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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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Can I sue vet for negligence after injuring my cat?
Q:

Got our cat back from vet and cat could not walk, he could walk fine when we took him in. Brought him back next day and vet rammed thermometer in cats anus so hard cat screamed, did it again and cat screamed again. Vet said that was normal. Took x-rays and found vet had broken cats pelvis in three places. They had cat for 4-5 hours and never gave any pain meds. Cost $10,000 to fix cat with 3 metal plates, 25 screws and a bone graft. Can I sue vet for negligence?

A:

Veterinarians can be sued for malpractice and negligence. In such a lawsuit, one could seek compensation for veterinary and other expenses incurred as a result of the veterinarian�s malpractice/negligence. Courts tend not to award money for emotional distress. In one California case, the �owner� of a dog who died as a result of a veterinarian�s malpractice was awarded $39,000 (although generally awards are much lower). Complaints against veterinarians can also be made to the state�s veterinary licensing board (in Oregon, the Veterinary Medical Examining Board). I hope your cat is feeling better.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Shelter will not approve adoption because roommates smoke.
Q:

I was denied adopting any animals at a shelter I had volunteered at because my roommates smoke. After I inquired about adopting, I began receiving negative feedback about the "smell" and have since been told to consider volunteering at a different shelter. Is this discriminatory? I would like to adopt but is this going to be a problem at any other shelter as well?

A:

Adoption policies at animal shelters differ. Due to the harmful effects of second hand smoke on animals, some shelters (as you have seen) will not adopt to a person if there is a smoker in the household. Not all shelters/rescues have this policy.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I legally adopt a dog abandoned at kennel?
Q:

I work as a veterinary technician at a veterinary hospital in California. We have had a dog boarding with us for a few months and the owner is about 6 weeks behind on paying, and has not answered or returned calls. The dog is left boarding in a kennel meant to house dogs temporarily, not for unbeknownst lengths of time. I was wondering the process required to adopt said dog and how to legally go about doing so? Thank you for your time!

A:

The California Veterinary Medical Association has issued an explanation of the laws regarding abandonment of animals left for boarding. See http://law.onecle.com/california/civil/1834.5.html. The law provides that an animal left for boarding will be deemed abandoned if not retrieved within 14 days after the animal was scheduled to be picked up. The law further provides that �The person into whose custody the animal was placed for care shall first try for a period of not less than 10 days to find a new owner for the animal or turn the animal over to a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter, or nonprofit animal rescue group, provided that the shelter or rescue group has been contacted and has agreed to take the animal. If unable to place the animal with a new owner, shelter, or rescue group, the animal care facility may have the abandoned animal euthanized.� The law further provides that �There shall be a notice posted in a conspicuous place, or in conspicuous type in a written receipt given, to warn a person depositing an animal at an animal care facility of the provisions of this section.� There are also lien laws (explained in the link above) allowing for sales of animals not retrieved on time, although the animal�s �owner� must first be given notice prior to any such sale.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dogs got out during storm and pound won't let me get them.
Q:

I had two dogs. An American bully and English bulldog. A storm occurred and the my dogs got free and were picked up by the city. I went to reclaim my dogs two hours after they were picked up and the shelter told me I had 2 options. Pay $250 to get a breeders license or pay $150 dollars and get them out with a chip and spayed/neutered. Since I didn't agree with this and told them I was seeking legal action they told if so they could no longer have contact with me, and within 3-5 business days my dogs would be available for adoption regardless of how I felt because they picked up the dogs and if I didn't pick one of the two options they would belong to the city. What can I do?

A:

Impound�fees are common and vary depending on the municipality. It is generally safer to pay the fee and sue for the overpayment later. Otherwise, regardless of who is right or wrong on the law the animals may be gone.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Parents want to keep ex's dog until reimbursed boarding fees.
Q:

My parents have been taking care of my boyfriends dog while he has been out of town. He had agreed to pay for food, vet care etc. We have since broke up and the ex wants his dog back, but doesn't want to pay for his care. Do my parents have the right to keep the dog until they are reimbursed?

A:

Florida has a lien law that provides that persons feeding or caring for another person�s animals can have a lien for the care and maintenance of the animals. However, consider that as each day passes the money expended on care increases. It often can be more cost effective, particularly with dogs and cats, to return an animal and sue for the amount due. Also, unless there is a written boarding agreement which states the amount due, a court could find that the boarding was gratuitous (more so when the people know each other as in your situation).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can neighbor fix my cat without my consent?
Q:

Can a neighbor take and get my cat (or dog) fixed without my consent, or even knowledge of it? What could I do if this happens?

A:

Most neighbors would not have such unfettered access to another neighbor�s animal. Also, sometimes �ownership� of an outdoor animal is not that clear. Letting one�s unspayed or unneutered dogs and cats outside without supervision exacerbates the already serious overpopulation of dogs and cats. Perhaps your neighbor wanted to avoid another litter. Individuals who believe that their animal was spayed or neutered without their authorization can sue for the difference (if any) of the animal�s monetary value as a result of the spaying/neutering (although most dogs and cats don�t have financially lucrative breeding potential and those that do are not typically outdoors unsupervised). Alternatively, be thankful that the spaying/neutering has been done.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Three dogs taken away after one fought stray on property.
Q:

All three of our dogs were taken because one of our dogs got into a fight with a stray dog who came into our yard. Now all three may be killed as a result. I don't knwo what to do. Please, we need help.

A:

I suggest that you immediately contact an attorney in your state who can intervene on behalf of you and your dogs. People whose dogs are seized under dangerous dog laws are entitled to a hearing. Also, dangerous dog laws do not generally provide for a �death penalty� for dogs who have bitten another animal, particularly for a first offense and in the dogs� yard. If, however, dogs are seized based on a violation of California�s animal fighting laws the dogs shall be ordered forfeited upon conviction of the arrested person. California�s animal fighting law states, in part: Any person who does any of the following is guilty of a felony�(1) Owns, possesses, keeps, or trains any dog, with the intent that the dog shall be engaged in an exhibition of fighting with another dog.(2) For amusement or gain, causes any dog to fight with another dog, or causes any dogs to injure each other.(3) Permits any act in violation of paragraph (1) or (2) to be done on any premises under his or her charge or control, or aids or abets that act.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get puppy from a litter between ex-girlfriend's dog and mine?
Q:

My dog and my ex girlfriends dog had puppies, and now she won't give me one puppy that I should deserve the right to. What do you recommend for me to do?

A:

Unless there is a written agreement granting the �owner� of a male dog rights to a puppy, it is likely to be a difficult case to win. Perhaps the female dog had other suitors? I recommend that you get your dog neutered and that you suggest to your ex that her dog be spayed. There is an overpopulation of dogs and cats. Spaying and neutering help to curb this problem. Spaying and neutering also provide health benefits to animals. < /p>
Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

How can I get my dog back from Animal Control?
Q:

I recently moved and left my dog at my sisters house until we had everything moved and some unpacked. My fur baby is 10 yrs old and doesn't do well with confusion. Animal control was contacting regarding my sisters house and they had a warrant to take all animals on site including my dog. How do I get my dog back?

A:

Time is often of the essence in these situations. I suggest that you immediately contact animal control to try to retrieve your animal. If animal control will not return your dog immediately, consult with an attorney in your area now. Sometimes seized animals are held pending a court case but sometimes not depending on the circumstances and whether the alleged �owner� of the animals signed a written surrender. Also, sometimes animals may be deemed forfeited if after a seized animal hearing the animal's �owner� fails to comply with an order to make payment for the reasonable cost of caring for the seized animal pending the resolution of the case.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I sue SPCA who witheld cancer diagnosis?
Q:

I adopted Layla and asked about the lump on her neck. They said it was benign but after taking her to a vet they said it should be biopsied. After several attempts to follow up it was admitted that they had the biopsy already done and it was cancerous. Their internal systems failed to relay that info to the shelter. They are willing to do some of the treatment themselves but have also put us in the position of having to pay thousands of dollars. Should I sue them so they can fully treat layla? It has been a tremendous burden to our family emotionally, time wise and financially- and we all love the dog.

A:

I hope Layla is doing better. The rights and responsibilities of adopters and shelters/rescues are usually delineated in an adoption agreement so it is important to carefully review that document before commencing what could be a costly and unproductive lawsuit (although Small Claims courts are an inexpensive and user friendly venue for relatively small monetary disputes). Often adoption agreements state that the adoption agency will not be responsible for future veterinary expenses although when possible shelters/rescues�will help with veterinary care for pre-existing conditions. I hope�that Layla gets the veterinary care that she needs.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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