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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 considered abuse if a dog stays in a kennel the rest of its life?
Q:

I work at a kennel, and there are several dogs there that we have from a rescue. We are not allowed to play with these dogs, walk them or anything. They stay in the kennels inside or outside. That's it. If the dog has no chance to be adopted out, and lives its life in a kennel forever, is it animal abuse? It seems like it to me.



A:

Maryland’s animal abuse/neglect law provides, among other things, that a person who has “charge or custody of an animal” may not “unnecessarily fail to provide the animal with nutritious food in sufficient quantity, necessary veterinary care, proper drink, air space, shelter, or protection from the weather.” Sometimes the failure to provide a good life for an animal does not fall within the scope of the animal cruelty laws. When animal neglect/abuse is suspected, local law enforcement authorities should be contacted. Some rescues take animals who would otherwise be euthanized and place them in kennels while they try to find good homes for the animals. Have you considered speaking with a representative from the rescue group to find out what their plans are for these dogs?


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can Animal control take an adopted dog?
Q:

My brother in law found a dog who was abandoned. He located the owner and told him she no longer wanted the dog. Can animal control come and take the dog after he has already become attached and has given her a safe and loving home with his other dog who has also become attached? Animal control claims the dog belongs to the humane society.



A:

Some animal adoption agreements provide that if the adopter no longer wishes to keep the animal, the adopter must return the animal to the humane society that adopted out the animal. Despite these provisions, typically the humane society or animal control officer would not have the right to simply remove the animal from the third party (person who the adopter gave the animal to or otherwise allowed to keep the animal). Often, new adopters can work out an arrangement for transfer of name with the humane society. If the humane society is not satisfied with such an arrangement, it has the option to sue (but often does not unless there is genuine concern that the animal is being neglected or abused in the new home). I suggest that your brother-in-law consult with an attorney in his area who, hopefully, can resolve this situation in the animal’s best interests.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can the ASPCA spay my dog without permission?
Q:

My dad crashed his car and my dog was in there; the ASPCA picked her up. At that point they spayed and tagged her without my permission. Can they legaly do that without my permission? We live in Tulare County, Ca.

A:

Laws pertaining to the release of animals from shelters vary from state to state and even among municipalities within the same state so it is important to check with one’s local town attorney or clerk. Many spay/neuter laws require shelters to spay/neuter prior to releasing an animal (or at least require the payment of a spay/neuter deposit), but most of these laws pertain to animals being released for adoption, not animals being returned to their “owner” during the legal hold period (time which the shelter must hold an animal to give the animal’s “owner” the opportunity to redeem the animal). In California, the state law provides that shelters and rescue groups may not sell or give away any dog that has not been spayed or neutered (with limited exceptions, including requiring adopters to leave spay/neuter deposits). Spaying and neutering not only helps to curtail the serious overpopulation of dogs and cats, but also has health benefits for the animals. Laws pertaining to the release of dogs from shelters typically require the dogs to be licensed.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can ASPCA spay my dog without my permission?
Q:

My dad crashed his car and my dog was in there. The ASPCA picked her up. At that point they spayed and tagged her without my permission. Can they legally do that without my permission? We live in Tulare County, CA.

A:

Laws pertaining to the release of animals from shelters vary from state to state and even among municipalities within the same state so it is important to check with one’s local town attorney or clerk. Many spay/neuter laws require shelters to spay/neuter prior to releasing an animal (or at least require the payment of a spay/neuter deposit), but most of these laws pertain to animals being released for adoption, not animals being returned to their “owner” during the legal hold period (time which the shelter must hold an animal to give the animal’s “owner” the opportunity to redeem the animal). In California, the state law provides that shelters and rescue groups may not sell or give away any dog that has not been spayed or neutered (with limited exceptions, including requiring adopters to leave spay/neuter deposits). Spaying and neutering not only helps to curtail the serious overpopulation of dogs and cats, but also has health benefits for the animals. Laws pertaining to the release of dogs from shelters typically require the dogs to be licensed.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Police action against a pet sitter
Q:

My pet sitter lost my dog while I was out of state putting my mother in a nursing home. Can I file a police report? What legal action can I take against her? She doesn't seem concerned by this tragic loss. She hadn't even put up one single poster. My Izzy has been gone for a month. I think something is not right with the story she is telling me.

A:

The police generally take complaints regarding crimes so unless the facts indicate that a caregiver abused an animal or abandoned an animal in violation of the cruelty to animals or abandonment laws (or other criminal animal protection law), the police are not likely to get involved. A civil lawsuit may be brought for monetary damages (money) against a pet sitter or other animal caregiver whose negligence resulted in harm to or loss of one’s animal. I suggest you contact and visit local shelters. I also suggest that you contact animal control, the police (who in some areas maintain lost and found animal reports),  put up posters, and check lost/found online sites to try to locate your dog. Good luck!


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Woman refuses to return my dog.
Q:

I was traveling to China last month and left my dog with my parents. They lost her in our front yard and a women called them said she found the dog but she refuse to return my dog back. She thinks the dogs hair is too long and my parents could not taking care of my dog. Now she sent the dog to her parents!

A:

An individual who believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld can contact the police. While the police do not typically get involved in pet custody disputes between roommates and ex-partners/spouses, they are more likely to intervene when a stranger is withholding an animal (as possible pet theft). One can also commence a civil lawsuit for the return of an animal (generally referred to as a replevin action).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Friend refuses to take dog for surgery.
Q:

My friends dog has large mass. They took it to vet where they said it could be benign but looked to have small abnormalities. $398 to $597 to fix and with large margins won't comeback. I have had her dog insured for 2 years, and pay for the visits. It will cost her nothing. The dog seems to be uncomfortable. She says she's going to do nothing and just make him comfortable. He is only 8 and very healthy, and the vet even said he can get it all . Can I take her to court since the operation is paid by me, she will owe nothing. She is taking years away from him.

A:

Generally a dog's "owner" (and “co-owner”) must provide necessary care (including veterinary care) for their dog. Whether a person is a dog's "co-owner" or merely helping out the dog's "owner" is not always clear and needs to be decided on a case by case basis. Perhaps consider getting a second opinion regarding the need for the operation and potential risks vs. benefits. Animal neglect is against the law. In one New York case, for example, a dog’s “owner” was convicted of cruelty to animals after an investigation showed, among many other things, that she failed to provide care for her dog who had a large tumor (she did not show up for a veterinarian’s appointment for the purpose of determining whether the tumor was operable and no other medical treatment was sought).
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can dogs be taken away?
Q:

Can the pound take the owners dogs away? Can they get the owners in trouble if the dogs are not taken care of properly?


A:

There are animal cruelty laws in every state.  People convicted of violating animal cruelty laws may be fined and/or imprisoned. Depending on the circumstances, abused and neglected animals may be seized by the police and other officers with authority to enforce animal cruelty laws.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Negligent Vet
Q:

Hello,
    Do you know of vets who could look at the records?     
    I need confirmation from a vet that they did things wrong in order to satisfy the credit card company.
I am not disputing all of the charges because the ultrasound was done by a separate office within the facility.
    Molly went there Sunday Oct. 25, 2015. There is a list of things that they are guilty of.
    The vet said that if Molly's glucose was normal she was sending her home Wed. at 6PM. because they are doing more harm than good.
    Unfortunately I did not visit in the morning. I went every morning and evening but I decided to wait until 6 when she could come home.
    It took them weeks to send the records. They were emailed when I asked for them to be mailed. When they finally mailed them there were five pages less than in the email. I was told they sent all of them.
    They gave meds that I told them not to. Then changed to another one than has the same bad thing in it which causes loss of sight. Molly was petrified when I saw her Tuesday night and they did nothing.
    When I arrived about 5:10 to visit with Molly before they released her, they kept putting me off. I was persistent so was taken to a room and told the vet would be in to talk to me. After asking about 5 times how Molly is, the tech said told Molly was in cardiac arrest.
    They never did a cysto for instance and yet records dated Nov. 23rd, after Molly died. Also they took other blood tests that were impossible at that time.
    I wanted to discuss the entire bill numerous times. There were too many discrepancies. They insisted on being paid everyday. One night at 10:00 the vet asked me to pay more. I said I am not going to discuss that at night and will tomorrow when I come to get Molly.      
    Finally the administator emailed that she was taking off the amount due. That was for the day they killed Molly. She said that she was informing her entire staff not to have any contact with me.
    After that I was sent a notice of past due bill. After that I was sent a final notice that it was being turned over to a collection agency.
    All they ever cared about was money.
    I know a vet will be able to discern from the records that what they did was negligent. That is all I need to get a lot of my money back.


A:

I am very sorry for your loss. We do not maintain lists of veterinarians who review medical records for credit card challenges. Individuals who believe that a veterinarian’s negligence or other wrongdoing caused harm to their animal can sue the veterinarian for monetary damages (money) and can file a complaint with their state veterinary licensing board (in Arizona, the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board). Please note that the Arizona Board does not handle fee disputes, award money, or require veterinarians to refund money. Disciplinary actions taken by licensing boards are usually in the form of censures, monetary penalties, and license suspensions and revocations.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Lost cat possibly found and has a new owner, what can I do?
Q:

About a year ago my cat who was new to the outdoors followed me to the bus stop, and since then there's been no sign if him till now. He wasn't aware of his surroundings and easily frightened of cars, most the time he was inside the house. We couldn't afford to collar for him with our address, but he was healthy nonetheless. Someone from my school has a picture of a cat that is identical to mine on a social media website. This person probably assumed they were helping a poor cat, but that's not the case. If I show photographs of him, right before he left, and that person still refuses, what can I do?


A:

A person who believes his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get the animal returned. Courts may consider efforts made by the person who lost the animal to find the animal and efforts made by the person who found the animal to locate the animal’s “owner.” Courts may also consider the animal’s interests. Consider that your cat was let outside when, as you stated, “he wasn’t too aware of his surroundings and easily frightened of cars.” Fortunately, he was not run over or otherwise harmed.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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