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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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Is it legal for a Vet to neuter my cat without consent?
Q:

Is it legal for a Veterinarian to neuter my cat without my consent when my cat was in for amputation on his right hind leg?

A:

Veterinarians who perform unauthorized procedures can be subject to disciplinary action by their state’s licensing board and also be on the receiving end of a lawsuit by the animal’s guardian. However, animal guardians are often required to sign a form when animals are admitted to a veterinary hospital. Sometimes these forms state that a veterinarian can perform additional procedures if the veterinarian determines such procedures are necessary for the animal. I suggest that you carefully read the form you signed. Since neutering provides health benefits and helps to curb pet overpopulation, consider that the neutering was an advantageous procedure. I hope your cat is doing well.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can we keep a cat we found that was microchipped but neglected?
Q:

We have seen a cat around our property for weeks now we thought belonged to a neighbor and was being let out to roam a little. Though we don't agree with this, we don't know who it belongs to so we didn't do anything about it.

Today the cat was curled up under our front porch and would not leave. We pet her and she is very sweet and tame. We took her to a local shelter to determine if she was chipped, and they stated though she is with another shelter, from her state of being (very skinny, matted under fur, nails) she appeared neglected, abandoned and on her own and they did NOT recommend we return her to these owners.

My husband and I agree but we think it's illegal to take someone's pet without permission as they are considered property in PA. However, we would be sick if we returned her and learned she was neglected further.

Can a chipped animal not be returned and released to people who will actually care for her properly? Again, we've seen her for weeks now and she was starving.

A:

A person who finds an animal in poor condition does not automatically gain “ownership” of the found animal. While it is possible that this cat was abandoned and neglected, it is also possible this cat was lost and is skinny and matted because she had been lost for a long time. It is unclear if the cat’s microchip registration is under the cat’s adopter’s name or if the shelter is listed as the cat’s “owner.” Some shelters have a policy of registering microchips under the shelter's name and also keeping animals registered under the shelter’s name (even after adoption) so that if the animal becomes lost, the shelter will know. These shelters (and other shelters too) sometimes have a provision in their adoption agreements allowing the shelter to reclaim an animal who has not been provided with proper care. Perhaps the shelter in this instance would consider reclaiming the cat and offering you the opportunity to adopt the cat. Also, when people neglect an animal, they may not want the animal. These people sometimes do not respond to microchip inquiries and when they do, they sometimes agree to give away or sell the animal.

If an "owner" of an animal found in poor condition can be identified, one may also choose to contact the local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, humane society, or other local agency with the authority to enforce animal cruelty laws, to request that they conduct an investigation. However, cases involving a found animal who appears neglected can be difficult to prove unless an animal is brought to a veterinarian soon after being found so that the animal’s poor condition and the longevity of the condition can be documented. I hope this all works out well for the cat.


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

When I was 17 I received my dog Tahoe as a gift from one of my close friends, Amanda. (At this time he did not have Registration papers.)

Around eight months later I turned 18 and decided to move out of my mother's home. The move was a rush and after much arguing with my mom about the matter I left without taking any of my belongings. I moved into a friend's home the next day and had her accompany me back to my mother's to get my clothes and other things I had left behind. (I decided not to ask my mom about taking my dog just then, seeing as I know it would only cause yet another fight.)

After a week had passed and I felt the situation between my mom and I had time to calm down we decided to have dinner together to figure everything out. That night I asked my mom if I could take Tahoe home with me seeing how he was mine and all. All she had as a response was no. I had no idea what to do, I didn't want to fight so I left it at that.

I am now in the process of registering him, I have a nice home, and a job to support him. I just am not sure how to go about getting him back? I love my dog to death and he's all I want, help would be so much appreciated.

A:

I suggest that you and your mother try to work out an arrangement so that each of you have time with the dog. Tahoe is lucky to have both of you to care for him. Licensing, microchipping, and registering a dog do not prove that one “owns” the dog, although they are considered as part of the puzzle, so to speak, when a court is determining rights. When determining who gets custody, courts will also consider who has been the primary caretaker for the dog, who has paid for the dog’s expenses, and whether the dog was given away as a gift or abandoned. Sometimes, courts consider the best interests of the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What action can I take against an ex-tenant who abandoned a cat?
Q:

I own a rental property in Bethlehem, PA. Recently a tenant moved out, but left her cat behind. Is there legal action that can be taken against this person?

Can you recommend any agency that will accept this pet for adoption?

A:

It is illegal to abandon an animal or to deprive an animal of necessary sustenance. I suggest you contact your local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA) and humane society to make a complaint against the tenant who left the cat behind. Hopefully, this tenant can be located and arrested. If you cannot find a trusted friend or family member to adopt the cat, I suggest you contact no-kill shelters and rescue organizations in your area to see if they can help to place the cat in a new home. I am happy you came to the cat's rescue. Best of luck!


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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
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