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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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How can I get my cat back?
Q:

Hi,  I'm in a desperate situation .... in a nut shell. .. I took in a very sweet stray TNR cat that kept coming around my house back in September 2014.  I already have 4 dogs and 4 cats. .(which includes the foster I just took in on May 17th  from NYC ACC at risk list) ....   so I never really intended to keep ---, not at this point anyway. My nephew was going to adopt her in Dec after he closed on his house ... the closing was stalled until Feb and at that time he told me that he was sorry but he couldn't take her (he was allergic to his girlfriend's cat after he broke out in hives).  I had mentioned to a friend of mine that I had been looking for a good home for her and I got a call from her out of the blue on June 2nd...on June 3rd  she came over to meet the cat decided she wanted her took her home in 40 minutes she was gone..... I've never rehomed an animal before and realized shortly after she left I had made a horrible mistake ... I love this cat and she was so bonded  to me.   I'm begging her to give her back to me but now she has cut me off completely she refuses and does not respond to my text or phone calls.   I'm devastated  and I feel like I betrayed her by giving her away.   My 5 yr old grandson is also very upset.   I've tried everything to convince this lady to give her back .... I understand her being angry and disgusted with me but I told her I'm only human That I made a mistake, I've never rehomed an animal before and i was absolutely heartbroken.  She won't budge. This is a well educated woman----She has access to so  many cats that she can adopt at the spca she volunteers at.   She sent me a picture of her and I can see in the picture that she was stressed (I know her very well,  her fur was visibly spikey, her sign of stress)  I told her that because she is FIV +, I believed stress was going to kill her.    But she's the expert (not) she's honestly a know it all, and cold hearted.  I've asked her twice in the past 7 days and she told her friend that this was insanity, and she flat out refuses and told her to stay out of it.
I do have proof I owned her as i have her rabies vac record.  I did not make her sign a contract .... I want her back ... I'm crying everyday .... can I sue her?  Do you know if I have legal standing?  I have her name and address. ... maybe if she got a letter from attorney she would change her tune?  It hurts me so much that she flat out ignores me.  
I had gotten my foster dog   from ACC death row only 2 days prior to all this going down so I think I was just overwhelmed and perhaps not  really thinking this through clearly  ...thought I could handle this and now I'm just beside myself ..... sad angry and mostly disgusted with myself. I offered to reimburse her any expenses and surely she couldn't be bonded in days 

A:

In a nutshell, you gave the cat away. Having rabies vaccination and other records for an animal does not negate the fact that the animal was given away. Many adopters will not return an animal for a variety of reasons, including consideration for the well-being of the animal. Consider that you said you never intended to keep the cat and that you didn’t. I hope the cat does well in her new home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Original owner wants dog back
Q:

I answered a dog ad that the owner had put up. We meet and he gave us medical records and other items. The reason about giving her up is because they are moving back to their home state and cannot afford and don't have the time to spend with her and also they are having a baby. Now it's been almost a week and he wants the dog back because he misses her. So now what?

A:

Generally when a person adopts out or sells his/her animal, such person has no further rights to that animal. The decision to give up an animal should not be taken lightly. People should consider this very important decision before, not after, giving away or selling an animal. It is unfair to the animal and to the adopters/purchasers when guilt ridden and regretful pet “parents” change their minds and try to back track


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have a legal case to sue?
Q:

There's the situation my dogs were staying with my dad and he died. The parametric said they couldn't remove the body till the dogs were gone or contained. My grandmother then sign a consent form to the spca to kill my dad's dogs and mine to remove the body. Without my consent they didn't even give me a chance to come remove them do I have a legal case to sue the spca or my grandmother?  Sincerely heartbroken.

A:

 I am so sorry to hear about your father and the dogs. If a person who signs an animal surrender document is not the animal’s “owner” or “owner’s” authorized agent, such person could be held liable to the animal’s rightful “owner.” It is possible an organization could be held liable in situations involving the euthanasia of an animal, but its liability is not as clear in situations where a person lied in writing to the organization about the animal’s “ownership.” Sadly, in some situations involving animals there is a lot of blame to go around. 

It is premature for anyone to make final disposition of animals found in a decedent’s home immediately upon the decedent’s death. Consider that the decedent could have made provision for the animals in a will or that someone in the will is named to take the decedent’s property (which could include animals). If the decedent died without a will, next of kin would normally have rights to the decedent’s property. Also, sometimes questions can arise regarding whether a decedent was the animal’s “owner” at the time of his/her death. All of this should be sorted out before final disposition of animals are made.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I get my dog back? Urgent!
Q:

Gave my dog in December to a friend I thought I could trust. The person has not been taking proper care of him. I have been checking on him and he has not been to the vet for legal vaccines. I took him yesterday, all the vet work is still in my name. He is legally mine. How do I get my dog back? I am pressed for time because he is moving to Tx. June 30. Please help me get my dog back!

A:

Generally when an individual gives his/her dog away, such individual has no further legal rights to that animal even if he/she still has vet records in his/her name (unless there was an agreement providing for specific rights to get the animal returned). When one suspects animal cruelty/neglect, local law enforcement agencies, such as a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA), animal control officer, and the police, should be contacted. However, it is important to keep in mind that failing to have vaccines would not typically constitute cruelty/neglect that would trigger seizure or forfeiture of the animal. Sometimes a new “owner” who has not bonded with an animal will agree to return an animal to the original “owner.” At times, the prior “owner” needs to purchase the animal in order to seal the deal (the new “owner” may consider that he/she fed and watched to animal for a period of time, akin to boarding, and should be compensated). The transfer of “ownership” should be in writing to help avoid future conflicts.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is this legal action enforceable by the breed rescue?
Q:

Adopted and paid for a 2 month old German Shepherd puppy. Signed adoption agreement and a spay neuter contract requiring spay between 4 and 6 months and provide proof. At the time we signed the agreement. Took puppy to vet to discuss spay. Based on updated info and UC Berkley study regarding health risks spaying large breed dogs before one year of age, our vet advised us against spaying her until one year of age. Breed org. told us they did not care what our vet said and they are  threatening us with possible law, suit, $1500.00 fee, breach of contract and seizure of our dog. We are stressed to the max. I did not say we would not spay our dog; just want to give her the best chance and not risk her health by spaying before it is recommended. Is this type of legal action enforceable by the breed rescue in Oregon?

A:

Courts have upheld animal adoption agreements. Many of these agreements contain spay/neuter provisions. The provisions I have seen require spay/neuter a lot sooner than one year of age. In fact, a lot of shelters and rescue organizations spay/neuter prior to adoption, and as early as eight weeks of age. In some areas, such as New York City, shelters must spay/neuter prior to adoption (with very limited exceptions). Note that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states on its website’s spaying and neutering page: “Keep in mind that, contrary to popular belief, it may NOT be best to wait until your female dog or cat has gone through its first heat cycle.” It also states: “Early spaying of female dogs and cats can help protect them from some serious health problems later in life such as uterine infections and breast cancer. Neutering your male pet can also lessen its risk of developing benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate gland) and testicular cancer.” 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Am I responsible?
Q:

My daughter was playing with her dog and he took off and running in the street got hit by a car. The person who was driving doesn't have car insurance ..my dog died. My daughter and I saw the tragedy...am I responsible? What happens I'm a renter...accident happen in a residential area...

Thank you

A:

I am very sorry for your loss. It is unclear whether you are inquiring about your potential liability if the driver sues for damage to his car or injury to himself, if you are questioning whether you  have a meritorious lawsuit against the driver for the death of your dog, or if you are asking if you are generally responsible for not supervising the dog, or all of the above. It is possible that a dog’s “owner” could be held liable for injuries and damage caused as a result of his/her unrestrained dog running in the street. It is unlikely that a driver would be held liable for hitting a dog that runs in front of the car (there could be exceptions if, for example, the driver is speeding, driving while intoxicated, or intentionally hits the animal). Renters with insurance should check with their carriers regarding coverage. 


Submitted by Ms. Ortiz
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back?
Q:

Me and my daughters dad got a dog for her for Christmas from a shelter and we paid 250.00 for him we had him for a year and in February of 2015 we lost our home. And became homeless so I asked my aunt to please take care of our dog so has had him since and now she is treating to take him from us and my daughter wants him back. How can I go about getting him back and do I have any right to.

A:

A lawsuit can be commenced if one believes his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld. When an animal’s “owner” places his/her animal in another person’s care, particularly for an extended period of time, the issue will be whether the animal was boarded temporarily, given away, or abandoned. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Keeping my dog
Q:

My daughter's friend gave us her dog about three months ago. Now they are making noise about taking her back.  We are very attached to our baby can they do that?

A:

Generally when an individual gives his/her dog away, such individual has no further legal rights to that animal. However, these situations can get more complex when minors are involved with the transaction. Nevertheless, three months is a long time so it would probably be difficult for even a minor’s parents/guardians to win a lawsuit for the return of an animal after this length of time (but that depends on all of the facts of each case). 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to return a dog?
Q:

My husband and I are living at an Extended Stay for a few weeks. 4 weeks ago, we observed a stray dog rummaging through the garbage and drinking from puddles, etc. We observed that dog for over a week, then one day, the dog came up to us. We decided to try to find its owner so we took it to the vet to see if it was microchipped (not chipped) and started checking all the local websites where people list lost pets. We also informed the management so they could send anyone asking to us. After a week, nothing happened, so we decided to adopt the dog and had it checked and vaccinated. 

After we had the dog for 3.5 weeks, someone in the complex recognized the dog when my husband was walking it, stating that they were watching it for another person and that person would return home the next day. However, they made no move to get the dog from us. My husband gave them our information--room number, etc.--and no one has come to us to get the dog.

At what point can we call this dog our dog? Now we are attached to the dog, and even though those folks are still in their room, they have not contacted us in any way.

A:

Who “owns” an animal is not clear in many situations involving a lost and found animal, unless the animal is held at a shelter and the “owner” does not redeem the animal in the time provided for in the law. In other words, there is not necessarily any one particular time where the finder of an animal can know for sure that a court would decide that he/she is the animal’s “owner.” Each case has its own facts and circumstances. Fortunately, most lost and found animal situations don’t end up in court. In circumstances where a dog’s “owner” can be identified (including where one has been informed that a dog was lost and the dog’s “owner” lives in the apartment complex), the finder of such dog may have a difficult case for “ownership” without first making proactive efforts to locate the “owner.” That could include, for example, contacting the dog sitter who lost the dog to get direct contact information for the “owner” and placing “found dog” signs in the complex. It could be that the people don’t want the dog anymore in which case a written transfer of “ownership” would be advisable to help avoid future pet custody conflicts


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can I do about an abandoned cat?
Q:

I had an old lady give me a 5 week old kitten that was left in a box on her door step. We met at my work and she gave me the kitten. No paperwork or legal adoption paperwork was signed. This was a private adoption in my eyes. I've had the kitten for over a week now and the lady keeps calling my work(not calling me or asking for me) and she is demanding her kitten back. I'm not up for giving her the kitten back. What can I do?

A:

Usually when a person gives away his/her animal, such person has no further rights to that animal. Thus, the recipient of the animal would generally not be under any obligation to return the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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