. Perhaps consider getting a second opinion regarding the need for the operation and potential risks vs. benefits. Animal neglect is against the law. In one New York case, for example, a dog’s “owner” was convicted of cruelty to animals after an investigation showed, among many other things, that she failed to provide care for her dog who had a large tumor (she did not show up for a veterinarian’s appointment for the purpose of determining whether the tumor was operable and no other medical treatment was sought).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back from my ex?
Q:

My ex boyfriend knew I wanted this dog so bad that he went and bought it. I have paid the vet bills, and I have proof of that. I paid for the license, I bathe her, I am the one who who lets her out every day. He removed her from a 70 foot trailer to a small four-room home. She has no yard to be chained out in. At least at the trailer she had a huge yard to walk in


A:

Individuals who believe that their animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get an animal returned. This type of civil lawsuit is generally referred to as a replevin action (for the return of property, including animals). While animal theft is against the law, the police will not generally get involved in pet custody disputes. Courts will consider not only who purchased/adopted the animal but who is the animal’s primary caretaker (walks the dog, takes the dog to the veterinarian, pays for the animal’s care). Courts in New York have not been consistent recently on the theory they use to determine pet custody disputes, with some courts basing their decisions solely on property rights and others also considering the interests of the animal. These cases can get complicated so it is preferable to have attorney representation.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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