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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 shelter/rescue insist on a home visit?
Q:

I adopted a puppy in May of 2014. I live in WV, but I adopted the dog while in NC for the summer. I fulfilled my contract exactly as required (all vaccines on time, spay on time, kept in the house except on a leash, etc...). Once the last item (the spay) was completed in August 2014, I asked if they could send me some sort of written confirmation that I had fulfilled my contractual obligations. They said nobody ever asked for that, but that they would. I've waited and waited, inquired a few more times since then, trying to be nice, but explaining that I really wanted to have that written documentation. Finally a few days ago in November 2014, I was much more pushy and explained that I had been waiting for 3 months with no paperwork, and that I really didn't understand why it was an issue for me to receive it. The first response was that I, unlike other adopters, had never provided pictures for their marketing materials. I explained that I didn't really want to be used for marketing purposes. The representative then got rather angry with me, saying that my contract required me to submit whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. I double-checked my contract and I'm only required to allow them to check up on the dog in person; nothing else (pictures, phone calls, etc...). I pointed that out, at which time she said "Well then I guess I will personally be making a visit to OUR dog". I feel that this threat was a direct result of my being unwilling to submit to being used in their marketing, and nothing to do with the dog at all. They had expressed absolutely no concern about her since I adopted her. I certainly do not trust these people at this point and fear they might fabricate a story of neglect. Can they insist on a home visit? What happens if I refuse? I can certainly document the health and well-being of the dog, but can they make my life miserable? I don't even want them in my house at this point.

A:

It is fairly common for animal adoption agreements to have a home-check provision. If one does not comply with contract terms, a lawsuit may be commenced. I suggest you consult with an attorney who can review your agreement. Generally, animal shelters/rescue groups do not issue letters indicating that an adopter has fulfilled contractual obligations. Oftentimes, contractual obligations, such as home visits and animal care, are ongoing.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Nephew looking for legal pro bono advice in animal welfare field.
Q:

My nephew has just passed the New York bar. He needs to do pro bono and knows how near and dear the homeless pet issue is for our Family. I have done "rescue" my entire life - now 24/7 for 6 years. I am working on lobbying and legislation in Florida. This could turn out to be a gig that goes on for a lifetime for my nephew! He is working full time after graduating from NYU and St John's, passed the bar and did his undergrad at University of Florida. Please consider speaking with him or give us a referral. Thanks for all you do for the animals!

A:

Congratulations to your nephew! I suggest that he join one or more bar associations that have animal law committees. Some committee members do very worthwhile pro bono work for animals. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I administer vaccinations if I am not a licensed veterinarian?
Q:

I'm starting a pet sitting business. I offer services like feeding, grooming, vaccinations for your pet while I take care of them. Are there any legal ramifications involved in charging people to vaccinate their pets if I am NOT a licensed veterinarian? I know that baby shots have to legally be given by a licensed veterinarian. But can I get in trouble for giving the other vaccinations that I can purchase at my local feed store?

A:

It would be unlawful for a pet sitting business to give vaccinations to customers’ pets, unless the vaccinations are given by a veterinarian licensed to practice in the state or under the supervision of the veterinarian by a veterinary technician. For further information, contact the Arkansas Veterinary Medical Examining Board.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my late mother's ex take away the dog I gave her?
Q:

My mother gave me her dog a couple months ago when she kicked her sex offender husband out. She then got a restraining order on him. She just passed away and he came back to Ohio, and now he's trying to get the dog back. I paid for his vet, and adopted him for my mother before she met him, and she now has a loving home. Can he legally take the dog back?

A:

Probably not. Generally when one gives a dog away as a gift (and you indicated your mother gave the dog to you), a third party would not have greater rights to the animal. There could be exceptions if one gives away an animal that one does not exclusively “own.” I suggest you hire an attorney and/or contact the police depending on actions taken by your mother’s husband. Oftentimes, it can be helpful to prove that an animal was acquired by one party (in this situation, your mother) prior to marriage.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can we keep an abandoned cat?
Q:

A neighbor has been systematically neglecting a cat for quite some time. Leaving it to unwarranted care of roommates. She was forced to leave the apartment and left the cat in our care with the provision of coming back for it at a later date.
The cat is in poor health, old age and declawed by this girl. She routinely leaves doors open and we often find the cat wandering up to a few blocks down the road.
The previous owner has offered to buy food and cat liter once in 4 months.
In the past, she has had the cat "stay" with friends often and the cat has been passed around for months at a time for years. We have had her for 4 months now and granted her health has gotten better, but the cat needs veterinary care.
The girl claims she wants the cat back in a couple months, but could have someone else take the cat if we couldn't take care of it anymore.
I am really at a loss. Can we legally keep this cat and tell her she can pursue legal means if she wants to?
We have ample records of the costs of care and a good number of witnesses who will attest to the previous owners negligence. Any advice is greatly appreciated.



A:

This falls into the category of “no good deed goes unpunished.” In some situations, it is clear when “ownership” of an animal ceases.  For example, an “owner” will generally lose all rights to an animal if he/she signs an agreement surrendering rights to the animal or fails to retrieve an animal from a shelter within the time period prescribed by law. An “owner” may also lose rights to his/her animal if court ordered after a conviction for animal abuse or neglect. If one sues for the return of an animal he/she believes is being wrongfully withheld, courts will consider evidence of whether the animal had been given away, sold, or abandoned.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I be fined by Animal Control if they've never seen my dog?
Q:

There is a crazy lady down my road, and she called and complained that my sweet dog (who had gotten out of the fence, we have since fixed it) was aggressive and attacked her. My dog didn't bite her, but I find it hard to believe she was aggressive. There are dogs wandering our neighborhood that will try to attack our car as we are driving. There is also a dog that runs around that makes me fearful to walk my kids to the car. A neighbor warned me that someone called animal control so I called them and gave them my address, but they had nothing on record for me. I was concerned that they didn't leave a letter and I didn't want to lose my dogs, I was willing to cooperate fully! Turns out they mailed the letter to the wrong address and are trying to fine me (thousands of dollars) for not responding to the letter. But I never received it. They threatened to take my dogs. But I just don't understand how they can fine me, when they never came out to see my dog, to see if she's aggressive. And fine me for not cooperating with them, when I tried. Please tell me what to do.

A:

I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area who can ascertain what charges have been filed against you. For example, are you being cited for an unleashed dog (although I have never seen a fine for an unleashed dog in the thousands of dollars)? Were you scheduled to appear at a dangerous dog hearing? These hearings are sometimes held when it is alleged that a dog bit or attacked a person or other animal. Is there an allegation of animal abuse or neglect? Persons convicted of animal abuse or neglect can be subject to substantial fines, imprisonment, and sometimes the forfeiture of the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my dog be taken away if I haven't had him to the vet in years?
Q:

I haven't brought my dog into a vet for over 3-5 years and I'm scared they might take my dog away. Will they take my dog away because of that reason?

A:

I hope your dog is healthy and that you get necessary medical care for your dog. There is no specific legal requirement regarding how often one must bring his/her animal to a veterinarian (although there are some laws requiring rabies vaccinations). Generally, one’s animal would not be confiscated solely because the animal has not been to a veterinarian for a long time. In fact, since some people utilize the services of more than one veterinarian, a veterinarian would not necessarily know that an animal has not been to a veterinarian for a few years (unless the animal appears to have been neglected). Every state has a cruelty to animals law. Washington State’s law provides, in part, “An owner of an animal is guilty of animal cruelty … if …the owner knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence... fails to provide the animal with necessary shelter, rest, sanitation, space, or medical attention and the animal suffers unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain as a result of the failure…” The law further provides, “…it shall be an affirmative defense, if established by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's failure was due to economic distress beyond the defendant's control.” Persons convicted of cruelty to animals may be ordered to forfeit their animals. Many states have laws pertaining to veterinarians reporting suspected cases of animal abuse to law enforcement authorities. Some states mandate it. Some states (such as Washington) allow veterinarians to make such a report in good faith and other states don’t have a law addressing this issue.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
As a pet boarder, what recourse do I have when owners abandon their pets?
Q:

I own a pet boarding facility and am having a number of owners abandon their pets while in our care. Do I have any recourse?  I am unable to get any response from the owners and will be sending them certified letters soon but not certain how to word it or what the legal status is.
Any advice will be appreciated, I've acquired 4 in the past few months.
Thank you!

A:

Many states, including Georgia, have laws which provide that an animal left at a veterinarian or boarding kennel may be deemed abandoned if the animal is not retrieved by the animal’s “owner” within a specified time after demand to retrieve the animal is made. Georgia’s law provides, in part, “If the charges due … are not paid within ten days after the demand … on the owner of the animal … or if the animal … is not picked up within ten days after the demand, … which demand shall be made in person or by registered or certified mail or statutory overnight delivery with return receipt requested and addressed to the owner at the address given when the animal … was delivered, the animal … shall be deemed to be abandoned and the licensed veterinarian or operator of a facility is authorized to dispose of the animal … in such manner as such veterinarian or operator shall determine.” For a full copy of the law, contact an attorney or legislator in your state. The abandonment laws in some states have been interpreted to require the release of the animal to the “owner” if the “owner” responds to the demand letter in a timely manner even if payment is not made. The entity would still have a claim for payment but the animal cannot be held “hostage” pending payment.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have enough proof of ownership to get my pitt bull puppy back from my ex?
Q:

A few months ago I bought a 6week old pit bull puppy from my friend, it was for me and my girlfriend. Well a month later we broke up and she kept the dog. She didn't pay for her. I paid for the shots and food and toys. I also have a signed statement from the friend I bought the dog from saying I am the one she sold the dog to. Is this enough to get my dog back if I take it to court? Or if I show the police? I'm not sure how to go about this situation


A:

The police do not generally get involved in pet custody disputes unless they believe pet theft is involved (which is usually not the situation when two ex-partners/spouses are claiming rights to a “shared” animal). One can commence a civil lawsuit for the return of an animal who he/she believes is being wrongfully withheld. While proof of purchase or adoption is one indication of “ownership,” it does not tell the whole story. Courts will consider other evidence. For example, sometimes an animal is purchased by one person but then given to another person as a gift. Leaving an animal behind when a relationship ends may (or may not depending on the circumstances) also indicate an intent to relinquish whatever “ownership” rights one may have. I hope you are all putting the dog’s best interests first. Not that this is your motivation, but all too often ex-partners and divorcing spouses use pet custody as a means to hurt the other person and overlook what is really best for the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I be forced to euthanize my dog over freak accident?
Q:

So I have a 75 pound dog that has been the best choice I ever made. There was a cat already there when I got her and my dog and the first cat stay out of each others way. We rented a room out and this person had 2 cats and a dog and the dogs are best friends. But one time while not in the house the door to the room with the cats was opened and not properly locked so the kitten and my dog came in contact and well the kitten was killed. My dog has never acted this way towards another dog or humans as well as the cat that was already there before her. She wants me to put the dog down but it was a freak accident. The owner of the kitten has told me to either put the dog down or it will go to small claims court


A:

 I am so sorry to hear about the tragic incident. Ohio’s dangerous dog law does not provide for the euthanasia of dogs who kill a cat. However, Ohio is one of several states that has a strict liability dog bite law (meaning that often the owner of a dog is responsible for his/her dog’s actions, unless the dog was being tormented by the victim or the victim was trespassing or committing some other criminal offense at the time of the incident). Nevertheless, if the kitten’s “owner” sues in a small claims court, there is no assurance that a court would find in her favor (or award her very much money) particularly since you were living in the same house (an argument can possibly be made that the cat's "owner"  was also harboring the dog). I hope all of the animals are now provided with a safe and humane environment.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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