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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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Can my cat's previous owner sue me to get the cat back?
Q:

Hello, I have a cat that was given to me because the previous owner had other cats in her home and the one that was given to me had an eye watering and vomit issue. No money exchanged hands for this cat, no contracts, no written agreements. She keeps in contact with me re:cat (I would prefer she not) and has told me that if I don't have her teeth cleaned by 2/14/13 she is going to sue me to take the cat back. I am so sad as I love this animal and take exceptional care of her. Can this person sue me? What can I do so I don't have to have anything to do with her any longer? I feel like I am being bullied and I'm actually a little afraid of what she will do to me or my private property. Please help as I do not have a lot of money to spend on an attorney.

A:

She can sue but the issue is really whether she can be successful in the lawsuit. Usually, the person giving an animal away does not have any further claim to the animal, unless there were conditions attached to the gift. Of course, if an agreement is in writing, the existence of the conditions is easier to prove. Sometimes when people give an animal away, they feel guilty or sad and want to know that the animal is being well cared for in his/her new home. It is possible that the cat’s former “owner” is concerned about the cat’s health/teeth and just needs some reassurance that the cat is fine. Perhaps if you provide such assurance, which may include getting the cat’s teeth checked out by a veterinarian and letting her know this was done, she will be less intrusive. If this person threatens you, contact the police.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is the dog I bought at Christmas considered a "gift" to my ex?
Q:

My boyfriend wanted a dog for Christmas. I got it for both of us and we both said we were going to take care of her together. I paid for the dog, bought all her food, paid for her shots, her toys, everything. I am the only one who feeds her, takes her out, and bathes her. He has taken her out maybe 5 times and never helps with her. We just got in a fight and broke up and he is trying to take her from me. He said that because I gave her to him as a "gift" that legally, she is his. Is this correct? He is trying to get police involved. Would he actually succeed in getting her?

A:

If the judge believes that you gave your boyfriend the dog as a gift with no strings attached, it is possible the judge would say that your boyfriend “owns” the dog. However, if you say that you bought the dog, that the dog was not a gift just for your boyfriend but for both of you to share, and that you have been the dog’s primary caretaker, it is very possible a court would find that you can keep the dog. Usually the police will not get involved in pet custody disputes. If the police get involved, consider showing proof that you purchased the dog. It would also be advisable to retain an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is my niece's dog I've been caring for over a year legally mine?
Q:

I have been watching my niece's dog for over a year while she has been in and out of rehab. I have paid to have the dog fixed, shots, food, etc. She wants the dog back, but has never even called about the dog in the entire year. I have the vet bills, etc. She sent me a demand letter and I replied (certified mail) to her and tried to buy the dog from her. The letter came back addressee unknown and she will not give me her address to resend it. Can she win in court??

A:

A court would consider the original contract (written or verbal). The court would also look at the actions of the parties subsequent to the contract to determine if there were modifications to the contract. While a court could determine that an animal was abandoned, that decision would be based on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. When an animal is left for boarding, the person who agreed to care for the animal would not “own” the animal. Such person may have a lien for the cost of the care, but that too would depend on the terms of the agreement. There are more specific laws pertaining to abandonment when an animal is left at a kennel or veterinarian.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I sue the adoption agency for misrepresenting the neutered status of my cat and damages?
Q:

I was told that the cat I was adopting was fixed. Then come to find out as he got older he started spraying everything and ruined a couch, bed pillows, clothes and tried to kill my other cat which is a female. So can I sue the adoption agency for the costs of getting him fixed and for the costs of all the furniture that was ruined?

A:

You can sue, but the issue is really whether you would be successful in such a lawsuit and if there is a less confrontational way to handle this situation. If the adoption fee you paid was for a neutered cat and you got an unneutered cat, consider asking the adoption agency if they will have the cat neutered at no additional cost to you. Unless the cat had undescended testicles (a condition known as cryptorchidism), an argument could be made that you should have also known sooner rather than later (before the furniture was ruined) that the cat was not neutered.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get my lost dog back from a new adopter?
Q:

My dog was in a shelter who holds pets for seven days BEFORE OFFERING UP FOR ADOPTION. I found my dog on the seventh day on an adoption site, not a lost or found site. The very next morning we went to get him. The pound had sent him away a half an hour before we arrived. They said he had already been adopted out which wasn't entirely true because he wasn't in anybody's possession yet he had been sent to the vet to be neutered. I thought shelters were about putting dogs in their homes. I feel helpless, do you think I can get my dog back??

A:

Generally, an original owner will lose rights to an animal if a shelter held the animal for the amount of time required by law before adopting the animal to another person and if the shelter otherwise complied with the law (which may, for example, require notification of “owners” of identified animals that the animal is at the shelter). However, since the facts of each case differ, one cannot predict exactly how a court would decide any particular case. Often shelters will try to accommodate the original “owner” if the animal has not yet been placed with the new adopter and some shelters will reach out to new adopters to let them know that the original “owner” is asking for the animal to be returned.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to return the cat I've been caring for?
Q:

About a year ago I took in a cat from a friend of a friend who couldn't care for her any longer due to personal problems. Now a year later she is asking to have the cat back. I have provided a better home and care for this cat. She came to me with asthma and poor socialization. A year later she doesn't have asthma and is super friendly with new people. Do I have the right to say she can't have her back or to at least receive payment for food, vet, and other needs?

A:

If one gives an animal away, he/she usually would not have any further rights to that animal unless the gift was conditional. For example, sometimes animals are given away on the condition that the animal be provided with a certain type of care or on the condition that the original “owner” have the right to visit the animal. If the conditions are breached, the original ‘owner’ might have a legal basis to try to reclaim the animal. However, if an animal is not given away but rather the “owner” asks someone to care for the animal temporarily, the caretaker would not then “own” the animal. There could be exceptions to this rule too. For example, if a person asked a friend to watch an animal for a week or two and a year goes by, the caretaker could argue that the friend abandoned the animal and lost any rights he/she had. Entitlement to financial compensation for caring for an animal would also be dependent on the terms of the agreement, if any. When there are no set terms for compensation, a court might award reasonable costs for the animal's care.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I recover vet costs from my groomer due to negligence?
Q:

I brought my dog to the groomer. The groomer did not board its cats and lets them roam. A cat scratched my dog's eye. I had to take her for visits to the vet and to an eye specialist to the tune of $1,000. She is better now. Is there any way I can recover the vet costs incurred?

A:

A court may find that the groomer owed you (and your dog) the duty of reasonable care and that the groomer was negligent in the handling of your dog. In New Hampshire, one can sue in Small Claims Court for up to $7500.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can we do about breed misrepresentation from a pet store?
Q:

We purchased a golden retriever puppy from a pet store for over a thousand dollars. They did provide papers but a DNA test has proven he is a mix and not a pure bred dog. We love the dog and do not want to return him because we have had him for 7 months. Yet, I feel there should be some action we can take. We were lied to. What can we do?

A:

Florida law provides that a pet dealer “may not knowingly misrepresent the breed, sex, or health of any dog or cat offered for sale within the state.” You can file a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Animal Husbandry. You can also sue for the difference in the monetary value of a purebred Golden and a mixed-breed dog. While breed DNA tests have been considered by some courts, most notably in cases involving breed discrimination ordinances (usually ordinances which ban Pit Bulls), it is possible a court may not deem the dog breed DNA test to be reliable or admissible as evidence.

A large number of dogs at pet stores start their lives at puppy mills. Dogs at puppy mills are kept in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Breeder dogs live their lives in squalor for years, without necessary exercise or socialization. Inbreeding occurs, which can result in congenital problems. Puppy mills would close and the lives of so many dogs could be saved if more people adopted homeless animals from animal shelters and rescue groups.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is the boarding facility liable for cat's illness and treatment?
Q:

We recently left our two cats in a home boarding facility for 3 weeks. Upon their return, one cat is increasingly ill and is getting worse daily. While they were in boarding, they came into contact with many other cats. Legally, am I able to hold the boarding facility liable for the illness and thus, treatment, of the cat since it is more than likely that the cat contracted something there?

A:

Check out your boarding agreement, if you have one. However, even if the agreement states that the boarding facility will not be liable if an animal becomes ill, you may still have rights. Prior to accepting an animal for boarding, reputable kennels will require that animals be up-to-date on vaccines. There are laws in some states and localities which mandate that kennels require proof of vaccinations before accepting an animal for boarding. Keep in mind though that boarding kennels can be breeding grounds for various diseases, particularly for young animals and animals with compromised immune systems. Consider also that it can be difficult to prove that an animal contracted a disease at a particular location so that too could influence a judge’s decision in determining liability. I hope your cat gets better very soon!


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I keep my ex-boyfriend's dog he abandoned?
Q:

My ex-boyfriend abandoned his beautiful shepherd, husky, lab mix at my home 8 months ago. In those 8 months I have taken loving care of Bruno. He wasn't well taken care of when he first came here especially his coat and he was a bit overweight. My then boyfriend complained that he was tired of cleaning up after him because of his shedding and not having the time to spend to deal with him because nobody else would help him out. He was referring to his 2 daughters. When Bruno came here I immediately loved him. I immediately started caring for him. Bathing him properly, walking & hiking with him, introducing him to the other neighborhood dogs so he can have playmates to socialize with, took him to the vet's, licensed him in my town. I joined Jeff Gillman's email & Youtube to learn how to train Bruno in a few areas where he needed training which we both enjoy doing together. Everything he needs. Not to mention he has become a superstar in my home business. Everyone loves him, especially me. We are always together. Now out of the blue my ex-boyfriend wants to take him back. I don't want to give him back. I love him so much. He is my best friend. He will be miserable if he has to go back to that life. I will be miserable. My question is: Can I legally keep Bruno?

A:

When a person gives an animal away, the recipient of the animal generally can keep the animal (unless a third party has rights to the animal). If a person leaves an animal at another person’s home and does not return for the animal within the time agreed upon or a reasonable amount of time, a court may construe such action as abandonment. However, when a dispute regarding “ownership” of the animal arises and the matter is litigated, a court must decide if the animal was, in fact, given away as a gift, abandoned, or temporarily boarded. I hope this works out well for Bruno.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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