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by
Elinor molbegott

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Below are Q&As on all topics 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.

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What legal rights do I have against Vet who won't return dog and Orphanage who sold me a seriously ill dog?
Q:

Good afternoon... I adopted a dog from a "pet orphanage" a month ago, when I brought him home he was completely fine... but it's been a month now and he got extremely sick overnight, started throwing up so much until it was nothing but water. Took him to the vet immediately to find that he has diabetes, stomach problems, and an infection in his blood. NONE of this was disclosed to me when I adopted the dog... there was a document of what was done on him before we received him.. an xray (they thought he swallowed a cotton ball), treatment for his eye... the document said he has an eye ulcer but this document was not given to us until my mom demanded paperwork after visiting the vet. They merely told us he was being treated for an eye infection... but he has a chronic eye ulcer, his eyes are almost always watery and have discharge... Now the vet is threatening me and saying that if I don't pay the bill he is going to treat my dog and give it to a different home... which is freaking ridiculous to me... why not treat it and give it to me? To a home he already has? I was not disclosed this information when I adopted him, which I believe is illegal... what if I'm not capable of paying for such vet bills... what did they expect me to do with the dog? Had I known he had so many problems, I wouldn't have took on the responsibility because I'm not financially capable of it... My 2 main questions are: Can the vet give my dog away legally, if I can't pay the bill? And if so, what if I send my boyfriend to go adopt the dog. It's a different family.. why does it matter who it is... if his concern is to give it away to a different family? He has his own place with his own name. Second question, where do I stand with the pet adoption place? I am planning on taking the vet bill to them and telling them to pay for it because it is THEIR responsibility since they did not disclose this information. Had I known and agreed to accepting the sick dog, I would not have blamed them... but they reassured my mom several times that the dog had been checked and was healthy.. and he seemed healthy... but he's only a puppy... and the vet said that it's rare for a puppy this age to have diabetes... so it didn't happen overnight, you know? Also... they claimed to have had the dog for 2 months before we adopted him... and if that's the case, how did they not know he had diabetes... he is tremendously ill because of lack of insulin that he needed to be given... they potentially almost killed the dog, had I not took it to the vet on time. Also, on the documentation, it did not say diabetes on the "special needs" section... which is the reason that section exists, for cases like this. If they refuse to pay the vet bill, I am going to sue them for the adoption fee they charged me ($270), the $700 vet bill, and money to pay for his treatments, AND emotional distress... do they understand the situation they have placed my family and myself in? We love this dog, but we don't have the opportunity to pay for all of these treatments... and that's not even the main issue... if it was only diabetes, I wouldn't be concerned... but the dog has extremely elevated neutrophil levels and lipase levels... he is suffering from stomach issues and an infection... I don't know if this is chronic or due to the lack of insulin.... please write back asap, I am on my way to the vet in an hour....

A:

I hope you are able to work this out with the veterinarian and the orphanage. There is an abandonment law in California that provides that if an animal is not retrieved within 14 days after the animal was due to be picked up, the animal is deemed abandoned. After being deemed abandoned, the veterinarian is required to keep the animal for 10 days while trying to find a new home for the animal. However, very important to note is that the California Veterinary Medical Association’s website states, “One contingency, however, is that if the owner attempts physically to retrieve the animal or otherwise contact the veterinary facility, or give notice of intent to retrieve the animal within the initial 14-day period, even though the veterinarian’s bill has not been paid, the animal cannot be considered to be abandoned.”  The responsibilities of animal rescue organizations are largely dependent on what their adoption agreements provide. Most rescues really try their best to have animals evaluated carefully before adoption and some rescues will help with veterinary costs but that is done on a case by case basis and sometimes also depends on the availability of funds.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What are our legal rights in keeping dog that Aunt gave away?
Q:

My husband and I were given a dog by his aunt, it was her adult son's dog. He had left it at her house, but she could not keep it there due to her lease allowed no animals. We came and got the dog and she made it clear she did not want it back and we could even give it away if we needed to. We did not give him away we are very attached to the pup, have vetted him and purchased food and items for him. Her son after 2 weeks texted and wants the dog back and is threatening us with court. What is our legal rights in this situation? We talked to his mom and she advised she gave him $1200 for the dog also. Now she is telling us to give the dog back.


A:

When an animal is given to someone as a gift, the person giving the animal away usually has no further rights to that animal. However, if the person who gave the animal away had no legal right to do so (for example, such person did not “own” the animal), then the rights of the recipient of the animal may be trumped by the rights of the actual “owner.” If the aunt in the scenario you presented purchased the dog from her son (by paying $1200 for the dog) before giving the dog to you, her son may not have rights to the dog anymore--- since he no longer would have been the dog’s “owner” at the time the dog was given to you. However, often people have different versions of the facts (so the aunt and her son might not agree with the facts you presented). Also, occasionally people change their minds after they sell or give an animal away and then attempt to undo what they did. Sometimes that works through the voluntary capitulation by the person who has the animal or through a lawsuit, but often it does not. I hope your family can resolve this dispute in the best interests of the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can we get our cat back from cat sitter?
Q:

A little over a year ago we had a family friend take care of my two cats because we moved and couldn't have them where we were living. All we asked was to care for them for a year or so and not to let them outside.  We have finally established a home where we could have our cats. My fiance' contacted our "friend" this evening to see if we could get our cats to find out that 1 of the 2 had passed away because he allowed them outside and then to be told that the other cat is theirs now because it is a part of their family and we didn't come to see them. My fiance' told me he was in regualar contact in regards to our cats. Unfortunately tonight it was brought to my attention that he has not been in contact with our cat sitter. I am beyond hurt as is our 4 year old son, in regards to not getting our cat back.  What can I do?

A:

Perhaps consider going to an animal shelter and adopting a cat. When a person leaves a cat with a friend for over a year and has not paid for the cat’s care during this time, has not visited the cat or even contacted the cat sitter, an argument (a good one in my opinion) can be made that the cat was either given away or abandoned.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I take my ex-boyfriend to court for money I paid for dog?
Q:

Hello, in March 2012, I bought my dog for $500, which I have the receipt, I also have the vet bills. Then I got another dog, me & my ex boyfriend broke up so I moved out & took one dog with me due to the fact I can't keep both dogs in my grandma's house. My ex and I decided that (the dog) will stay with him until I was able to get her. I recently found out he registered her under his name without telling me. Well my question is can I take him to court to pay me the money I paid for the dog? I would love to get her back but I know she's happy with him so I don't want to take her away from him.

A:

Lawsuits are brought all of the time. Some have merit and some do not, so the issue is not whether one can sue but whether there is a likelihood of success if one does sue. Consider that the recipient of a dog could argue that the dog was a gift and, therefore, he/she should not be responsible for reimbursing the gift giver for the cost of the dog. Also consider that one can countersue for the expenses incurred in caring for the dog (food, veterinary services, boarding, grooming, toys, etc).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My friend won't return dog that we agreed he would care for temporarily.
Q:

I have a notarized written agreement with a friend to take care of my dog temporarily. And now the friend broke the agreement and won't give me back my dog. I went to legal services. But they said they can't help me. I'm lost and confused and dont know what to do from here. Can you please help me?

A:

One can commence a civil lawsuit for the return of an animal who is being wrongfully withheld. When an individual cannot afford an attorney, he/she can bring the lawsuit pro se (without an attorney). State laws differ but lawsuits for the return of property (or an animal) are often referred to as “replevin” actions, which essentially means actions for the return of property that is being wrongfully detained. The lawsuit can be based on a breach of contract. Court clerks are sometimes very helpful to pro se litigants. Also, the police may intervene if they believe an animal theft law has been violated.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Vet gave me wrong dog to be cremated.
Q:

Hi, I am contacting you about helping me find someone who can help me with my situation. I recently had to put my pet to sleep who was like a family member to us. She was old and very sick. I put her to sleep on November 4, 2014. I asked the clinic to hold the dogs body so I can take her to pet heaven for cremation because I could not afford their cremation costs and my family was putting money together to help me cremate. They said they would hold the body. I called again the next day to make sure they had her and that I would probabley pick her up on Monday. They said they had her and that that was fine. I called Monday to pick her up and they told me she was accidently picked up by the guy who picks up the bodys but not to worry because they called him and he pulled over his truck to make sure that they had her and he did. They said he couldn't turn around and come back because he was far but that they would bring her back next Monday. Next Monday comes and they call me to tell me they have her back. My husband goes today (Tuesday) to pick her up and she gives him a body in a bag. I asked my husband to please check the body to make sure it is my dog. When he gets to pet heaven they help him open the bag to find a golden retriever. My dog was a white boxer mix. I was so upset. He called the clinic and they said they were sorry but they lost her and then had the audacity to ask him to bring back that dog. My husband refused and left the dog at pet heaven. They never even offered anything to make up for their mistake. They purposely tried to deceive me with another body, thinking I wouldn't check. Please help me I have now lost my pet who was a family member to me and I will never get her back or have a place to go visit her. Thanks.

A:

Sadly, I have heard of similar incidents and have discussed this issue in this column where I said: There was a similar case in NY many years ago. Arrangements were made for a veterinary hospital to transfer the dog’s remains to an organization that maintains a pet cemetery. The dog’s guardian planned a funeral for her dog but upon opening the casket at the funeral, she found the remains of a dead cat. The court, in awarding the plaintiff monetary compensation for her loss, held that the plaintiff  “did suffer shock, mental anguish and despondency due to the wrongful destruction and loss of the dog’s body. She had an elaborate funeral scheduled and planned to visit the grave in the years to come. She was deprived of this right.” Complaints against veterinarians can also be made with the state's veterinary licensing board (State of Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is my dog considered a legal family member?
Q:

Is a dog considered a family member in all states in a divorce to have shared custody?
Please advise.

A:

Hopefully, pet “parents” consider their animals to be family members. But animals are generally considered to be property in divorce and other legal matters.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I need a special tag for my dog to appease condominium board?
Q:

I adopted a dog, a Chihuahua mix, Rabies tag, all other vaccination up-dated, very calm and never barks. Some people started to complain about dogs inside the condominium. I'm a 74 years old lady and I need a dog for company. I have a letter from my doctor saying: "She failed initial therapy but now is responding with a change in regimen. This may affect her mood and mental status at times, leave her stressed, tired, or insomnia and depression. She also has anxiety. It improved with help with Pet Therapy".  I already sent this letter to the Board of Director Building. Need I a tag to put on my dog and how to acquire it?

A:

Special tags are not legally required for emotional support animals.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Relative gave me their dog, now wants it back.
Q:

Hello I recently got a dog from a relative who said she couldn't keep the dog. I came to see the dog and took it the same day. I have bought her items and had her for three days before recieving a call she wanted her back. I told her no and she called the cops. The cops told me I could keep the dog because of texts and pictures of the dog showing she was given to me. They also told me to keep them in case she takes me to court. But will the court except these as proof? What else could help me. I love my dog too much to return her. I also don't know what story the relative told police and I was never given a police report.

A:

I suggest you hire an attorney to represent you if a lawsuit is commenced for the return of the dog. Courts will consider the circumstances under which one got possession of an animal, such as whether the animal was given as a gift or for temporary boarding, sold, or stolen.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Cared for neighbors neglected Pug, now they won't let me see him.
Q:

I left my previous address 2 months ago, for the past 2 years there lived a pug/english bull dog mix next door. When I first got there he seemed friendly and I started caring for the dog, I would take him inside my house and he slept there for those 2 years I lived there due to the fact that they would leave him out in the rain or cold weather. They stopped caring for him. I would be the one feeding him and payed for his medicine when sick once, but I gave her the money and never had a receipt under my name. Now I rented another place, the dog got depressed. So I asked her to lend him to me for 2 days out of the week, but she refused. She says the dog is still sad. What do I do??? I love that dog and I know he loves me. She even said it herself he wants to be with me, but she says shes the owner and he has to live by her rules and accomodations and now they locked the dog up so I wont see him, not even through the fence.


A:

Sometimes when an animal’s “owner” is not devoted to the animal, he/she will sell the animal. Have you considered offering to purchase the dog? I suggest that when people purchase an animal there be a written agreement making it clear that the seller has no further rights to the animal (unless the parties want other terms).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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