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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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Categories
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Legal Category
 
Do I have a legal case to sue?
Q:

There's the situation my dogs were staying with my dad and he died. The parametric said they couldn't remove the body till the dogs were gone or contained. My grandmother then sign a consent form to the spca to kill my dad's dogs and mine to remove the body. Without my consent they didn't even give me a chance to come remove them do I have a legal case to sue the spca or my grandmother?  Sincerely heartbroken.

A:

 I am so sorry to hear about your father and the dogs. If a person who signs an animal surrender document is not the animal’s “owner” or “owner’s” authorized agent, such person could be held liable to the animal’s rightful “owner.” It is possible an organization could be held liable in situations involving the euthanasia of an animal, but its liability is not as clear in situations where a person lied in writing to the organization about the animal’s “ownership.” Sadly, in some situations involving animals there is a lot of blame to go around. 

It is premature for anyone to make final disposition of animals found in a decedent’s home immediately upon the decedent’s death. Consider that the decedent could have made provision for the animals in a will or that someone in the will is named to take the decedent’s property (which could include animals). If the decedent died without a will, next of kin would normally have rights to the decedent’s property. Also, sometimes questions can arise regarding whether a decedent was the animal’s “owner” at the time of his/her death. All of this should be sorted out before final disposition of animals are made.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I get my dog back? Urgent!
Q:

Gave my dog in December to a friend I thought I could trust. The person has not been taking proper care of him. I have been checking on him and he has not been to the vet for legal vaccines. I took him yesterday, all the vet work is still in my name. He is legally mine. How do I get my dog back? I am pressed for time because he is moving to Tx. June 30. Please help me get my dog back!

A:

Generally when an individual gives his/her dog away, such individual has no further legal rights to that animal even if he/she still has vet records in his/her name (unless there was an agreement providing for specific rights to get the animal returned). When one suspects animal cruelty/neglect, local law enforcement agencies, such as a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA), animal control officer, and the police, should be contacted. However, it is important to keep in mind that failing to have vaccines would not typically constitute cruelty/neglect that would trigger seizure or forfeiture of the animal. Sometimes a new “owner” who has not bonded with an animal will agree to return an animal to the original “owner.” At times, the prior “owner” needs to purchase the animal in order to seal the deal (the new “owner” may consider that he/she fed and watched to animal for a period of time, akin to boarding, and should be compensated). The transfer of “ownership” should be in writing to help avoid future conflicts.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is this legal action enforceable by the breed rescue?
Q:

Adopted and paid for a 2 month old German Shepherd puppy. Signed adoption agreement and a spay neuter contract requiring spay between 4 and 6 months and provide proof. At the time we signed the agreement. Took puppy to vet to discuss spay. Based on updated info and UC Berkley study regarding health risks spaying large breed dogs before one year of age, our vet advised us against spaying her until one year of age. Breed org. told us they did not care what our vet said and they are  threatening us with possible law, suit, $1500.00 fee, breach of contract and seizure of our dog. We are stressed to the max. I did not say we would not spay our dog; just want to give her the best chance and not risk her health by spaying before it is recommended. Is this type of legal action enforceable by the breed rescue in Oregon?

A:

Courts have upheld animal adoption agreements. Many of these agreements contain spay/neuter provisions. The provisions I have seen require spay/neuter a lot sooner than one year of age. In fact, a lot of shelters and rescue organizations spay/neuter prior to adoption, and as early as eight weeks of age. In some areas, such as New York City, shelters must spay/neuter prior to adoption (with very limited exceptions). Note that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states on its website’s spaying and neutering page: “Keep in mind that, contrary to popular belief, it may NOT be best to wait until your female dog or cat has gone through its first heat cycle.” It also states: “Early spaying of female dogs and cats can help protect them from some serious health problems later in life such as uterine infections and breast cancer. Neutering your male pet can also lessen its risk of developing benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate gland) and testicular cancer.” 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back?
Q:

Me and my daughters dad got a dog for her for Christmas from a shelter and we paid 250.00 for him we had him for a year and in February of 2015 we lost our home. And became homeless so I asked my aunt to please take care of our dog so has had him since and now she is treating to take him from us and my daughter wants him back. How can I go about getting him back and do I have any right to.

A:

A lawsuit can be commenced if one believes his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld. When an animal’s “owner” places his/her animal in another person’s care, particularly for an extended period of time, the issue will be whether the animal was boarded temporarily, given away, or abandoned. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Keeping my dog
Q:

My daughter's friend gave us her dog about three months ago. Now they are making noise about taking her back.  We are very attached to our baby can they do that?

A:

Generally when an individual gives his/her dog away, such individual has no further legal rights to that animal. However, these situations can get more complex when minors are involved with the transaction. Nevertheless, three months is a long time so it would probably be difficult for even a minor’s parents/guardians to win a lawsuit for the return of an animal after this length of time (but that depends on all of the facts of each case). 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to return a dog?
Q:

My husband and I are living at an Extended Stay for a few weeks. 4 weeks ago, we observed a stray dog rummaging through the garbage and drinking from puddles, etc. We observed that dog for over a week, then one day, the dog came up to us. We decided to try to find its owner so we took it to the vet to see if it was microchipped (not chipped) and started checking all the local websites where people list lost pets. We also informed the management so they could send anyone asking to us. After a week, nothing happened, so we decided to adopt the dog and had it checked and vaccinated. 

After we had the dog for 3.5 weeks, someone in the complex recognized the dog when my husband was walking it, stating that they were watching it for another person and that person would return home the next day. However, they made no move to get the dog from us. My husband gave them our information--room number, etc.--and no one has come to us to get the dog.

At what point can we call this dog our dog? Now we are attached to the dog, and even though those folks are still in their room, they have not contacted us in any way.

A:

Who “owns” an animal is not clear in many situations involving a lost and found animal, unless the animal is held at a shelter and the “owner” does not redeem the animal in the time provided for in the law. In other words, there is not necessarily any one particular time where the finder of an animal can know for sure that a court would decide that he/she is the animal’s “owner.” Each case has its own facts and circumstances. Fortunately, most lost and found animal situations don’t end up in court. In circumstances where a dog’s “owner” can be identified (including where one has been informed that a dog was lost and the dog’s “owner” lives in the apartment complex), the finder of such dog may have a difficult case for “ownership” without first making proactive efforts to locate the “owner.” That could include, for example, contacting the dog sitter who lost the dog to get direct contact information for the “owner” and placing “found dog” signs in the complex. It could be that the people don’t want the dog anymore in which case a written transfer of “ownership” would be advisable to help avoid future pet custody conflicts


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can I do about an abandoned cat?
Q:

I had an old lady give me a 5 week old kitten that was left in a box on her door step. We met at my work and she gave me the kitten. No paperwork or legal adoption paperwork was signed. This was a private adoption in my eyes. I've had the kitten for over a week now and the lady keeps calling my work(not calling me or asking for me) and she is demanding her kitten back. I'm not up for giving her the kitten back. What can I do?

A:

Usually when a person gives away his/her animal, such person has no further rights to that animal. Thus, the recipient of the animal would generally not be under any obligation to return the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is the dog mine?
Q:

My sister gave me a dog for my birthday 6 years ago, however now she is trying to sell said dog or put it down. She has not taken care of it nor paid any of its vet bills besides the first few for shots and nuder. Will I be able to take her to small claims and win? The dog is healthy, in a good home, loved and has been mine for as long as it's lived. The adoption papers say it's in her name though. She does live in the same household but she is on disability and food stamps. She can't take my dog away from me can she? It's my best friend.

A:

Generally the recipient of a gift (including an animal) becomes the “owner” of the gift and the person who gave the gift typically cannot take the gift back (unless there were conditions attached to the gift allowing for the gift to be reclaimed under certain circumstances). A person who is not the animal’s “owner” typically would not have the right to sell or give the animal away or have the animal euthanized without the “owner’s” consent. However, it is important to recognize that an animal may be in jeopardy (regardless of who “owns” the animal) when a person who lives in the same household as the animal is threatening to sell the animal or have the animal euthanized. The safest resolution would be to move with the animal. In determining whether the person who gave away or sold an animal or had an animal euthanized was the animal’s “owner,” courts would likely consider not only who purchased/adopted the animal but who has been paying for the animal’s care, who has been the animal’s primary caretaker, and under whose name, if anyone, the animal is registered, licensed, and/or microchipped. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Negligent Dogsitter
Q:

I had someone stay in my home to watch my 2 little teacup yorkies.  Against specific instructions she took them to her home and while there her father took one of them out without harness or leash and let her go resulting in her getting killed by passing car. what are my legal options?

A:

I am so sorry to hear this tragic story. A pet “parent” can sue a caretaker when the pet “parent’s” animal gets injured, sick, or dies while in the custody of the caretaker and the caretaker failed to provide reasonable care to the animal. Worth noting though is that courts in New York have tended not to award substantial sums of money when a companion animal is negligently harmed or killed. This is because the courts have generally not considered emotional distress or loss of companionship in these cases (although there have been a few noteworthy exceptions and perhaps there will be more). NY courts have typically considered the market value of the animal and have awarded money for veterinary expenses. Courts may also consider whether the animal had special training and special traits in determining the animal’s value.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Gave my dog to a friend
Q:

My boyfriend and I adopted a second dog-  took ---- home and our dog would attack her on and off all night long. I decided this wasn't going to work. I didn't want to take ---- back. Instead I told my friend about her. After a big talk and pictures shown, she took ---- home, I gave her all the paperwork and instructions on how to change contact info to her name etc. Months later I get a call from Animal Control. --- ran away. ----said she went to pick ----up and they refused to let her because of how ---was acting towards ---- husband. Months later I wanted to make sure --- was able to get back with -----, apparently ---- is with another family and happy. However, I got told recently that ---- never picked ----up from Animal Control. I don't have any of --- information because I gave it all to ----. I just want to make sure ---- is okay and that our names are no longer connected to her. What should I do? Can you help me? Thanks

A:

 I suggest you contact the animal shelter that you adopted the dog from, the dog licensing agency in your area, animal control, as well as the microchip registration company, if applicable, to inform them of your “ownership” status. While it is understandable that an individual would want to get information about the well-being of a dog he/she gave away, there is generally no legal obligation on anyone’s part to provide such information.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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