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All Q&As
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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My pit bull was attacked and now we're being sued - what can we do?
Q:

Hello, I Really Need Help. I Just Need To Know What We Should Be Doing To Stay Proactive About This Situation & Keep Within The Law. My Boyfriend's Pit bull Comes To My Duplex A Lot And The Dog Downstairs Is Very Territorial. So we Only Take Her Out When The German Shepherd Mix Isn't Out. Well, My Neighbor Didn't Check To See If We Were Outside And The Dogs Scuffled. And Now They Are Claiming She Had To Stay Overnight At The Hospital And Want Us To Pay The Bill For The Hospital And For Her Missing Work. But Our Pit Wasn't The Aggressor AT ALL. Their Dog Has Always Been Territorial With EVERY Dog That Comes Over, And WE are Especially Careful Because Of It. Can They Legally Do Anything? And What Should We Be Doing To Defend Ourselves. I Don't Want Us To Pay For This Bill For Injuries That They Won't Show Us And Certainly Not For Her Missing Work. I'm Just Scared Because Everyone HATES Pits. Even though It Was HER Dog I Feel Like We Won't Have A Chance. Thanks For Any Advice you Can Give, It Is So Much Appreciated.

A:

The Ohio law relating to the liability of a person who harbors a dog states, in part, as follows: “The owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog is liable in damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog, unless the injury, death, or loss was caused to the person or property of an individual who, at the time, was committing or attempting to commit criminal trespass or another criminal offense other than a minor misdemeanor on the property of the owner, keeper, or harborer, or was committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense other than a minor misdemeanor against any person, or was teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog on the owner's, keeper's, or harborer's property.” When these disputes are settled out of court, it is wise to have a release form signed so it is clear that the payment is to resolve the matter forever and that no further liability will ensue from the incident. Of course, prior to making payment one would normally expect to receive bills relating to the incident. Also worth noting is that homeowners and rental insurance often covers dog bites. Not all states have strict liability laws. Some states instead require a showing that the dog’s “owner” knew of the dog’s dangerous propensities prior to the bite/attack before a dog “owner” will be held liable for the acts of his/her dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back from a shelter's adopter?
Q:

I was away from home and did not have the ability to get my dog back from a shelter that takes ownership after 7 days. A breed rescue group took her from the shelter and quickly adopted her to other people. How can I find out who has her so that I can ask for her back?

A:

Sometimes a rescue group will contact the new adopter to let them know the original “owner” is seeking the animal’s return. Occasionally, that resolves the situation. Many rescue groups will not give the prior “owner” the adopter’s contact information because of concerns that there could be an altercation between the parties, because the rescue group wants to preserve the confidentiality of its records, or because the rescue group believes releasing this information would lessen the integrity of its adoption program. There have been cases where individuals have sued to obtain the name and contact information of the adopter and to get an animal returned. Generally, courts have held in favor of the new adopter if an animal is held for the legal time period at a shelter. However, there are a few cases in which courts have decided in favor of the original “owner.”


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get my adopted Coco back after 5 years?
Q:

My dog Coco, which was adopted from ------back in 2002 was adopted by my mother and then boyfriend, now deceased when I was just 12 years old. In 2008, I retained a temporary residence with my father in which he allowed my dog to stay there with me. During my month stay there, my father decided to implement a temporary restraining order when he was denied the judge to evict me and keep my dog (because he had no privacy with me there, but liked the dog). I was only 20 at the time with no source of income and me being in college.

My father naturally said I violated the order which would thusly vacate me from the residence. I was never charged with any crime(s). However, I was told to vacate as per the judge and have (30) days to retrieve the items in successions with a Nassau County PO. It stated I had 30 days to retrieve my property and dog (Coco). The plaintiff states the dog can stay with him until the defendant is able to get the animal back. After the incident, I moved and went to school and became a nurse and worked these last two years on school and making a permanent residence. I am moving to buy a house now where I can have any animals I want, as before I was so poor I couldn't afford anything more than renting a room or sleeping in a living room through school.

It has now been a number or years obviously and it has been said since sept 2008 I would be back for my dog. I really need my dog back, I have had many sleepless nights, waiting for the moment to regain all I lost through my mother moving out of the house to live with her new boyfriend and my father kicking me our to (have privacy) and being homeless--that I am finally at a place I can responsibly support everything more than well. I do not know if I have the paperwork from when we adopted her, but I know it was my mother on the paper. What can be done to legally regain possession of Coco to live her last years with me?

And...Would it make any difference if I got notarized statements from my mother stating the dog was temporarily housed until I got back on my feet? What if I cannot recall the stay away notice at this time and it said, "I have 30 days to get my property and my dog" upon not doing so you forfeit the property? What could I expect? I am also working in NYC EMS and FDNY. MANY friends in the NYPD. They told me if he doesn't want to give the dog back, which he probably wouldn't do, based on his demeanor I described. I could just take the dog from him (on the street) and that a cop likely wouldn't arrest me or get in the middle of it due to it being a civil matter/pet issue, especially because I am a city worker etc.. I know that sounds sketchy, but it's obvious when you carry a badge of any type in fire or pd, you get certain respect from fellow workers.

A:

I think it is unlikely a court would order the return of an animal to a person who was not the adopter of the animal, has not lived with the animal for five years, and had the opportunity to retrieve the animal five years ago and did not. In an appellate case in New York involving custody of a cat, the court stated, “Cognizant of the cherished status accorded to pets in our society, the strong emotions engendered by disputes of this nature, and the limited ability of the courts to resolve them satisfactorily, on the record presented, we think it best for all concerned that, given his limited life expectancy, Lovey, who is now almost ten years old, remain where he has lived, prospered, loved and been loved for the past four years.” You might be charged with theft if you take the dog from your father without his permission.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to return a cat that was given to me?
Q:

I met a woman who said she was going to put her cat to sleep because it didn't get along with her dog. I offered to take her cat and find it a good home. She also gave me her other cat. She called the other day and said she wants the female cat back, but we've already found her an excellent home. We have all the vet records and the CFA certificate. Do I have to return the cat?

A:

Usually when one gives a companion animal away, he/she has no further rights to that animal. Of course, when disputes arise the individuals involved often present different “facts.” For example, one party may say an animal was boarded temporarily and not actually given away. However, unless there is a written agreement saying otherwise, when one gives possession of his/her animals and their papers to a stranger (who does not board animals), it would be difficult for the original "owner" to prove that the transfer was meant to be temporary.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What are my rights as an adopter from a pet rescue?
Q:

I've been approved to adopt a cat from a local cat rescue society (a 501C3) & I get the sense that they want to "own" one's future relationship with the cat. I expect that they'll make me sign a no-declaw contract and I don't know how much further they may go or how much weight it really has.

It seems to me, that any precondition they make becomes legally moot once ownership is transferred to the adopting party. My question is: Once the adoption is final, who owns the cat? How binding can such contracts be? How intrusive can they be?

This is about the principle that I want them OUT of my relationship after the adoption is final. They've done their background checking and have approved me. Once they hand it over, that should be it for them.

What are my rights?

A:

It is important to remember that rescue groups and animal shelters care for homeless animals and that some of these animals were abandoned, neglected or abused prior to being rescued. It is understandable that animal rescue groups and shelters would want to ensure as best as possible that the animals they place for adoption are provided with humane care in a forever home. For this reason, many shelters and rescue groups have adoption agreements which contain animal care provisions. Generally, these signed contracts are legally binding.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can I do to get back the dog I saved from abandonment?
Q:

My mother-in-law's half-sister abandoned her dog at my mother-in-law's house; they kept her for a little over a month. My mother-in-law called and asked if we wanted her or they were gonna take her to the pound. I saved her from going to the pound. She is one of the greatest dogs I could have had; I took care of her, loved her, my children loved her, she became part of our family. I had her for about 7 to 8 months until the original owner showed up to my house. I was out of town, my cousin was watching my kids and my 2 dogs. The lady stole her from us, saying we stole her. The cops said it was a civil matter - they can't do anything. What can I do? I really want her back, but I am afraid she will try something to get us back.

A:

When people cannot resolve a pet custody dispute, a civil action for the return of the animal is sometimes commenced. When there is no written agreement regarding “ownership” and the facts are in dispute, the court’s work is more difficult. For example, was the original arrangement for boarding or was the animal given to your mother-in-law? Was the animal really abandoned or was there a misunderstanding regarding the agreed upon boarding time? The best interests of the animal is sometimes considered by courts, but one should not count on that. Occasionally, disputing parties can work out a sale/purchase of the animal. The agreement should be in writing. I hope that you all consider what is best for the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What kind of lawyer do I need to pursue a civil case for my stolen and sold French Bulldog?
Q:

My dog was at a pet-sitting. The couple who had her are in their late 40s, whose parent was my friend and neighbor. They never returned my dog. I repeatedly called them, email, text them to no avail. The mother told me they had given my dog away, and they refuse to tell me where or who they gave her to. I charged them with the crime and the judge found probable cause. They were arrested and the defendants will appear in court and enter a plea in a couple of weeks. What kind of a lawyer do I need to pursue a civil case against them. It's not about the money, I just want my dog back. The puppy cost $5,000.00.

A:

Sometimes as part of a plea deal in criminal court, a defendant may agree to return an animal or property. Alternatively, civil actions in replevin (for the return of property) are commenced. Your case may be more complicated since you need to ascertain the name of the person who has the dog. I suggest you consult with your local bar association for a referral. Also, there is an organization in NJ, Lawyers in Defense of Animals, that may be able to provide assistance or an attorney referral.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is the rescue responsible for the vet bills of my sick puppy?
Q:

We adopted a rescue puppy from ---- in NJ 5 days ago. He was diagnosed with 3 parasites and pneumonia 3 days ago. The vet bill is over $300. When we contacted the rescue, they said they would only help if he continued to require treatment. We do not wish to give the dog back, but I feel they should be responsible for the vet bills under the pet adoption law. Am I correct?

A:

While the language of pet sale laws differ from state to state (and some states do not have pet sale laws), these laws generally do not apply to animal rescue groups or shelters. New Jersey’s pet sale law is applicable to “pet dealers” which is defined as “any person engaged in the ordinary course of business in the sale of cats or dogs to the public for profit or any person who sells or offers for sale more than five cats or dogs in one year.” Sometimes animal adoption agreements include provisions which specify rights and obligations when/if an animal becomes ill. I hope your puppy gets better very soon.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What is my legal recourse for misrepresentation of a neutered puppy?
Q:

We bought a puppy from a store at about 10 weeks old. We were not told that the puppy was neutered already. We have taken the puppy to the vet suggested by the store. The vet suspected the puppy was neutered. I called and after looking into it and having to call the breeder, the store called me to say that it had been done and their holiday staff neglected to enter that information into the computer. "Human Error" they said. What is my recourse? The puppy is 5 months old now, the family and the puppy are attached but we feel deceived. We had no intentions of neutering him. Even their vet concurred that chihuahuas tend to get fat and require a special diet if neutered.

A:

There are many reasons why neutering is important. Neutering helps to curb the overpopulation of dogs and cats and can prevent testicular cancer and other health problems. Neutering can reduce wandering and aggression. Neutering can reduce undesirable behavior, such as spraying to mark territory. Neutering should not make your dog fat. Speak with a veterinarian about an appropriate diet for your dog. If you still feel that your dog is somehow less valuable because he was neutered, ask the store for a partial refund.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can be done about a vet performing surgery without my permission?
Q:

I took my dog to the hospital for surgery. The doctor couldn't find my dog’s uterus and ovaries during the surgery. As a result, I requested that my dog stay in the hospital to recover and that I would pick her up the very next day. When I left the hospital, the doctor decided to reopen my dog’s abdomen without my permission. My dog couldn't survive this, and she unfortunately died. I say he is a killer, not a doctor - shame on him.

A:

I am so sorry to hear about your dog. Every state has a veterinary licensing board. You can make a complaint with the California Veterinary Medical Board, www.vmb.ca.gov. You can download the form online or call the Veterinary Medical Board at 916-263-2610 to request a complaint form. You can also sue the veterinarian for malpractice.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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