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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 my family member surrender my brother's dog I'm caring for to the humane society?
Q:

I am caring for my brothers 5 month old puppy until he can move into his apartment. He and his two boys lost their apartment very recently and found another one, but can't move in for about a week. They have no place to put their puppy so asked me to care of her for several days. Another family member who lives in the same house said that they are going to call the police and humane society to remove the puppy if I don't get rid of it because he doesn't want the puppy here. Can this family member do this? He says the cops and humane society will take the puppy if I can't prove she has all her shots, and he is going to call them today and have them forcefully take the puppy. Will the cops and the humane society do this just because he wants them to? What are my rights? I don't agree to this and if they show up at my front door I want to know if they can take the puppy my brother is trusting me to care for until he and his boys get settled.

A:

The police and certain humane organizations have the authority to enforce laws pertaining to animal cruelty/fighting/abandonment and other laws pertaining to mistreatment of animals. Along with making arrests and issuing summonses, in some situations they can also seize an animal. Typically, the police and humane organizations will not seize a dog simply because a dog is not up-to-date on vaccinations. A person does not have the right to surrender another person’s animal to the police or humane society unless the animal’s “owner” has given permission to do so. If the family member you refer to states to the police or humane society representative that he is the owner of the dog, it is possible authorities would accept the animal from him. I suggest that you not leave the dog home with this family member when you are not there. For the dog’s safety, I also suggest that you contact your brother and try to make alternate arrangements for the dog’s care until your brother can move into his apartment.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I adopt my drug-addicted neighbor's dog?
Q:

My neighbor is a young kid, who is unfortunately addicted to crack. He adopted a dog about 3 months ago, was evicted a month ago, and had no where to take the dog. The dog was going to be taken to the pound when I intervened. I offered to take care of the dog, and have been doing so for over a month.

The sad truth is this kid will most likely not get well. I feel a moral obligation to not return the dog to him, as he is much happier and better behaved in the stability of my home.

What legal action can I take to adopt this dog, and keep it from a potentially harmful master.

A:

Animal adoption agreements sometimes state that the adoption agency may reclaim an animal if it is determined that there has been a breach of the adoption agreement. One can contact the adoption agency to discuss possible reclamation and adoption. If no such agreement exists or the adoption agency will not intervene, the situation becomes more complicated. The police and some humane organizations have the authority to seize an animal who has been abused or neglected and to prosecute the alleged perpetrator. This may not be relevant to your situation since you made no reference to the animal being neglected or abused. Sometimes, the defendant in these cases will forfeit rights to the animal, either by court order or as part of a plea deal. The animal may then be placed for adoption. Otherwise, usually one cannot adopt an animal without the consent of the animal’s “owner.” However, if a guardian has been appointed for a person, which sometimes happens when a person is incapacitated, there could be a mechanism to adopt someone else’s animal without the animal’s “owner’s” consent. Also, occasionally a disinterested pet “owner” is willing to sell his/her pet. The purchase agreement should be in writing.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Does my ex-girlfriend have any rights to my dog?
Q:

My ex girlfriend was taking care of my dog when I was out of town (we were still dating at that time) that was 10 months ago. Now I'm back & we broke up, she said she took care of my dog for 10 months & now it's her dog. Mind you the adoption papers are solely in my name. I got a house with a big yard & I'm a dog lover (I treat Diesal like my son). Does she have any right to keep my dog? She also has her own dog. I adopted Diesal because I wanted my own dog...Please let me know what to expect..Thank you

A:

The rights of parties in pet custody cases depend on the specific facts of each situation. Usually each individual has rights to property (and many courts still view animals as property) that each had when entering into the relationship. However, courts have to consider whether property has been given away or abandoned. In pet custody cases, courts sometimes will also consider what is in the best interests of the animal. All of these factors make it difficult to predict how a court will decide any particular pet custody case. Courts may consider who adopted/purchased the animal, under whose name an animal is licensed/microchipped, who has been the primary caretaker of the animal, and who has paid for the animal’s necessities when deciding who gets to keep the animal. If your girlfriend took care of the dog for ten months and during this time period you had no/little contact with the dog and you did not pay for the dog’s care, it is certainly possible a court could determine that you gave away your dog to your girlfriend. If a court believes that your girlfriend agreed to care for your dog for an extended period of time, then it is also possible that a court could determine that the dog should be returned to you. The bottom line---consider what is best for the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to return the dog I've been caring for?
Q:

If you have cared for a little dog who is now pregnant for 7 months and the owners have bought only one bag of food for the dog, do you have to give her back?

A:

Do you have a boarding agreement? The boarding agreement (whether verbal or written) should specify remedies if an animal is not redeemed in a timely manner. When the agreement is not specific as to those terms or there is no agreement, the rights of the parties remain unclear. Of course, verbal agreements are not preferable since parties may have different recollections of the agreement. In North Carolina, there is a law which states that if an animal placed in the custody of a veterinarian remains unclaimed by the animal’s owner or owner’s agent for more than ten days after written notice by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, is sent to the owner or owner’s agent, the animal shall be deemed abandoned and may be turned over to a humane society. However, the law is not that clear when a non-veterinarian boards an animal.

Sometimes, people are amenable to giving/selling their animals away to caregivers. This is particularly so when the “owner” has shown little interest in the animal for an extended period of time. There is a tragic overpopulation of dogs and cats. The “owner” of this dog should have this dog spayed by a licensed veterinarian as soon as possible.


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

Hello! I asked my friend to keep my dog for me but when I came back, he already took my dog to the pound. Please, how can I get my dog back?

A:

I suggest you contact the facility where your dog was taken. Perhaps if they still have the dog, they will return the dog to you. In these situations, shelters will usually require proof of ownership (such as dog license and/or veterinary records) before returning an animal. Sometimes, shelters will require individuals whose animals have been surrendered to complete an adoption application and will only release an animal if they believe the person would make a suitable pet “parent.” If the facility already adopted the dog to another person, your efforts to get the dog returned will be more complicated. Consult with an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my co-habitating brother-in-law take my dog to the pound?
Q:

So my family and brother-in-law share a house, we are both legal tenants. I have a German Shepard Dog,and my brother-in-law does not like him in the house,but my dog is my baby so I don't keep him outside all the time like my brother-in-law wants. His name is Adam,and Adam says that he will take my pup to the shelter without my permission if I don't keep him outside. Is this considered theft? He can't take him to a pound without my permission without suffering some sort of consequences, right?

A:

There are laws against theft. However, the penalties for stealing a pet are not as stringent as they should be in Texas to adequately deter such acts and to provide an appropriate punishment. Also, when family members are involved in an alleged pet theft (as compared to a stranger coming on to one’s property and stealing an animal), the police sometimes consider the matter to be a family dispute and will not get involved. When a pet is stolen, the pet’s guardian can also sue the person who stole the pet (if the identity of the thief is known) for the return of the pet and/or for money. Obviously the case gets more complicated if the animal has already been killed or adopted to another person. No amount of money can truly compensate a person for the loss of their beloved companion animal. While your brother-in-law may or may not suffer legal consequences if he takes your dog to a shelter without your permission, it seems as if your dog’s well-being is already in jeopardy. I hope you and your family reach a humane resolution to this housing situation so that your dog is not at risk of being surrendered to a shelter or harmed.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my coworker appeal a dangerous dog ruling?
Q:

My co-worker has a husky that has killed a cat, his first offense, and the dog is now deemed a dangerous dog. They have to pay an additional $1,200 a year on homeowners insurance or put the dog down. Is this legal or can they appeal?

A:

Virginia’s dangerous dog law provides that a dog who kills another dog or a cat can be declared dangerous. The law also states that a dog who was responding to pain or injury or was protecting himself/herself, his/her kennel, offspring, a person, or owner’s or custodian’s property shall not be found to be a dangerous dog. The law provides that the owner of a dog determined to be dangerous must do certain things, including, for example, obtaining liability insurance coverage or a ‘bond in surety’ in an amount of at least $100,000. The law also states that, “The procedure for appeal and trial shall be the same as provided by law for misdemeanors.” I suggest that if your co-worker wants to appeal, he immediately consult with an attorney in Virginia. There are time limitations to appeal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do we get my brother's dog back from a breeder who is falsely claiming neglect and abuse?
Q:

My brother owns a dog under breeders rights, meaning they paid a $100 for her and have a contract for her to have 2 liters for the breeder. Her first litter produced 10 puppies, which the breeder sells for over $1000 each. Now that she is on the verge of her second litter, the breeder is claiming that my brother's dog is being neglected and abused, which is 100% false. We believe it's a ploy to get 2 additional litters out of her. What can we do to get the dog back and stop this ridiculousness?

A:

I suggest that your brother consult with an attorney in his area who can review his contract with the breeder/seller and advise your brother about his rights. Some breeding contracts allow breeders/sellers to repossess animals they believe have been neglected by the purchaser. Purchasers who believe the breeder/seller acted in bad faith can sue the breeder/seller for the return of the dog or for monetary damages (value of dog, for example).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my friend get her cat back if she has vet papers?
Q:

My friend had gotten a stray cat and kept it in her bathroom for 2 days. She then brought it to the vet to get it tested because our mutual friend wanted to keep her. The tests cam back negative so the cat was given to the mutual friend. Well, now the mutual friend is trying to give the cat away and refusing to return her, despite my friend asking for her back. My friend still has the vet papers with her mother's name as the owner. Can we get her back?

A:

You should be checking with your local shelters, humane societies, police, and animal control officers to find out if someone reported losing this cat. Signs/posters with contact information should also be placed near where the cat was found so that if someone is looking for their lost cat, they will be able to locate her. If your mutual friend won’t return the cat to your friend who found the cat, then your friend who found the cat may choose to sue the “mutual” friend. However, the person who gives an animal away usually does not retain any rights to the animal unless there is an agreement which states otherwise.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I still have legal custody of a dog I gave away if the microchip is unchanged?
Q:

I had given my pedigree dog away approximately 2 years ago when she was 5 years. I gave this family all of her paperwork, vet records, computer chip information and pedigree papers. 2 weeks ago the dog ran away, almost got hit by a car on the highway. Someone retrieved the dog and called me cause the collar was never changed and still had my cellphone on it. The dog had no up to date tags on collar, no dog license, no rabies tag and the dog's toe nails were two inches long. I took the dog to the vet updated the shots and got the nails trimmed which will be a process over at least 6 weeks to get them back to normal. The computer chip was never changed and the dog is still in my name. I want to keep the dog since it was neglected. Who has the legal custody of this dog? Need to know ASAP please!

A:

As you clearly stated, you gave the dog away. The fact that a new “owner” does not change a microchip registration or a collar does not mean that such person has no rights to the dog anymore. Also, the fact that a dog’s microchip is still registered to a person who gave the dog away, does not mean such person still “owns” the dog. Since you gave the dog away two years ago, it is possible the dog has had multiple owners since that time. It is possible that the dog has been out on the streets for a long time which may account for the overgrown nails. It is possible the dog has been abandoned. There are too many unknown facts to determine the rights of the parties. If litigation is initiated, the courts will consider the evidence and make a determination.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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