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All Q&As
by
Elinor molbegott

Great tips and advice from the Animal League Experts.

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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Do I have grounds to sue the kennel owners for the death of my pet?
Q:

Do I have grounds to sue the kennel owners for the death of my pet? We took her there for safe keeping on Valentine's Day rush at my flower shop. We received a call on Valentine's Day morning saying she was dead.

Our Samoyed Dog of 6 years is gone and we are all devastated, even the community. The kennel owners were rude and very unprofessional at our time of grief and shock. We can never replace our baby but don't want others to be treated the way we have been.

A:

When one leaves an animal at a kennel for boarding, the kennel is required to exercise reasonable care. If the kennel does not exercise such care, they can be held liable. For example, in a NY case the plaintiff delivered her healthy eight-year-old dog for boarding. When she returned for her dog, she was informed that her dog was dead. The court held that “defendant’s failure to return the bailed dog presumptively establishes his negligence, shifting the burden of proving due care to the defendant bailee.” The court found that the defendant did not present a sufficient explanation as to the cause of the dog’s death and held in favor of the plaintiff. The court further stated, “The court finds that plaintiff has suffered a grievous loss…The difficulty of pecuniarily measuring this loss does not absolve the defendant of his obligation to compensate plaintiff for that loss, at least to the meager extent that money can make her whole.”


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I make a contract and have my stepfather sign it to make me the legal dog owner?
Q:

Two years ago my stepfather purchased a corgi, with the agreement from my mother that she was mine, my responsibility, and after I graduated from college and moved out that she would go with me. I am now married with my own home. My corgi came with me. She had puppies at my home which I cared for until they could be adopted, and I have provided for her (food, shelter, and vet bills.) He did pay for vet visits when she was pregnant but got pick of the litter for reimbursement. My mother and stepfather are now divorcing and I want to ensure that she cannot be legally taken away from me. She is registered in his name, but I am the owner. Can I make a contract for us both to sign and be notarized stating that I am the rightful owner and she was given as a gift? And will that be enough to legally state ownership?

A:

Written pet custody/ownership contracts which are drafted well, not signed under duress, and signed and dated by competent individuals can be very useful, particularly if pet custody/ownership disputes regarding the animal who is the subject of the written agreement subsequently arise.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get my dog back from my late boyfriend's mother?
Q:

I purchased a dog and then moved into an apartment that would not take pets. My boyfriend kept my dog for me understanding that I wanted him back as soon as I was in a place I could have him or if he could no longer keep him, the dog was to be returned to me. My boyfriend passed away 2 weeks ago and his mother took the dog and will not return him to me even though I have his papers. Can I get my dog back?

A:

When pet custody/ownership disputes cannot be resolved amicably, lawsuits are sometimes commenced. Courts will likely consider that the dog was living with your boyfriend and that you moved into an apartment that did not allow pets (which might indicate that you no longer “owned” the animal). Except in dire circumstances, most people with pets would not choose to move to an apartment that does not allow pets. Courts will also likely consider that you still have the dog’s “papers,” although it is hard to predict whether these “papers” would be enough to demonstrate to the court’s satisfaction that you still “own” the dog. I hope that you and your boyfriend’s mother can agree on an arrangement that is best for the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How long after fostering a dog is it legally mine?
Q:

My friend abandoned his dog and I have been taking care of her for 9 months. Now they want her back. How long does one take care of an animal before its foster home technically owns the animal?

A:

While there are laws that state when an “owner” loses rights to an animal who is at an animal shelter, there is no set time when an “owner” loses rights to his/her animal in a foster care situation. If the matter is litigated, courts will review the evidence and make a determination based on whether the animal was abandoned, given as a gift, or temporarily boarded. Persons who abandon an animal can also be subject to criminal prosecution but that does not usually arise in a situation where the “owner” of the animal placed the animal in a foster home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Am I entitled to any compensation from a driver's insurance who killed my dog?
Q:

On 9/27, while walking my dog on the sidewalk, a woman in her car barreled into her friend's driveway. While on the sidewalk, she claims she did not see me or the dog, while turning into the driveway, got between me and my leashed dog, got the leash caught in her front end of her car, snapped it out of my hand and caught my dog (Yorkie), ran over her and ultimately killed her. What exactly am I entitled to from her insurance, if any? Hearing lots of stories.

A:

The issue of the valuation of animals who are negligently or intentionally harmed has been raised in many cases throughout the country. While courts generally find that animals are property, more courts are recognizing the special bond between humans and companion animals. An Illinois appellate court, in a case in which the plaintiffs alleged that a veterinarian negligently killed their German shepherd dog, held that, “The law in Illinois is that where the object destroyed has no market value, the measure of damages to be applied is the actual value of the object to the owner. The concept of actual value to the owner may include some element of sentimental value in order to avoid limiting the plaintiff to merely nominal damages.” Similarly, in a more recent Illinois case involving the death of a cat while being boarded, the court reasoned that it would be unjust to limit damages to the fair market value of an animal and that the value to the owner standard should be considered. In another Illinois case where the plaintiffs sought veterinary fees to try to save their dog who was allegedly attacked by a neighbor’s dog, the Illinois court ordered the defendant to pay $4,784 for the dog’s veterinary care.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can a rescue organization be biased against homes with unneutered animals?
Q:

Our family recently lost a rescue dog we had for 14 years to old age; she was the best. We have one other dog who is a hunting dog 2 years old and not neutered. We tried to adopt a dog from a rescue but was told that we couldn't even though we meet all their requirements except one, our dog at home was not neutered. How is an organization able to keep their tax exempt status when they are clearly biased towards pets who are not spayed or neutered?

A:

Responsible animal rescue groups will have stringent spay/neuter policies. An animal rescue group would not be jeopardizing its tax exempt status by having spay/neuter policies that are consistent with its mission to save animals' lives, to reduce the tragic overpopulation of animals, and to place animals for adoption. Below is an excerpt from North Shore Animal League America’s pet health advice column:

Importance of Spaying and Neutering Your Pets

Why Spay and Neuter?

There are many reasons for spaying and neutering your pet. The first reason is population control. There are many unwanted euthanasias that are performed all over the country for the sole reason that there aren't enough homes for all of the homeless pets. If we spay and neuter our pets early in life, we can prevent overpopulation and decrease the number of euthanasias performed…If we work as a community to spay and neuter our pets, we can help decrease the number of homeless animals and decrease the spread of infectious diseases.

Another reason for spaying and neutering our pets early in life is to help prevent cancer. When we sterilize our pets we not only decrease chances of uterine and testicular cancer but we can help prolong our pets lives. Mammary and prostate cancer risks are decreased immensely from spaying and neutering, as well. Also, some unwanted behaviors can be avoided early on by spaying and neutering.

When deciding to adopt an animal from your shelter, please consider the above factors in this very important decision. It could mean a longer, more enjoyable life for your pet, and you can help decrease the number of homeless animals in our society. For more information, please contact your veterinarian.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I legally adopt my dog as my child?
Q:

I would like to legally adopt my dog as my legal child. I understand that dogs are deemed property, but I would like to challenge this in court. How do I proceed? Thanks!

A:

You would need to find an attorney willing to handle such a case although I doubt that a court would construe current child adoption laws to be applicable to adopting an animal. There are attorneys who are working to try to gain greater rights for animals and, hopefully, one day, sooner rather than later, we will see success in this area. In the meantime, laws continue to be passed to provide animals with greater protection. You might be interested in taking a look at the website of the Nonhuman Rights Project (www.nonhumanrightsproject.org) which states, “The Nonhuman Rights Project is preparing to litigate the first groundbreaking legal cases intended to knock down the wall that separates humans from nonhumans. Once this wall is breached, the first nonhuman animals on earth will gain legal “personhood” and finally get their day in court — a day they so clearly deserve.” The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s website (www.aldf.org) also highlights legal and legislative initiatives for animals.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Who does this kitten belong to?
Q:

My "friend" asked me to look after her new kitten because she couldn't keep him at her house until her roommates and their cat moved out. He was very small and had been taken away too early, so needed a lot of looking after. I asked her to come and see him (she only lives 10 minutes away) but she didn't visit more than 4 or 5 times in over 3 months and I gave up asking her to. He's now happy and healthy and she's asked for him back. I asked if we could meet up to talk about it cause I was concerned by her lack of effort and the state of her flat. Not to mention the fact that she's never paid a penny for him. She refused to talk and shouted at me so I left it for a while. I then went over to see her to speak about him and I was told I wouldn't get my money back, backed into a corner by some guys she knew and forced to go over to my home to get the cat. Luckily I managed to text my housemate, so they didn't get into my house. I have offered her 50 pounds for the cat so she could get a cat she could bond with but she's just been rude and childish, called me all the names under the sun and told me to give him back, she never bought him or paid for him or did anything for him. I asked her once to take him to get his injections and instead she just made an appointment for him to be neutered (which he's still at least 2 months away from being old enough for). I'm worried, do I really have to give him back?

A:

Typically, when one agrees to care for a friend’s animal on a temporary basis, the person temporarily caring for the animal does not “own” that animal. However, a court could find under certain circumstances that the “owner” abandoned the animal, in which case the person caring for the animal may obtain certain rights to that animal. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area. Also, sometimes a person who is not bonded with an animal will sell that animal if the amount offered meets the seller's expectations. It is advisable to get agreements to sell/purchase an animal in writing to avoid future conflicts. Although unrelated to your specific question, early spay/neuter is widely performed these days. In fact, there is a law in New York City requiring shelters to spay/neuter dogs and cats eight weeks of age or older prior to placing them for adoption or releasing them to a person claiming "ownership" of the animal unless a veterinarian certifies that due to a medical reason the procedure would endanger the life of the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can be done if a breeder wants to euthanize a puppy for not meeting breeding criteria?
Q:

A client comes into your clinic. She is a breeder. She has a puppy which does not meet her breed criteria and she will not sell him or give him away. She wants to have her euthanized and will not negotiate on this point! What can you do in this kind of situation?

A:

The veterinarian is under no obligation to euthanize the animal. Hopefully, the veterinarian will be able to convince the breeder to leave the dog with the veterinarian for adoption. Interestingly, Will provisions directing that an animal be euthanized upon the death of the animal’s “owner” have been invalidated by some courts.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Am I the rightful owner of Bella?
Q:

My niece gave me her Boston Terrier (Bella) on October 26th of 2012. She was no longer equipped mentally to handle her and a young child at the same time. I had dog-sitted Bella and instantly fell in love with her. Anyway, I said yes. I asked my niece if she wanted anything for her (monetary) and she said no; I know you will give her a good home. On February 7th of 2013 my niece in retaliation demanded Bella back stating she only gave her to me temporarily until the baby got a little older and it was not hers to give away since it was her boyfriend who bought Bella as a present. I have documentation by way of the internet stating that my niece gave her to me and thanking me for giving her a good home where she would get the attention she deserved. On February 8th I did drive Bella back to Pennsylvania (I am in West Virginia) and gave her to my niece's boyfriend's father who on tape admitted he knows she was given to me. I was not giving up ownership (I sent her a certified letter stating this), I was merely going to allow the courts to decide. You see, my niece is pregnant again and I could feel her blood pressure rising with every text message and phone call (and there are over 50). She has had complications with her previous two pregnancies and I did not want to be responsible for her delivering early or whatever. I have contacted an attorney and am still waiting to here back from him. At this point, I have only talked to his secretary. Is the internet documentation, letters from family members stating they know she gave me Bella to me and a tape of her boyfriend's father admitting he knew Bella was given to me enough evidence for me to get her back? Do I even need a lawyer? I need help. I will not rest until that little lady is back here at home.

A:

There is an expression, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” Although not literally true, you certainly did not help your case by giving up possession of Bella. If the person in possession of Bella will not voluntarily return her to you and you want to proceed with a lawsuit, it would be advisable to consult with an attorney in your area. Some of the “evidence” you mention in your question may not be admissible in court.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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