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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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Pound repeatedly denied having my dog, then gave her away.
Q:

I have a Shih-Tzu that we took very good care of and loved dearly. However one day she got out of the house, while trying to find her we made several visits to the pound and they said that she was not there. By the 3rd visit they told me that she was adopted and there was nothing that we could do. But the last two times I inquired if she was there they told me she wasn't, when she clearly was. I live in WA state. What can I do? The pound is being less than helpful.

A:

Usually if animals are held at shelters for the legal time period, the original owner does not have further rights to the animal. However, courts have made exceptions in certain cases. In reaching its decision, courts may consider negligence or intentional acts which resulted in depriving a person of his/her animal. On occasion shelters are willing to contact the new adopter to explain the circumstances and the matter gets resolved. When a resolution cannot be reached, lawsuits are sometimes commenced for the return of an animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
If my dog became registered as an emotional support dog can our landlord still evict us?
Q:

I've had my dog for almost three years. He is very well trained. Before I got him I was very depressed and he brought joy to my life. But now my landlord is saying I have to get rid of him or we will get evicted. If my dog became registered as an emotional support dog can our landlord still evict us?????

A:

The Federal Fair Housing Act protects the right of people with disabilities, including emotional disabilities, to keep animals even if such person has a no-pet lease. Essentially, landlords must make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, and practices to afford a disabled person with the opportunity to enjoy his/her dwelling. To establish the need for the emotional support animal, it can be helpful for tenants to provide the landlord with a letter from a physician or mental health professional stating that such health care provider has been treating the individual for depression or other disability and that the animal will help such individual with major life activities, enable such person to better deal with his/her limitations, to more fully enjoy his/her dwelling unit, and improve his/her daily functioning.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2013 Notice on Service and Assistive animals, housing providers must consider whether the “mental impairment… substantially limits one or more major life activities” and whether the animal provides “emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability.” If the answers to these questions are yes, the housing provider must “provide an exception to a ‘no pets’ rule or policy to permit a person with a disability to live with and use an assistance animal(s) in all areas of the premises where persons are normally allowed to go.” There are limited exceptions to this rule when the particular animal poses a direct threat to the safety of others or would cause substantial physical damage, but these are difficult burdens and not easily used by landlords.

If the landlord does not give permission after receiving the documentation of disability and need for the emotional support animal, one can file a complaint with HUD (www.hud.gov) or 800-669-9777. Consider hiring an attorney who not only can help with the HUD complaint but can provide representation in the event an eviction proceeding is commenced.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What to do about bad breeder?
Q:

I bought two kittens from a breeder about a month ago. Right away the kittens were having health problems. I talked to the breeder about this, and she said she would take the kittens to her vet, and see what the problem was. Now the kittens are gone, she sold them to another family without my consent! And she won't give me a refund of the $1300 I paid for them! I don't necessarily want the kittens back as I don't want to take them away from another family, but I at least want my $1300 back. What can I do? Hiring an attorney can be expensive, do I have any other options on how to get my money back?

A:

Small Claims Court provides an easy and inexpensive means for individuals to commence lawsuits for relatively small amounts of money. Of course, one should bring evidence to court, including proof of payment. It is also important to carefully read the signed sales contract, if any, and to bring that to court as well. While many states now have pet sales laws which provide remedies to consumers who purchase sick dogs and cats, there are often exemptions for smaller breeders and time limitations to enforce the provisions under such laws. Nevertheless, the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) provides remedies to consumers who purchase goods (includes animals) from merchants (“person who deals in goods of the kind or otherwise by his occupation holds himself out as having knowledge or skill peculiar to the practices or goods involved in the transaction…”). Such remedies may include reimbursement of the cost of the animals.

There are so many homeless dogs and cats at shelters and rescue groups just waiting for a forever home. Adoption is the way to go.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I save my pit bull?
Q:

Hello, I have an American Pit Bull/Staff mix whom I bought at 3 months. She's 4 1/2 years old now and has never bit anyone in the family or outside. We also have a cat whom we had longer and they got along fine until we decided to get them both spayed. Ever since then they changed. My dog and cat went to fight and my sister got in the way and tried to grab my dog but my dog bit her and now I got reported. I'm trying everything in my power to not have her put down. I know it's difficult because she bit someone but she isn't malicious. How do I go about this? Nobody explained whats going on or who they called. Is there a way I can put her in a sanctuary or foster care unit until I find a place to bring her with me?  

A:

Under NYS’s dangerous dog law (section 123 of the Agriculture and Markets law) , dog ‘owners’ are entitled to attend a hearing to present evidence regarding the dog’s temperament and about the incident which gave rise to the dangerous dog hearing. There are certain defenses provided for in the law, including, for example, that at the time of the alleged bite the injured person was abusing or assaulting the dog or physically threatening the dog or the dog was responding to pain or injury. Of course, it is helpful in these situations when the injured person says that he/she was physically threatening the dog (even if inadvertently). Although spaying/neutering is very safe, perhaps there is a medical issue that caused the dog to act differently than before. It is possible such information could be helpful in a hearing. Check with a veterinarian. Also, under NYS's dangerous dog law, euthanasia can only be ordered in limited circumstances, including, for example, if the dog, without justification, caused serious physical injury or death. “Serious physical injury’ is defined to include “physical injury which creates a substantial  risk of death, or which causes death or serious or protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.” Some municipalities also have local laws which may differ from the state law (but must be at least as stringent) so it is very important to obtain copies of those laws as well. It is also very important in these situations (and really in all situations) for people to carefully review any documents presented to them to sign because at times people inadvertently sign surrender forms giving up all rights to the animal. In those instances, sometimes the animal is euthanized even if the animal would not have been declared dangerous or ordered euthanized after a dangerous dog hearing. Obtaining the services of an attorney can be very helpful.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it legal for "vet" to board a sick dog that was in pain for over 3 months?
Q:

Six year old poodle's owner died and vet took possession of dog. Boarded dog for 3 months. No one in family wanted dog. I adopted "Bodie" and immediately took him to my vet. He had to have TEN teeth extracted and was underweight. Also had a severe ear infection. When I asked why the dog's teeth had not been taken care of, I was told that the vet needed the owner's signature in order for anesthesia to be administered. The owner was DEAD. Was it legal for this "vet" to board a sick dog that was in pain for over 3 months? Certainly was not ethically or morally justified. Thanks for your response.


A:

It is illegal to deprive an animal of necessary sustenance although Florida’s cruelty to animals law states: “A veterinarian licensed to practice in the state shall be held harmless from either criminal or civil liability for any decisions made or services rendered under the provisions of this section. Such a veterinarian is, therefore, under this subsection, immune from a lawsuit for his or her part in an investigation of cruelty to animals.” Nevertheless, every state has a veterinary licensing board that accepts complaints about veterinarian misconduct. In Florida, one may file a complaint with the Board of Veterinary Medicine at: 850-487-1395 or online at www.MyFloridaLicense.com. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it legal/ethical to take my neighbors cat if its being neglected?
Q:

So I recently moved into a building and there is a cat here who is being neglected by his owners. His tail appears to be "dead" as half of it does not move and has lost all of its hair. He also jhas other patches of missing hair and open wounds. He is very friendly and I would like to take him to the vet and eventually take him in as my own. Is this legal/ethical?

A:

There is sometimes a fine line between helping an animal in need and pet theft. To play it safe (a decision each person has to make for him/herself), it would be advisable to contact law enforcement authorities, including your local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA). Many SPCAs enforce animal cruelty laws and have the authority to seize abused and neglected animals. Sometimes when animals are seized, the ‘owner’ surrenders the animal and the animal may be adopted. Other times, there are mechanisms in the law for the disposition of an abused or neglected animal either after the adjudication of the case or after a hearing to determine fitness of the ‘owner’ to care for the animal. Also, when people are very neglectful they may be willing to give an animal away or sell an animal. It sounds as if this animal needs immediate help. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is my neighbor responsible for the my dogs injury?
Q:

I share a yard with my neighbor. They have garbage and debris all over their side and my dog cut her foot on some broken beer bottles on their side when chasing a squirrel. Her vet bill was $340.00 and they refused to take any of the responsibility for it. Do I have any footing to take them to court for the vet bill?



A:

Small Claims Court provides an inexpensive and user friendly means to try to resolve disputes regarding small amounts of money. The amount one can sue for in Small Claims Court varies from state to state. One can sue in Small Claims Court in NY for up to $5000. Courts would likely consider that the dog was not properly supervised or that the dog should have been on a leash given the clearly dangerous conditions in the yard. If possible, I suggest installing a fence to divide the yard or that the yard be cleared of dangerous debris prior to letting the dog in the yard.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back that my cousin gave away?
Q:

I am an addict in recovery. During my recovery, my cousin invited me to his house to live. I brought myself and my dog. I relapsed, and I was brought to jail. During that time, my cousin said he called the Bondsman and they told him that I wouldn't be out of jail for another 6 months. So, he spayed my dog and gave her away to some of his friends. I got out of jail in 18 days, and when I contacted my Cousin, he said he gave my dog away. He refuses to tell me where my dog is. She is a trained hunting dog, and worth monetary value. Is there a way to get my dog back through the courts?

A:

If one believes his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld or was given away or sold without permission, one can sue to try to get the animal returned or to get financial remuneration. I hope your dog is doing well and that everyone considers what is truly best for the dog. Overpopulation of dogs and cats is a serious problem with tragic consequences. Spaying and neutering helps to control the overpopulation and also has health benefits for the animals.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back that my cousin gave away?
Q:

I am an addict in recovery. During my recovery, my cousin invited me to his house to live. I brought myself and my dog. I relapsed, and I was brought to jail. During that time, my cousin said he called the Bondsman and they told him that I wouldn't be out of jail for another 6 months. So, he spayed my dog and gave her away to some of his friends. I got out of jail in 18 days, and when I contacted my Cousin, he said he gave my dog away. He refuses to tell me where my dog is. She is a trained hunting dog, and worth monetary value. Is there a way to get my dog back through the courts?

A:

If one believes his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld or was given away or sold without permission, one can sue to try to get the animal returned or to get financial remuneration. I hope your dog is doing well and that everyone considers what is truly best for the dog. Overpopulation of dogs and cats is a serious problem with tragic consequences. Spaying and neutering helps to control the overpopulation and also has health benefits for the animals.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get reimbursed for vet fees caused by boarders negligence?
Q:

My yorkie was hurt badly while boarded. This happened during playtime with other dogs. He was in ICU for 6 days, etc. Bills were over $3000. They paid the first $1200 when he was first rushed to the ER vet but refuse to reimburse me the rest. How can I get reimbursed?

A:

Typically in a bailment arrangement, the bailee (party, such as a boarding facility, taking possession of the animal ) must exercise due care with the animal and return the animal unharmed. Some courts have found that the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary treatment should be awarded to an animal’s ‘owner’ after an animal was injured due to the negligence of the defendant. Other courts have limited awards to the ‘market value’ of the animal. In any such lawsuit courts will also review contracts that the parties signed (which may provide assumption of risk language and other provisions which the court may or may not enforce).
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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