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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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Giving an adopted puppy away.
Q:

My husband adopted a puppy from an unlicensed facility in January & our 25 yr.old son passed away. It was too much to have a puppy & devote the time she needed while we were & still are grieving. So a friend of ours for over 22 years has taken the pup to keep her young dog content. They have a fenced in yard and are responsible pet owners. They original people that fostered the puppy liter is threating to sue us & she has called the police. I don't know if we can take anymore stress. Thank you.


A:

I am so terribly sorry for your loss. Although some adoption agreements provide that adopters may not give an adopted animal away without the consent of the adoption agency and that the adoption agency may reclaim animals for breaches of the adoption agreement, the police generally do not get involved in these types of disputes unless criminal laws pertaining to animal neglect/abuse are being violated. Also, most adoption organizations do not sue for breaches of adoption agreements as long as the animal is getting good care and is spayed/neutered pursuant to the terms of the adoption agreement. To relieve the burden on you, if at all possible retain an attorney who can handle any legal issues that arise regarding the dog.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Shelter adopted out my friends cat before the hold time was up.
Q:

My friends cat went missing Feb 14th and she has been searching high and low for him even calling the shelter every day to which they told her they had no black and white cats and if any came in they would call her. Well three days later I'm on petfinder.com and there is this cat that is a spitting image of her cat so I call her and tell her, she calls the shelter they are closed and she leaves a message. Not even ten minutes after she left the message the cat is pulled off the website, so she shows up at the shelter the next day and refuse her any information and give her the run around saying they don't deal with petfinder.com and that the cat could of been put down for behavior issues. Well my friend leaves and the manager calls, looks up the cat and says the cat has been adopted out. They are suppose to hold cats for seven days and it's only been four since her cat went missing. She said the cat was adopted out early because of some reason they won't tell my friend. Is there anyway she can get her loving family pet back? The shelter lied on numerous accounts and we have proof he was on that website.

A:

If shelters violate legally required hold times, there is the possibility that the animal’s “owner” can get the animal returned. That may take a lawsuit if the shelter and new adopter do not cooperate. However, consider that many cats look alike so there is the chance that the cat who was adopted out is not your friend’s cat after all. It is very important for people who lose their pets to visit local animal shelters every day.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My father has custody of my dog, how do I get him back?
Q:

I just moved from my father's home but he still has the puppy that I've raised for the past 2 years. I just moved in with my mom, is there any way for me to get my dog back? I can't speak to my father about it. My dog means the world to me and isn't treated well there. He has bad anxiety and I'm the only one he isn't scared of. I don't know what to do.


A:

Arizona’s law provides that if a court issues an order of protection, the court may “Grant the petitioner the exclusive care, custody or control of any animal that is owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by the petitioner, the respondent or a minor child residing in the residence or household of the petitioner or the respondent, and order the respondent to stay away from the animal and forbid the respondent from taking, transferring, encumbering, concealing, committing an act of cruelty or neglect … or otherwise disposing of the animal.” I suggest that if your mother is willing to take in the dog, she consult with an attorney in your area about getting the dog returned.

 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How long does a shelter hold a lost dog before they adopt him out?
Q:

My dog got out and fell into a pond and was rescued. 4 days later they adopt him out. How long do they really have to adopt your dog out? They wanted me to pay 300 dollar vet bill or I couldn't get my dog back. He was the family pet and they refused payments.


A:

Hold times at shelters vary throughout the country. West Virginia’s law provides that impounded dogs at shelters must be held for a minimum of five days (this gives“owners” an opportunity to redeem their dogs). The law states that if the dog warden knows who the dog’s “owner” is, the warden must immediately give notice to the “owner,” but if the “owner” is not known, the warden must post a notice in the county courthouse describing the dog, location where the dog was seized, and that the dog must be redeemed within five days. There may be local laws that address these issues so they must be checked out as well. Impoundment fees also vary. Animal “owners” who refuse to pay the amount due and  redeem their animals in a timely manner risk losing "ownership" rights to their animals. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your state regarding your specific rights under these circumstances.
 


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

A friend of my son's had a dog but she couldn't keep him; he was around 13 weeks old. She said my son could keep him and just had to pay for his shots which we did. I paid for his shots and his license. Now she says that her cousin gave her the dog wants him back; he will pay us for the shots or if we want to keep him we have to pay him $400. What can I do? We love the dog and I don't think it's right to give him away and then want him back.


A:

Generally when a person gives his/her animal away, he/she has no further rights to that animal, unless there is an agreement that states otherwise. Often people who give an animal away have a change of heart, but that does not change the legal consequences of their actions. When multiple people are involved in multiple transactions regarding an animal (son, son’s friend, son’s friend’s cousin, you) and there are no written contracts, the terms of all of the agreements can be unclear and subject to different interpretations. For example, did the friend “own” the puppy at the time the puppy was given to your son? What was the actual agreement between the friend and her cousin?  Sometimes in an effort to get a quicker and less costly resolution, these disputes are settled out of court. Any agreement should be in writing to avoid further conflicts.
 


Submitted by anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
If someone moves out but leaves their cat, is that illegal?
Q:

If someone moves out but leaves their cat, is that illegal?

A:

Massachusetts’ cruelty to animals law provides that it is illegal for a person having charge or custody of an animal to willfully abandon the animal. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can someone surrender a dog that doesn't belong to them?
Q:

Can someone surrender a dog that doesn't belong to them? I was living in a rented place and I couldn't bring my dog, and my family surrendered my dog. I just got a house and was able to bring my fur baby home, my kids love him dearly. I called the humane society and the officer told me since he was at my family members house for 6 months that makes the dog theirs. Is that true? Hope to hear back. Thanks

A:

Generally a person does not have the authority to surrender another person’s animal without the consent of the animal’s “owner.” There are exceptions to this general rule, such as when a person is declared legally incompetent and a guardian is appointed. However, sometimes circumstances are such that it is not clear who “owns” an animal. A court could (but may not) decide that an animal left with a family member for months was given away to that family member or abandoned. This is more likely to happen if the original “owner” was not paying for the animal’s upkeep or regularly caring for or visiting the animal during this time. If the dog is still at the shelter, consider trying to adopt him.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Does our landlord have the right to take my dog?
Q:

I'm a teenager from a split household and my dog lives in a house with my dad. The landlord said they were chasing my dog outside. Does the landlord have the right to take my dog and give her to one of his friends?

A:

Landlords who believe that a tenant is violating his/her lease can commence a legal action, not steal a tenant’s pet. Landlords do not have the legal right to take a tenant’s animal and give the animal away without the tenant’s consent (although there are exceptions to this general rule if, for example, a tenant moves and leaves an animal behind, in which case the landlord should take appropriate action to ensure the animal’s well-being).
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dog trainer refused to give me my dog back.
Q:

I rescued a dog from a private party. The dog was sent to a friend of mine who rehabs rescued dogs. She was supposed to return the dog to me after my current dog recovered from torn ACL surgery.  I received a private message from her telling me she was keeping this dog as she feels I can not handle her needs. I have the same breed of hunting dog at home currently. What legal action do I have to get my dog back?


A:

 Lawsuits for the return of an animal (referred to as actions in replevin) are sometimes brought when people cannot resolve pet custody disputes. Courts will consider the written agreement, if any, specifying the rights of the parties and other evidence to determine “ownership,” including evidence that would indicate whether the animal was given away, boarded, or abandoned. For example, courts may consider whether boarding payments were made, whether the person who left the animal for boarding visited the animal, and whether the animal was retrieved on or near the agreed upon time. While courts occasionally consider the animal's interests, they often do not.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Transfer papers were never filed, do we still have the rights to the dog?
Q:

We were giving a dog away, we signed transfer papers that were never filed by the other party. Now the other party is wanting to sell the dog. Since the transfer papers were never actually filed with the akc like they should of been, do we as the original owners have the rights to the dog due to the fact transfer papers were never signed? Do they have the right to sell the dog even tho ownership is not in there name?

A:

When a person gives his/her animal away, such person usually has no further rights to the animal, regardless of whether the new “owner” changed the AKC registration. While AKC registration, dog license, microchip, veterinary records, etc. are all indications of “ownership” and can be very helpful in an animal custody dispute, they do not necessarily prove “ownership” in all cases, particularly when the animal was subsequently given away or sold. New “owners” generally have the right to sell or adopt out their animals. Prior “owners” could attempt to purchase or adopt animals that they previously gave away or sold.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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