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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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Negligent Dogsitter
Q:

I had someone stay in my home to watch my 2 little teacup yorkies.  Against specific instructions she took them to her home and while there her father took one of them out without harness or leash and let her go resulting in her getting killed by passing car. what are my legal options?

A:

I am so sorry to hear this tragic story. A pet “parent” can sue a caretaker when the pet “parent’s” animal gets injured, sick, or dies while in the custody of the caretaker and the caretaker failed to provide reasonable care to the animal. Worth noting though is that courts in New York have tended not to award substantial sums of money when a companion animal is negligently harmed or killed. This is because the courts have generally not considered emotional distress or loss of companionship in these cases (although there have been a few noteworthy exceptions and perhaps there will be more). NY courts have typically considered the market value of the animal and have awarded money for veterinary expenses. Courts may also consider whether the animal had special training and special traits in determining the animal’s value.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Gave my dog to a friend
Q:

My boyfriend and I adopted a second dog-  took ---- home and our dog would attack her on and off all night long. I decided this wasn't going to work. I didn't want to take ---- back. Instead I told my friend about her. After a big talk and pictures shown, she took ---- home, I gave her all the paperwork and instructions on how to change contact info to her name etc. Months later I get a call from Animal Control. --- ran away. ----said she went to pick ----up and they refused to let her because of how ---was acting towards ---- husband. Months later I wanted to make sure --- was able to get back with -----, apparently ---- is with another family and happy. However, I got told recently that ---- never picked ----up from Animal Control. I don't have any of --- information because I gave it all to ----. I just want to make sure ---- is okay and that our names are no longer connected to her. What should I do? Can you help me? Thanks

A:

 I suggest you contact the animal shelter that you adopted the dog from, the dog licensing agency in your area, animal control, as well as the microchip registration company, if applicable, to inform them of your “ownership” status. While it is understandable that an individual would want to get information about the well-being of a dog he/she gave away, there is generally no legal obligation on anyone’s part to provide such information.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Legal Ownership
Q:

Hello,

My dogsitter has now decided that the dog belongs to him and refuses to return him to me. He stole the papers that I had. However, my name are on all of those papers, and my name and information is on the microchip in the dog's skin. Does that make me the legal owner? I am taking him to a small claims  court to argue the issue and I need to know exactly what makes me the legal owner.

Thank you!

A:

 Dog registration papers, microchip registration, a dog license, and veterinary records are indicia of “ownership” but they don’t necessarily prove “ownership” in all cases. Just because one’s name is still on an animal’s papers does not negate acts taken thereafter, including, for example, giving an animal away or selling an animal. The court will consider the totality of the evidence presented and make a determination. I suggest that people confirm with their local Small Claims Court that the court handles replevin actions (return of property, including animals) since in some states only lawsuits for money can be brought in Small Claims Court. 


Submitted by Katie
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can I do to keep the dog?
Q:

My ex and I recently split. I've been caring for his dog for over 8 months. Even when she was with him he could not afford to buy food for her as well as his child. I flipped the bill because i did not want to see the dog or his child starve.. I picked up the dog a few months a go and still have her. After further examining her skin I realized that she had not been properly bathed or cleaned in a very long time. He works out of town 14 days out of the month and has a week off. He sends the dog to whoever will take her and then spends a week with her.. When he leaves she does not eat, she suffers from awful separation anxiety. But since she's been in my care I've scheduled shots and to be spayed. She's been clean, eating healthy and happy.. He has no papers to prove that the dog is his. I don't want her to be neglected anymore. I love her with all my heart but there's more to caring for a dog than just being able to feed and have a home.. She seeks attention because she hasn't been getting enough. It's heartbreaking. What can I do to keep her? He left her in my possession and I do not want to give her back. I've finally estaished a healthy routine and trust that she will not be left alone anymore..

A:

When a person leaves his/her animal in another person’s care for months without paying for the animal’s care, a strong argument can be made that the animal has been abandoned. Also, sometimes in these situations the person who left the animal doesn’t want the animal and that resolves the issue. Occasionally, the original “owner” is willing to sell the animal to end a dispute. Ideally, there would be a written transfer of ownership agreement. At times, the original “owner” contacts the police and alleges theft so the caretaker who believes an animal has been abandoned or gifted should be prepared to present a cogent argument on these points and have an attorney ready to call. A dog license, veterinary records, and microchip can be helpful indicia of “ownership” but it is important to keep in mind that even if one gets a dog licensed and microchipped and brings the dog to a vet, that may not be dispositive regarding “ownership.” Courts will consider other evidence which may demonstrate that an animal was sold, given away, abandoned, or neglected.


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

I left my parents home at october 2014. I left for reasons of abuse. I want to get my dog bs ck. I received her when I was a minor so she is under their name. She was a gift for my birthday. she isn't under my name but she is my baby. I just want her back .

A:

You will likely have a difficult case. I suggest you try to work this out with your parents. If that is not possible, consult with an attorney in your state.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Neighbors repeatedly report my pets
Q:

Last year owner of the next door empty house reported me to Baltimore city animal control and verbally harassed us. He even made up that he cannot sell the house because of alleged stench from my pets. Thanks to me being responsible owner, with all 5 cats (they're indoor) and a dog properly licensed and vaccinated I did not have problems when animal officers inspected my home. They concluded that animals are well taken care of, as well as that home is very clean and that they will enter their findings into the system. I am also thankful for the help from our neighborhood association as well as from the police where I reported his aggressive behavior. 

Today, almost a year after, I received again animal control letter stating that: I do not have licenses, or rabies vaccines, and that I do not clean dog's feces in my yard and when I walk. I will call officer within 48h as requested to discuss the issue. They do not have any legal base to charge me with anything. However, here is the question: For how long I do have to put up with this type of harassment? There must be a legal recourse for false accusations and for constant infliction of emotional pain. It is hard to find lawyer, not even mention pet lawyer. I do not have much money either. Where I can go for help? I need to know who has reported me this time, so I can handle this issue legally. I also want to advocate for the law change: animal control already knows me as a responsible owner who is possibly on a target because of discrimination (I am not born in USA). Responsible owners should have been excluded from repeated inspections just because vicious neighbors are calling 311 for almost anything. Please propose me some steps for the resolution. I am trying to not to take this personally, but it's hard. Thanks

A:

Just because an animal control or other law enforcement officer determines after an inspection that an animal’s “owner” or custodian is not violating an animal related law does not relieve these officers of their responsibility to investigate when another complaint is made in the future, particularly a year later. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Found my missing dog in a rescue
Q:

My sister's pure blood basset hound has been missing for a few months. A friend on Facebook told me about her friend that had taken a basset hound; that she had found, to a rescue that looks exactly like her; spot for spot, and we have sent pictures, the registration papers, and vet records to the rescue and the rescue even took all her picture off of the Facebook website .  We have proven that the dog is ours thru pictures, and now they are changing their story about how they got her; they said that she was a stray, but now they are saying that her owner gave her up cause they could not afford her. The rescue will not allow us to come and confirm that she is our dog. They also have refused to give us a phone number, nor a location to where they are located at, and they will only respond thru email. Is it legal to not allow us to come and confirm visually that the dog they are portraying is our dog that went missing?

A:

An individual who believes his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue. It is possible a court would order a rescue to produce an animal but that would likely depend on various factors, including, for example, evidence on how the rescue acquired the dog (owner surrender or as a found animal), how long the dog was held (there are laws requiring shelters to hold dogs for a specified amount of time to give “owners” of lost dogs an opportunity to redeem them), and evidence that the  person alleging to be the “owner” of the lost dog might really be the “owner” (many purebred dogs have similar features so unusual markings may be considered as well as the time when and place where the dog was lost and found). If the rescue no longer has the dog, that could greatly complicate the case. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Cat Bathroom Issues
Q:

I adopted a pet from an ad website. When we asked about any issues the cat had they only said he chews string. We have come to find out that he poops and pees EVERYWHERE. They are refusing to take the cat back. Can I sue them for the damages?

A:

While people sue one another for all sorts of things, I doubt that a court would award damages in a lawsuit because a newly adopted cat relieves himself all over. First, consider that cats are very sensitive animals and often need time to adjust to their new homes. During this transition period, cats may not act as they have acted before. Second, I strongly suggest that you consult with your veterinarian to make sure there isn’t an underlying health problem that is causing the cat not to use the litter box. A veterinarian and perhaps an animal behaviorist may also provide guidance on how to resolve the bathroom problem. I hope this works out well for all of you.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dog missing after adoption
Q:

Can you get a dog back after adopting him out with the agreement that you would be apart of his life and have been cut off and now dog is missing, what can I do to get information to find him? The people that had him have lied about many things even making up people I am concerned about dog fighting as he is a pit bull mix.

A:

You have every reason to be concerned. However, an individual who gives an animal away generally has no further rights to that animal (unless there is a contract that provides specific rights). Even when there is a contract it can be very difficult to enforce a return provision, particularly if the contract is not in writing since disputing parties often provide different versions of the agreement. Getting an animal returned when the animal is allegedly missing is that much more difficult.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I sue for refund of cost?
Q:

I got puppy who had coccidia and c diff from breeder. Extreme diarreah Breeder kept saying just nervous. Now I am sick! Gave puppy back and she refused refunding me. Can I sue for refund of cost and vet bills and my medical care?

A:

An individual who believes that he/she was sold a sick animal can sue the seller (although it is often less expensive and less time consuming to try to try to settle these types of disputes). Success in such a lawsuit is dependent on various factors. Florida’s pet sale law provides remedies to persons who purchase sick dogs or cats from pet dealers. One of this law's provisions states that if within 14 days following the sale by a pet dealer a licensed veterinarian certifies that the animal was unfit for purchase due to illness, the purchaser can return the animal and receive a refund and reimbursement for reasonable veterinary costs related to the veterinarian’s examination and certification that the dog or cat was unfit for purchase. The law provides for other remedies for purchasers who want to keep the animal and get reimbursed for veterinary care to treat the animal (up to the purchase price) and for purchasers who want to exchange the animal for another animal. There are also provisions providing for remedies in the event the animal has a congenital disorder which adversely affects the health of the animal or if the pet dealer misrepresented the breed, sex or health of the animal (where the purchaser has one year from sale to attempt to exercise rights under this law). The law defines “pet dealer” to include any person or other entity (but not animal shelters) who “in the ordinary course of business, engages in the sale of more than two litters, or 20 dogs or cats, per year, whichever is greater, to the public." In addition to specific laws addressing pet sales, another law (Uniform Commercial Code “UCC”) may be relied on by consumers who purchase an animal from a merchant. Purchasers can have greater latitude under the UCC since the time frames provided in the pet dealer law may not apply. For more information, contact the Florida Department of Consumer Services. Also, unless one can prove that the pet dealer knowingly sold an animal with a disease that is contagious to humans, it will probably be difficult to get an award for one’s own medical expenses. Additionally, many sales and adoption contracts specifically state that the seller/shelter will not be responsible for any injury, sickness, etc. caused by the purchased or adopted animal. I suggest you contact a personal injury attorney in your state if you want to pursue this matter. I hope the puppy does well and is placed in a humane forever home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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