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What can I do to get my cat back from my ex-girlfriend?

Q:

My girlfriend and I broke up. We went our separate ways, and she offered to take care of my cat while I got an apartment, so I could then get my cat. But after I was settled in my new apartment, my ex changed her number and would not respond to my emails. I adopted that cat myself from the ASPCA...and I want her back...What can I do? What rights do I have? Please help.

A:

You can sue for the return of the cat. Generally if an individual purchases/adopts an animal, that person is the ‘owner’ of the animal. There may be exceptions for animals acquired during a marriage. Also if a court believes that an animal was subsequently given away or abandoned the court might decide that the animal now belongs to another person. In making such a determination, courts may consider who paid for the animal’s care, who was the primary caretaker (who fed the animal, who took the animal to the vet, etc.), under whose name an animal is registered/licensed and when such licensing/registration took place. Sometimes courts also consider the best interests of the animal. For example, in one appellate cat custody case in New York, the court stated, “Cognizant of the cherished status accorded to pets in our society, the strong emotions engendered by disputes of this nature, and the limited ability of the courts to resolve them satisfactorily, on the record presented, we think it best for all concerned that, given his limited life expectancy, Lovey, who is now almost ten years old, remain where he has lived, prospered, loved and been loved for the past four years.” Another case in New York involved the following fact pattern: Man acquired dog from his parents. At the time he received the dog, he was living with his girlfriend and they both cared for the dog. When the couple split, the ex-girlfriend cared for the dog while the ex-boyfriend looked for an apartment. The ex-boyfriend subsequently took the dog but then returned the dog to his ex-girlfriend while he traveled. After the trip, the ex-girlfriend refused to return the dog. The ex-boyfriend filed a replevin action (basically an action for the return of property wrongfully withheld). The court held that the ex-boyfriend had a “superior possessory right” and ordered the return of the dog to him. As you can see, it is not always clear how a court will decide pet custody cases. If at all possible, the disputing parties should try to reach an agreement that considers the best interests of the animal. The courts might not.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

 

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