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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 we sue my girlfriend's parents to get her cat back?
Q:

My girlfriend was recently kicked out of her parents home. She has a cat but could not bring it to my house when she moved in with me due to where I live. We are moving to a new apartment together this fall and will be going back to her parent's house to get the cat. Her parents are pretty crazy, so if they "refused" to give her back her cat, which is hers...could we "sue" or something to get the cat back?

A:

One can sue to try to get possession of an animal who is being unlawfully withheld. Sometimes courts will consider the bests interests of the animal but oftentimes courts will try to determine who ‘owns’ the animal based on factors such as who adopted or purchased the animal, who is the animal’s primary caretaker, who pays for the animal’s care (food, veterinarian bills, grooming) and under whose name the animal is licensed or microchipped. Courts will also consider if the animal has been given away or abandoned.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is my ex-boyfriend responsible for paying me back for vet bills?
Q:

My ex's dog was mauled by a pit bull, and he refused to do anything. I took the dog to the emergency vet, who said the dog would have died without his treatment, and paid the vet bill. Is he responsible for paying me back?

A:

I hope the dog is doing better. A pet ‘owner’ could be prosecuted for failing to obtain essential veterinary care for his or her sick or injured animals. However, when one pays for veterinary care for another person’s animal, the right to get paid back is dependent on the agreement that was reached between the parties. If there was no discussion regarding payment, a court may very well be sympathetic to the non-'owner' who took the animal to the vet.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Am I legally responsible to pay for my neighbor's dog cremation after an attack?
Q:

My father had an incident where one of our two dogs broke his leash and ran towards another dog. My father ran after our dog, which he noticed was in a playful mood with the neighbor's dog, unfortunately they got aggressive and when my father tried to get him off, our dog killed the neighbor's dogs. Cops were called, it was reported and the neighbors asked that we put our dog down which we did.

Without any notice or agreement, the neighbor is insisting that we pay for the cremation or that he will take us to court. Am I legally responsible even though no agreement was made?

A:

This is a tragic story all around. When a dog harms or kills another companion animal, a few legal issues can arise. First, there is the issue of potential liability of the ‘owner’ and person in charge of the animal who harmed or killed another animal. Sometimes, the person whose animal was harmed or killed will sue the ‘owner’ of the animal who caused the harm/death and the person who was in charge of the animal at the time of the incident. In these lawsuits, the ‘owner’ of the injured or killed dog generally seeks monetary compensation. State laws differ on when an ‘owner’ can be held legally accountable for the actions of his/her dog. For example, in some states the ‘owner’ will not be held liable unless it can be shown that the ‘owner’ knew of his/her dog’s dangerous propensities prior to the attack. In other states, known as ‘strict liability’ states (including Florida) a dog ‘owner’ can be held liable for damage done by his/her dog (with exceptions, such as for provoked attacks) even though the 'owner' had no prior knowledge of his/her dog's dangerous propensities.

In addition to bringing civil lawsuits, states and municipalities have dangerous dog laws. These laws vary but generally provide that if a dog is determined (after a hearing or by stipulation) to be dangerous, the ‘owner’ of such dog can be ordered to do certain things (usually depending on the seriousness of the attack), such as muzzling the dog on public property, procuring liability insurance, keeping the dog confined in an enclosure, having the dog spayed/neutered, or having the dog euthanized. Euthanasia is often limited to those situations in which very serious injury was caused to a human being and even then, only after a hearing with appeal rights. There are provisions in the laws which state that a dog will not be declared dangerous if the attack was provoked ---such as when the dog attacks someone who is unlawfully on one’s property or who is attempting to harm the dog or his/her family member. Important to note is that some dangerous dog laws are not applicable at all to dog on dog/cat attacks.

It is really unclear why you killed your dog instead of taking reasonable precautions to ensure that your dog would not harm other animals in the future. Keep in mind also that chaining dogs can cause dogs to become frustrated, lonely, and aggressive. Given Florida’s strict liability law, a court could find you liable for your dog’s actions and may include cremation expenses in a damage award.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have any recourse against my vet who prescribed Baytril?
Q:

Do I have any recourse against a vet who prescribed Baytril to my cat unbeknownst to me. He was in for a simple abscess repair and he died from the effects and she freely admits it was the Baytril. She called the manufacturer to see how to reverse the effects to no avail.

A:

I am so sorry to hear about your cat. Every state has a veterinary licensing board. You can contact the State of Nevada Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, 775-688-1788 or go online to www.nvvetboard.us to access the consumer complaint form. The Board does not resolve financial disputes but has the authority to investigate complaints regarding the care of animals, such as complaints for malpractice and misconduct. One can also sue a veterinarian for monetary damages. In court, one would normally need to show that the veterinarian acted incompetently and/or negligently and caused injury or death. When medicines are administered, the issue sometimes is whether the medicine and dosage given were appropriate under the circumstances. Veterinary hospitals often have pet ‘parents’ sign forms which give some latitude to veterinarians when treating an animal, and that may include the administration of an antibiotic. However, if a veterinarian’s conduct in choosing a particular medicine or dosage falls below what is deemed the acceptable professional standard of care, the veterinarian may still be held liable. Although the monetary awards in veterinary malpractice cases tend not to be substantial since many courts still view animals as property, a few courts have considered emotional distress and the special bond between the animal and human guardian.


Submitted by Cat 911, NV
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can we get our dog back from my husband's ex-coworker?
Q:

My dog was given to us as a gift by my husband's coworker (he works at a dog facility). We had the dog for 3 weeks now and she asked my husband to bring the dog to work because she "missed" him and wanted to see the dog. My husband took the dog to work and went on his lunch break and came back to the dog missing. She took the dog and won't give it back to us. Is this illegal and how can we get the dog back? She no longer works there and will not answer phone calls.

A:

One can sue for the return of an animal wrongfully withheld. If there is no written adoption/sale agreement, courts have to determine the true ‘facts.’ Often, parties have different stories to tell. Although the police can enforce pet theft laws, they usually do not get involved in pet custody/’ownership’ disputes between individuals who know each other.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can I do about an owner who abandoned their cat and now wants it back?
Q:

A neighbor where I live and work abandoned a cat and when we tried to give it back she said her cat was dead and it's not hers (she's a drug addict). Her mother came to move her out (she was sent a 3 day + 60 day notice to vacate) and thanked me for taking the cat (never said anything about taking it back). 26 days after she abandoned it she called and asked for her cat. It's now 7 weeks and she's threatening me. I told her to go to court; it's a civil matter. My boss might fire me because I won't give her the cat back without letting a judge decide. I am heartsick and worried about the welfare of this cat. I live in CA.

A:

If your neighbor sues you for the return of the cat, the judge will consider the evidence and determine who “owns” the cat now. Sometimes courts consider the best interests of the animal when determining pet custody (although one should not count on that). The court might consider evidence regarding the condition of the cat when you first took the cat, both to determine the best interests of the cat and whether the cat was abandoned. The court will likely also try to determine whether the cat was given to you on a temporary or permanent basis. I hope your boss stays out of this situation and that all works out well for the cat.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What should I consider if I want to have a puppy training class in my home?
Q:

I am a dog trainer and I am thinking about having puppy socialization classes in my home. What kind of legal ramifications will this bring on? Do I need separate insurance? If my clients sign a contract will that protect me? Any advice I can get is a big help. Thank you.

A:

I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area who can advise you about local zoning laws, which may affect whether you can conduct your business in your home. An attorney can also advise you about whether forming a corporation would be prudent. Contracts, if well drafted, can provide some protection from liability, but generally do not protect against all possibilities. I suggest that contracts be drafted by an attorney. I also suggest that you consult with your insurance company regarding the scope of your current insurance and insurance needs for your business. Not only can insurance protect against certain potential liabilities but can cover defense costs in the event one is sued. Defense costs (attorneys’ fees and other litigation related expenses) can be very expensive.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back from the breeder after my family emergencies?
Q:

My Mikey has been sick, I had blood work done. His enzymes were very high. I couldn't afford the ultra sound, so my vet tried antibiotic lactose and low protein dog food. My daughters had a hysterectomy, then found out she needed a pacemaker. While I'm helping my daughter and Mikey, I get a call from my other daughter who was in a car accident and was in I.C.U. - she broke her femur bone. I left one daughter to go to another because she has a 3 year old. I was telling the breeder everything that's been going on and she offered to help me with Mikey. I thought that was nice. I brought her his meds and food and vet papers in case he got sick. Now I go to get him and she tells me she is not giving him back. I called the police and they tell me 9/10 of the law she has possession. I have proof he's mine and the sign paid in full but she will not give me back my baby boy Mikey. April 26, 2013 I put my baby in her hands and on 5/12/13 I went to visit him, she said I'm not giving him back and called him Harley. I have been to the police, SPCA, I wrote to consumer affairs, to see if they would publish it under the puppy lemon law. I don't know what else to do. Please help me.

A:

Breeder contracts vary. Some of these contracts state that the breeder has the right to repossess dogs with no refund to the purchaser if the breeder determines that the dog has been abused, neglected or otherwise not cared for in a proper manner. One can sue breeders for the return of animals who are repossessed. Courts handle contract disputes.


Submitted by Helen, FL
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I have some advice on my friend's neighbor who wants his dog to be euthanized?
Q:

Hi, I am asking for a friend of mine. He has a greyhound and has never had a problem with him. A couple months ago a woman moved in next door. He was working in his yard and his dog saw the new neighbors dog (small dog) and accidentally got out of the yard and ended up biting the little dog. He took the neighbor and her dog to the hospital and paid instantly for the dogs injuries. This happened yesterday and the dog is home from the hospital. The new neighbor has threatened my friend stating that she would kill my friends dog and she knew exactly how to do it. She said that my friend has three days to get rid of his dog or she would go to the media and have his dog euthanized. He loves his dog and it never hurt anyone before. He has lived in his neighborhood for years. Do you have any advice?

A:

Dangerous dog laws generally provide mechanisms for a hearing where the evidence is presented and the magistrate determines whether or not a dog should be declared dangerous. If after a hearing the dog is determined by the magistrate to be dangerous, the magistrate usually can require the owner of the dangerous dogs to take certain actions. While the laws differ, remedies often include spaying/neutering, procurement of insurance, muzzling, confinement, or euthanasia. The magistrate generally can order one or more actions be taken. Dogs who harm another companion animal are rarely ordered to be euthanized. The dangerous dog laws in some areas do not even address dog attacks on other companion animals.

Cruelty to animals is against the law in every state. Your friend’s neighbor could be prosecuted if she intentionally kills or injures your friend’s dog, unless the neighbor does so to defend herself or her dog at the time she or her dog is being attacked. To protect his dog and his neighbor's dog, your friend should take better precautions to ensure that his dog does not accidentally get out of his yard.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Who has rights to the dog I was looking after for 3 weeks?
Q:

I contacted a girl and she said can me and my partner look after her dog for 3 weeks. This was done via email. We said yes. We met her and she said face to face we could have the dog. But now she is saying the 3 weeks are up and she wants her dog back. Who has what rights? And me and my partner had even taken (her dog) to the vets as it needed an operation and was very skinny. We also provided food and spent money on this dog. We have even got it microchipped in my name. What can she do? And can anyone take the dog off us?

A:

If one agrees to care for another person’s dog for a limited amount of time (such as three weeks), the temporary caregiver does not typically gain “ownership” of that animal. When these cases are litigated, courts will review the facts, including, for example, if there were advertisements that stated the arrangement was temporary or permanent, if the animal was left for much longer than originally indicated, and if anything happened after the original agreement was made which demonstrates that the agreement changed. The police will usually not get involved in animal custody disputes unless they believe pet theft is involved (which is more likely when the dispute involves strangers rather than family members, roommates, or couples).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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