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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 reclaim a kitten I gave away?
Q:

Hi! I have a question. I gave away a kitten, but we miss her so much and we feel like we lost a family member. Can I reclaim her back 3 weeks after we gave her away to someone on Craigslist.
Thank you much!!!

A:

Generally, an individual does not have any legal rights to an animal he/she gave away, unless the agreement stated otherwise. Occasionally, new adopters are willing to return an animal. However, if the new adopter has already bonded with the animal or is concerned that whatever caused the person to give the animal away will happen again, the new adopter would probably be less inclined to return the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Why did police take my dogs away with no warning?
Q:

My dogs were taken away from me today because the neighbor made a complaint today about my pit mix and my border collie. I had the choice to go to court over it all. They complained that my dogs were attacking their kids. They never once said anything to me about it. I just want to know what my rights are and what I can do. Why did they have to be taken away from me with no warning?


A:

You should retain an attorney immediately. If you cannot afford an attorney, I suggest you contact humane societies in your area which may be able to advise you on procedures to preserve your rights and your dogs’ lives. It is also generally advisable for individuals whose dogs have been seized to immediately inform those responsible for seizing the dogs and the facility where the dogs are being sheltered that he/she wants his/her dogs returned. Generally, dog ‘owners’ whose dogs have been seized for allegedly being dangerous are entitled to a hearing before disposition can be made of the dogs. However, there are often time limitations to exercise one’s rights so it is very important to act quickly. Also, various localities in Missouri (and elsewhere) have very ill conceived laws to ban pit bulls. Some breed ban ordinances have been challenged successfully.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it legal for police to take my dog after one false complaint?
Q:

I own an 11 month old female Pit Mix. This late afternoon a few Law Officals came and took My Dog. Apparently they had gotten a call saying, "my dog was getting beaten", so they instantly just take her...? I feel this is very Wrong of them to do considering it was ONE phone call from a known individual who is constantly finding ways to harass us. I would like to know what I can do about this. Thank you.

A:

I suggest that you hire a criminal defense lawyer. Law enforcement officers have the authority to seize abused and neglected animals although sometimes a warrant is required. I hope this all works out well for the dog and that she is always treated with kindness and respect. Cruelty to animals is not only morally wrong but is also against the law.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it legal for a dog owner to get his dog back after the dog has been gone for over a year?
Q:

Is it legal for a dog owner to get his dog back after the dog has been gone for over a year?

A:

The right of a dog’s ‘owner’ to get his/her dog back depends on the facts and circumstances of each situation. For example, if a lost dog was in a shelter and held for the legal time period before being adopted, usually the original ‘owner’ would lose rights to that animal. However, in exceptional situations (such as Hurricane Katrina) where animals were taken all over the country and their ‘owners’ were not able to track them down for a long time, courts have sometimes ordered the animals returned. If a dog was lost and found (but was not taken to a shelter) courts may look at the efforts the original ‘owner’ made to find the animal and the efforts the finder made to locate the dog’s ‘owner' (as well as how long the animal was missing and how long the finder had the animal). If an animal was not lost but given away or sold, the original ‘owner’ generally would not have a right to the return of the animal, unless there was an agreement providing for the return under certain circumstances.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is there any way a micro-chip would not show on a scan of a dog?
Q:

I found a dog and contacted Animal Control, and a lady who had a missing dog in the same area that looked the same as the one we had, but hers had a micro chip and this one did not. We had him scanned multiple times all over. She is now changing her story and harassing to meet me, and everyone even the police are telling her we have documents saying he is not chipped and a lot of terriers look the same. And the police officer said to send a picture of the dog of any view. The one we sent was sort of blurry and of the face, and she is claiming it's hers. Now we are going to court, to get her to realize he is not hers. We are going to adopt him, we already got tags for him. Is there anyway he could be hers even though she said hers had a chip and is now changing her story?

A:

Hopefully through photos, veterinary records, DNA testing (may or may not be possible), and more microchip scans the identity of the dog can be determined. Microchips are a very important means of identification but, as with most things in life, are not completely foolproof. If a universal scanner (one that can detect chips from different companies) was not used, or if the microchip migrated, or if the person scanning did not use proper techniques, it is possible to miss a microchip.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my daughter take cat back after two years?
Q:

After a year of my daughter owning a cat, she asked us to take her cat for a "few weeks" due to an apartment/no pet issue. This turned into months and eventually two years.  She had numerous opportunities to take her over the following two years and did not. Now she wants her cat back after we have been taking care of her, gotten attached to her, and our children have become attached for two years. Any advice?  She is threatening to call the police.

A:

The police usually will not get involved in family disputes regarding the custody of a companion animal. One can also bring a civil action for the return of an animal. In addition to considering any contract between the parties, courts may consider the length of time the animal’s ‘owner’ left the animal with another person, who paid for the animal’s care, and what interaction, if any, the original ‘owner’ had with the animal during this time. Sometimes in deciding who should get custody of an animal, courts consider the best interests of the animal. I hope you and your daughter can resolve this situation in a manner that is best for the cat. In some ways this cat is very lucky. There are so many homeless cats just waiting for a loving home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can we sue Vet whose misdiagnosis almost killed our new puppy?
Q:

My boyfriend and I adopted a puppy Saturday June 28th. We drove from Rhode Island to Virginia to pick her up. When we met the women we were adopting the puppy from, she had told us the last few days the puppy was having trouble eating and her stools were very black. Upon noticing those characteristics with the puppy, the women had brought her to the Vet on the morning we were suppose to pick her up. The woman we adopted the dog from reported the Vet had told her the puppy may be trying to fight a possible virus and gave her some pills to take twice a day. We monitored the puppy on Sunday and saw she was alert, but very mellow. We took her to our Vet Monday June 30th and learned this puppy was infected with Hook Worm and was anemic. The puppy was immediately hospitalized for 24 hours. Now she is a completely different puppy. Had we not took her to our Vet and kept her on those pills...she would have died. We are now stuck with a hospital bill for a puppy we believed was healthy. Can we sue the Vet who administered the original medication to the women we adopted the puppy from?

A:

It is highly unlikely that a court would order a veterinarian to compensate an animal’s new ‘owner’ for alleged malpractice/negligence that occurred prior to the new ‘owner’ purchasing the animal. Sometimes the seller of a sick animal may be held liable.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My lost dog may have been adopted by a Facebook friend at a local shelter.
Q:

I lost my dog a month ago and none of my efforts to find him have brought him home. Last night a Facebook friend tagged me in a comment of a picture of a dog that looks to be mine that is currently at a rescue center. I commented and stated that the dog looked like my missing pet and asked how to obtain more info. They responded and asked me to message them a picture and information. I did as requested and they messaged back asking for more details. I again complied and asked of I could see the dog to verify if it was him. The next message I received from them was informing me that he now belonged to them because they obtained him from the local shelter. I responded that I would have no problem adopting him I just want him home and again asked if I could see him to verify. Again I was denied. My question is, what rights do I have as the possible owner of this dog? I don't understand why they asked me for details and then denied me verification if it was my dog or allow me to see him. Thanks for your time.

A:

Generally, when an animal is not reclaimed from an animal shelter within the time prescribed by law, the animal’s ‘owner’ loses rights to the animal. Nonetheless, rescue groups and shelters will often work with prior ‘owners’ in an effort to reunite the animal with his/her family (unless the rescue group or shelter believes that an animal was abused or neglected or the animal has already been placed in a new home). I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I stop my neigbor from taking our cat?
Q:

Our neighbor keeps on letting our cat into their house after we have repeatedly asked them not to. We adopted our cat from a shelter and think he was an outside cat prior, so he doesn't like to stay inside much. Is there any legal action that I can take if they keep on taking our cat? Or would the police be able to do anything?

A:

Oftentimes, these situations arise when a good natured neighbor is concerned that an animal outside and unsupervised is not getting proper care. It is safer for companion animals to be indoors or outdoors with supervision. Consider that far worse things could happen to an unsupervised companion animal than being temporarily let into a neighbor’s home (such as being hit by a car, abused, harmed by another animal, stolen, etc.). The police typically will not get involved in these types of disputes unless they believe an animal has been stolen or abused. However, if an animal is outdoors in violation of local leash, license, rabies, and other laws, law enforcement authorities may issues summonses to the animal’s ‘owner.’
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can someone take dog back after leaving it for 3 years?
Q:

If someone left their dog with me because they had no place for them when they moved, can they legally get the dog back after almost three years? They've made no effort, until now, and I am very fond of the dog, and don't feel I should have to give her up, especially when no agreement was ever made that I would "take care" of the dog until this person had a place to keep her?

A:

In determining if a person is entitled to the return of a dog who was left in someone else's care for an extended period of time, courts would likely consider terms of a contract, who paid for the animal’s care, interaction between the original ‘owner’ and the dog, and may consider the animal’s best interests. Three years is a long time in the life of a dog and courts may be very reluctant to order an animal returned unless there is evidence that there is a boarding agreement still in effect.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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