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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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My lost cat may be in shelter, but they won't let me look.
Q:

I lost my cat almost seven months ago when he got out during the night and never came home. I've been looking for him ever since and now I think I've found him on the animal shelter website. At least I think it's him. When I went there apparently he was in a hoard house with 70 different cats. I asked to see him but the lady refused. She didn't even give me a chance to talk. She said it was impossible to be my cat for the fact that she apparently has all the records. Now I'm no genius but I'm pretty sure that most hoarders don't keep a well organized house to know which cat is which. Let alone how many one has, in fact I'm pretty sure that they don't neuter or spayed them either, right? So my main question is this, isn't it against the law to refuse to let someone look at the animal they think is theirs? Because I'm really sure that the cat they have is mine for these reasons. The picture looks exactly like him, the age is almost close, but I know it's hard to determine the age of an animal, I know from personal experience, the time they got him was a month and 16 days after he disappeared, July 14 2016, he's natured, which I don't see a hoarder doing that's why most kittens are deformed,he has his claws, because I refuse to get them declawed, and he is also a male. What do you think?

A:

I suggest you retain an attorney in your area who may be able to intervene on your behalf. People are not required to allow individuals claiming to be looking for their lost pets in their home. If there is probable cause to believe that one�s cat is being unlawfully withheld, it is possible that a search warrant could be issued. People who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can also commence a civil lawsuit (replevin action) to try to get the animal returned. However, laws generally provide that animals in a shelter must be held for a specified amount of time to give their �owners� an opportunity to redeem them. After the impoundment period is over, �owners� generally lose rights to their animals (although there have been exceptions in extenuating situations). It is unclear if a shelter transferred the cat to this person after the impoundment period or if a person surrendered the cat to her or the cat was acquired some other way. People who suspect that animals are being neglected or otherwise mistreated should also contact the police and local humane organizations/SPCAs.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get cat back from my mom?
Q:

My mom has a cat that is under my name. But because I was sick for a little bit she has had it over a month . Am I allowed to get the cat back without the court? W hat are the steps?

A:

One�s right to remove a cat from the cat�s present location depends on the situation. There are issues of theft and trespassing that could arise in certain circumstances particularly when the parties have a different view about an animal�s �ownership.� A microchip registration is one indication of �ownership� but does not always prove �ownership.� If litigated, courts will consider the totality of the evidence presented, such as what transpired after the microchip registration (for example, was the animal sold, given away, abandoned, or boarded). I hope that you and your mother can work out the cat�s custody arrangement in an amicable way that considers the cat�s best interests.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can 501c3 Rescue sue adopter who sold adopted dog to 3rd party?
Q:

Hi! Our 501c3 rescue adopted out a dog. Adopters signed a contract that states should they not be able to keep him he is to be returned to our rescue. They sold him to a third party thus breeching our contract. Animal Control and police won't confiscate the dog despite him being microchipped to us. Can we sue adopter and third party and get our dog back?

A:

Animal rescue groups can sue to try to reclaim animals based on a breach of an adoption agreement. Whether a court will order an animal returned is another story as these cases get more complicated after an animal has been re-homed (in large part since the new adopter never signed the agreement with the rescue). Sometimes these situations can be resolved more amicably if the rescue and adopter work together (for example, the adopter provides veterinary records, etc. to demonstrate that the animal is being cared for in a humane manner which may allay the concerns of the rescue).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I help neighbor's neglected dog?
Q:

My neighbor built a nice enclosure in her back yard and stuck a lab in there for four years. He barked until he lost his will. I noticed he was malnourished and did not have fresh water or clean space. I turned her into AC who did check on the dog until he put some weight on. Then it happened again with the same intervention and outcome. She will not relinquish the dog. Sometimes she yanks him out and literally throws him into a kennel and closes the garage door. How can I help him?!?!

A:

Try also contacting your local SPCA and humane society and ask that they investigate. Photos can sometimes help to show abuse and neglect. Animal cruelty laws state that animals must be provided with necessary food, water, care and shelter. People who violate these laws may be arrested and the animals may be seized and forfeited (depending on the circumstances). While these laws provide a certain level of protection, they do not generally set specific standards of care so much is left to the discretion of the officers to determine whether a violation has occurred. When the law enforcement route does not work, it is worth noting that sometimes people will eventually agree to sell their animals if the price is right.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Adopter refuses to pay.
Q:

I recently adopted out a dog to a man who gave me a great story and I foolishly believed him. Long story shor,t the rehoming fee was $180 and they signed a contract saying they would pay it today. They have blocked my calls. I know because I've called from another number. Is there anyway to recoup my money?

A:

People who believe they are due money can sue. Small Claims Court is a user friendly and inexpensive venue to try to resolve small monetary disputes.< /p>
Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

Can previous owner take dog back?
Q:

I adopted 2 dogs 12/29 from a fb post that owner needs help and giving her 2 dogs away. Contacted her and I can take both to take care & love them. Going through grieving with my prev dog who passed Oct. Met them same night, she gave the dogs away, and I took them home. On 12/31 previous owner called taking back the dogs. What can I do? I am very distressed about this, I love the dogs.

A:

Generally when a person gives away his/her dogs, such person has no further rights to those animals, unless there was an agreement stating otherwise. Regrets do not equal rights.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Help give my dog his life back.
Q:

The City of Gurdon dog shelter has had my senior dog for months and won't give him back due to heart worms we had no idea about, but we take him to the vet when needed every time. The dog catcher of my town has had it out for my family and animals for years and would take our dogs and put them up for adoption knowing they are ours and have collars on. Now he has my family's dog of 15 years and says we have to pay about 600 dollars to get him back but we can't afford that and he's stuck in a small shelter scared! We're all he knows and loves and he doesn't have much time left but we can't figure out a way to get him bak home :( please help me and my family we love "Toby" so so much.

A:

I suggest that you try to borrow the money or quickly try to find a pro bono attorney (who will handle a case for free). Even if one can prove that an animal is being wrongfully withheld, the attorney�s fees and court costs could easily exceed $600. Also, these cases could take time.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Previous owners took dog back without refunding money.
Q:

So me, my partner, and brother-in-law went to pick an american bull dog up. Me and my partner paid £80 for her, and the following day they were asking for her back. My partner didnt have the chance to message back as he had to work, whilst my partner was in work they had gone to my brother-in-laws after contacting him about the dog to pick her up. We didn't tell my brother-in-law about paying for her as they were having financial struggles and really wanted a dog for his partner and their children. The previous owners had picked the dog up and not paid the money back. What can I do about this as my brother-in-law is devastated. Really, I would like her back.

A:

I suggest you consult with an attorney in your country. People who believe that their animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get the animal back. People can also sue for money if that is their preference.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can we put dogs up for adoption if there is joint ownership with ex?
Q:

I have a question about custody, however it's a bit different than the typical inquiries. My boyfriend adopted dogs with his ex girlfriend. His ex refuses to leave us alone and uses the dogs to continue to be connected. She'll say she's going to come pick the dogs up and keep them but never follows through. She's been told repeatedly that he cannot keep the dogs but refused to sign paperwork surrendering them and refuses to take them herself. Unfortunately, she's a bit crazy and we cannot continue to handle this in the relationship. The dogs are suffering as well. What process does he need to go through (certified letters etc) where he can be able to put the dogs up for adoption? Currently rescues will not take the dogs due to her having part ownership of them. Would there be a process that we can take on as she refuses to be responsive?

A:

Yes, this is a not a typical inquiry. Most custody related questions involve people who both want the same animal. It is certainly a shame that your boyfriend�s dogs are suffering. After all, your boyfriend did adopt the dogs and should be providing the dogs with humane care, even if the co-owner is not doing her part. Hopefully this situation can be worked out amicably but, if not, I suggest that your boyfriend consider retaining an attorney in his state who may be able to commence a legal proceeding for a declaratory judgment (asking the court to declare the rights of the parties). In the meantime, provide the dogs with a loving home. Failure to do so not only is inhumane but may also violate animal cruelty/neglect laws. Good luck!


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Who is responsible for cat bite after cat was given away?
Q:

I gave away a kitten with the areement I would take her back. Within a few hours she had bitten them. The police say I am responsible. How can this be true? at the time of the bite she was their cat.

A:

It is unclear why the police would be involved as this does not appear to be a criminal matter. Generally, a person who gives away his/her animal is not responsible for an animal bite that occurs after the adoption. However, if a person knows that an animal has a biting history (not including teething which is common with kittens and puppies) and fails to disclose it or lies about it to the adopter, a court might hold otherwise.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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