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Pet Legal Advisor Elinor Molbegott

Elinor D. Molbegott is an attorney who maintains a law practice devoted to animal law.  Elinor answers questions related to animal law for the Animal League that help our supporters learn more about pet law.

If you're a Member, here's your chance to ask Elinor a legal question related to a pet.

Elinor will field and answer as many animal law questions as she can. Responses to questions are posted on this site and not e-mailed directly to the person who submitted the question. Due to the volume of questions received, not all questions are answered. However, many individuals have similar questions. You may find helpful information here even if your specific question is not posted.

Please note that responses to legal inquiries are not meant to replace seeking legal advice from an attorney in your state. The materials in this website and any responses to questions are for informational purposes only and are not intended, nor should they be construed, as legal advice. This website, the information contained herein, and any responses to questions directed to this column are not intended to create and do not establish an attorney-client relationship. You should not rely or act upon any information provided on this website or in any response to your inquiry without seeking the advice of an attorney in your state regarding the facts of your specific situation.

 

Browse the latest Pet Legal Q&As:

How can I get back my dogs who my friend surrendered?
Q:

My supposed to be "friend" surrendered my dogs without my permission. She was only to babysit them for a weekend when I had to go out of town. How can I get them back? They were only 6 weeks old at the time & no paperwork yet.

A:

If simply asking for the return of animals does not work out, sometimes lawsuits are commenced. These cases can become complicated if the person who surrendered the animals and the person alleging to be the animals’ “owner” have different “facts” regarding the animals’ “ownership” or their agreement concerning the surrender of the animals. These cases can become even more complicated if the animals have already been adopted. I hope that the animals’ best interests are being considered.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Am I liable if my dog bites neighbor who constantly taunts him?
Q:

I have an 8 month old puppy, he's considered fearful aggressive. Because when he sees other dogs he gets anxious. But he also doesn't like it if people get near our gate. I have a neighbor that likes to antagonize the dog. And I have told him about the dog and how he gets spooked easily and gets defensive. Yet he still does it.  He sticks his hand over the fence and tries to get my dog to bite him and so does his Autistic grandson. And my If my dog bites them am I responsible?


A:

As the expression goes, “Good fences make good neighbors.” To safeguard one’s animals and others, supervision is very important as is appropriate fencing to prevent people from putting hands over, under, or through a fence. To help to socialize a dog, humane training is also important. New York State's dangerous dog law (and some local dangerous dog laws) provide that a dog will not be declared dangerous if the conduct of the dog was justified because the injured person was tormenting or assaulting the dog. However, proving those circumstances can sometimes be a challenge both in a dangerous dog proceeding and in a civil action where one is sued for money to compensate the injured person. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I prosecute for my dog being put down?
Q:

My baby was put down for no other reason than my ex (the one I entrusted with her) taking her to the vet and telling them that he wasn't going to spend any more money on her. I am the one on her paper work. They didn't call me. I talked to the vet. They assured me that they don't put animals to sleep just because. I had the vet do an autopsy. Now I want to prosecute him for killing my baby. How can I do this?

A:

The police, local sheriffs, and certain humane organizations investigate animal cruelty complaints. In some states, designated peace officers or investigators from the district attorneys office investigate these complaints as well. However, it is unlikely that a law enforcement entity would bring criminal charges against a veterinarian for euthanizing an animal at the request of a person who was entrusted with the animal. Complaints against veterinarians can also be made with the state’s veterinary licensing board. In Missouri, the Veterinary Medical Board accepts such complaints. A form is online at its website. These boards have authority to suspend and revoke licenses. One can also bring a civil action for monetary damages against a veterinarian and a person who unjustifiably authorizes a veterinarian to euthanize an animal. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I find out what breeds my German Shepherd is mixed with?
Q:

We adopted Tiki in Florida and she is now 5. We moved to Boston and are now moving back to Florida. We are finding it hard to find an apartment as her papers say she is a German shepherd mix. She has a lot of breeds in her, how can I find out if that is her primary breed as we adopted her from the rescue?

A:

There are dog DNA tests which supposedly tell the breed composition of a mixed breed dog, although I do not know how accurate these test are. Also, sometimes a veterinarian or other animal care professional will provide his/her opinion in writing. Additionally, a rescue may review its original breed designation stated in an adoption agreement and change the predominant breed indicated. Often when a dog matures it can be easier to provide a more accurate opinion. These opinions may indicate that the dog is not predominantly a breed that a landlord finds objectionable. It is really unfortunate that this process becomes necessary with some landlords since so many of the dogs on the typical ‘breed ban list’ are gentle and loving, including German Shepherds. I hope you find a pet friendly apartment.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I sue or file a petition against an animal hospital for neglect?
Q:

Took my bunny to a local animal hospital. He wasn't eating and his poop was runny. I suggested to the doc that it could be from over heating or from blockage in the digestive tract. He noted how active he was which is a good sign. He then felt my bunnies tummy and said there was no blockage. Thats it. Thats all he did. So pretty much I diagnosed my bunny. He didn't take any tests or x-rays. He said they would give him vitamin B complex to induce his appetite cause all he needed was fiber to get better, would give fluids to keep him from dehydrating (which i don't know why cause he was drinking) and that they would keep him over night. Next day i called to know when to pick him up. They said 2-3 pm. my husband then called to ask if 12 was ok. They then informed us he was dead. later the doc said they "found" him ( aren't they supposed to check up on him?) in the morning, before I called and ask about him. I want to sue or at least start a petition to shut them down. How would I start? Best advice. This is not the first animal that has died in their hands due to neglect. One dog was euthanized instead of being given his rabies shot. HOW ARE THEY STILL OPEN AND WORKING!?

A:

The California Veterinary Medical Board accepts complaints against veterinarians. Go to www.vmb.ca.gov and click “Consumers.” Veterinary boards can take actions against veterinarians, including suspending and revoking licenses. In addition to making such a complaint, a companion animal “owner” can also sue a veterinarian for monetary damages. Necropsies can sometimes help and expert testimony is sometimes needed in such cases to prove the allegations.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can someone buy back a dog I already paid for?
Q:

I bought a dog from someone I met on craigslist and now she wants to buy back the dog. Does she have the right to do so, or is this illegal?

A:

It is not illegal for an individual to offer to purchase an animal from an individual to whom he/she previously sold the animal. On the other hand, the person who purchased the animal is not usually under any legal obligation to sell/return the animal unless the sales agreement provided for the opportunity to re-purchase the animal.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I reclaim a kitten I gave away?
Q:

Hi! I have a question. I gave away a kitten, but we miss her so much and we feel like we lost a family member. Can I reclaim her back 3 weeks after we gave her away to someone on Craigslist.
Thank you much!!!

A:

Generally, an individual does not have any legal rights to an animal he/she gave away, unless the agreement stated otherwise. Occasionally, new adopters are willing to return an animal. However, if the new adopter has already bonded with the animal or is concerned that whatever caused the person to give the animal away will happen again, the new adopter would probably be less inclined to return the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Why did police take my dogs away with no warning?
Q:

My dogs were taken away from me today because the neighbor made a complaint today about my pit mix and my border collie. I had the choice to go to court over it all. They complained that my dogs were attacking their kids. They never once said anything to me about it. I just want to know what my rights are and what I can do. Why did they have to be taken away from me with no warning?


A:

You should retain an attorney immediately. If you cannot afford an attorney, I suggest you contact humane societies in your area which may be able to advise you on procedures to preserve your rights and your dogs’ lives. It is also generally advisable for individuals whose dogs have been seized to immediately inform those responsible for seizing the dogs and the facility where the dogs are being sheltered that he/she wants his/her dogs returned. Generally, dog ‘owners’ whose dogs have been seized for allegedly being dangerous are entitled to a hearing before disposition can be made of the dogs. However, there are often time limitations to exercise one’s rights so it is very important to act quickly. Also, various localities in Missouri (and elsewhere) have very ill conceived laws to ban pit bulls. Some breed ban ordinances have been challenged successfully.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it legal for police to take my dog after one false complaint?
Q:

I own an 11 month old female Pit Mix. This late afternoon a few Law Officals came and took My Dog. Apparently they had gotten a call saying, "my dog was getting beaten", so they instantly just take her...? I feel this is very Wrong of them to do considering it was ONE phone call from a known individual who is constantly finding ways to harass us. I would like to know what I can do about this. Thank you.

A:

I suggest that you hire a criminal defense lawyer. Law enforcement officers have the authority to seize abused and neglected animals although sometimes a warrant is required. I hope this all works out well for the dog and that she is always treated with kindness and respect. Cruelty to animals is not only morally wrong but is also against the law.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it legal for a dog owner to get his dog back after the dog has been gone for over a year?
Q:

Is it legal for a dog owner to get his dog back after the dog has been gone for over a year?

A:

The right of a dog’s ‘owner’ to get his/her dog back depends on the facts and circumstances of each situation. For example, if a lost dog was in a shelter and held for the legal time period before being adopted, usually the original ‘owner’ would lose rights to that animal. However, in exceptional situations (such as Hurricane Katrina) where animals were taken all over the country and their ‘owners’ were not able to track them down for a long time, courts have sometimes ordered the animals returned. If a dog was lost and found (but was not taken to a shelter) courts may look at the efforts the original ‘owner’ made to find the animal and the efforts the finder made to locate the dog’s ‘owner' (as well as how long the animal was missing and how long the finder had the animal). If an animal was not lost but given away or sold, the original ‘owner’ generally would not have a right to the return of the animal, unless there was an agreement providing for the return under certain circumstances.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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