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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:

My boyfriend's dog was seized
Q:

Okay so me and my boyfriend have been having this pitbul together since he was 3 months . he has been spoiled and was and inside dog till we moved to a trailor . Well 2 days ago this female pitbul was on the loose on the street and she kept coming in our yard . so my boyfriend tied up his dog so he wouldnt go after her. So then that morning . we didnt sleep all night we feel asleep till like 9 am that was around the time we tied him up .. we fell asleep and totaly forgot he was tied up . he normallt runs around the yard . and so he tried to go chase the female dog  and he broke into the fence and scratched his face and so the time we were sleeping the dog pound came and alot of cops .. my bf is now being charge with animal cruelty ...  my question is is there any way I (Myself) would be able to get the dog back under MY responsibility as its owner . or What can i Do About It.. He Is Our Baby And i really want to get him back. please let me know ebery possible idea there is to do . thank you

A:

I am sorry to hear that your dog got injured, although it is important to understand that animals require humane shelter and care. Dogs require exercise, socialization, and the ability to move without continuous restraint. When chained, dogs can become anxious and aggressive. As you have seen, they can also get injured. The laws vary from state to state regarding forfeiture of animals who are seized due to suspected animal abuse/neglect. Some states, including Arizona, also have laws which may allow an animal to be forfeited before completion of the prosecution on the animal cruelty charges. More than one person, such as a “co-owner,” can be prosecuted for abusing/neglecting the same animal. I suggest that you and your boyfriend consult with a criminal attorney in your state regarding next steps. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My dog's rights
Q:

I recently got put in a situation where I had to find my dog a home while figuring out living situations. I asked a friend of mine and she said she would look after her we had a verbal agreement that she would take her over the weekend and see how it went for the both of us. I have contacted her several times asking for my dog back. What can I do? I just want my dog back.

A:

 An individual who believes his/her companion animal is being wrongfully withheld can commence a civil lawsuit for the return of the animal. One can also contact the police to allege pet theft although the police will often not intervene in situations involving pet “ownership” disputes arising out of a pet-sitting/possible re-homing arrangement.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Getting My Dog Back
Q:

In 2013 and living on Lana'i, my aunt was caring for my dog--- until we moved back home to O'ahu. She was not given dog. Because of allergies, she ended up giving her away to a girl who gave her away to another girl on a different island. She told me she couldn't hold dog anymore, but I believe miscommunication occurred about us taking her back. I didn't know any of the people involved who dog was given to. Since our move, I've tried contacting family on Lana'i for help, but no luck. I finally contacted the first girl who had dog. She refused to tell me who she gave dog to. With help from a social media post about dog, someone told me who really had her. It's been a year and a half and I finally found the girls name. My husband and I called them and I flew out to Maui to talk to them. They don't want to give dog back. What can I do?

A:

This poor dog. While it is difficult to predict how a court would decide a pet custody case (particularly since disputing parties often have different recollections of the facts), a court may determine that an animal left with a family member (or other person) and not retrieved in a timely manner was gifted or abandoned and that the pet-sitter had the legal right to re-home the animal. Courts would likely consider how long the animal was left, whether the animal’s “owner” paid for the animal’s care, visited the animal, or otherwise demonstrated any intention to retrieve the animal. Consider what is in the best interests of the dog. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Does he even have rights after he abused the dog?
Q:

Last June 8th, I awoke to my neighbors dog trying to crawl through my ground floor window, she had front leg injuries. He was nowhere to be found at the time so I took her to the ER. A long story but it turned out that he gave the ER written permission to give me care over her, he had admitted to me that he threw her out his 3rd story window due to drugs and delusions. She has been living with me for the past 13 months and I have been taking care of her the whole time. She is part of my family, when I took her in it was with the understanding that she was not going to go back to the person who injured her in the first place. A few days ago he contacted me and wants her back, he is sicking a lawyer on me and I don't even know where to begin. Does he even have rights after he abused the dog?

A:

Laws often provide that persons convicted of animal abuse must forfeit the abused animal. Even without a conviction, a person may still forfeit rights to an animal, such as when there is evidence that he/she gave the animal away, abandoned the animal, or sold the animal.  Granting another person permission to assume care/expenses of an injured animal may be considered very solid proof that the animal was given away. The time lapse of more than a year before attempting to re-claim the animal would be further proof. Also, while courts do not always consider the best interests of the animal in pet custody disputes, they have done so particularly when it has been demonstrated that one party to the dispute has abused or neglected the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Neglected Dog
Q:

I am watching a dog that belonged to my ex. He has been highly neglected in the last 4 years and now he has splayed/ deformed paws. Vet agreed he was neglected He has been in our possession for 3 months and we have been taking care of him. Now the ex wants him back to use him as a buddy dog to the dog that was harassing him. We want to legally keep him and treat him medically.  What are the steps?

A:

If one suspects animal neglect or abuse, law enforcement authorities should be contacted. Cruelty to animals is against the law in every state. When there is a dispute regarding an animal’s “ownership,” courts will consider many factors, including, for example, whether the animal was given away, abandoned, or sold. Sometimes courts will consider an animal’s best interests. When a person who has possession of an animal believes that he/she is entitled to keep the animal, it is often up to the person not in possession to commence the lawsuit to try to regain possession. The police usually do not intervene in pet custody disputes between ex-partners/spouses, but that depends on the facts and circumstances of each situation. 

 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dog burial
Q:

My dog of 13 yrs was buried in my ex-boyfriend's mother's yard. How do I bring him to my home. This happened suddenly without any thought! I can't leave him there. Please help me!!!

A:

Ideally in this type of situation a mutually agreeable resolution would be able to be reached, which may entail removing the dog’s remains and paying for the cost to restore the lawn. However, if your ex-boyfriend and/or his mother consider themselves to be “owners” of the dog, they might not consent. Consider consulting an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Does the man claiming to be the owner have a right to get her back?
Q:

It was a Friday afternoon, I had just gotten home from work, my sister and her children were visiting and were in the yard when I got home so we stayed there and chatted for a bit.. Meanwhile a drunk man (I kmow who he is) comes staggering across the parking lot with a beer in his hand and a little pup on a piece of rope.  And of course he comes into my yard and the kids were making of the dog and loved her.  He asked them if they wanted to buy her for $10 and they said no so after a few minutes he throws the rope at my daughter and says shes yours and runs off.. baffled at this point I didn't know what to do, I already have 3 dogs and couldn't keep her so put a post on facebook to see if anyone could take her, by the end of the night she had been transferred to a wonderful home.  a few days later another man shows up at my house claiming this dog is his and the other man had no right to give her away. but like I said she was already given to someone.  My question is.. does the man claiming to be the owner have a right to get her back? the dog is not tagged or been to a vet.

A:

If a court believes that a person’s animal was stolen and then sold or given away, the court could order the return of the animal. Courts would consider proof of “ownership” documentation of the person alleging his/her animal was stolen and the circumstances of how the person who sold or gave the animal away got possession of the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My dog was taken to spca
Q:

Long story short.  I rented room for a month. After a week, I was physically threatened to get out. The police called and the landlord told me I could stay...a few days later I came home and was told that I'm not allowed on property...the police asked the homeowner who has 3 other dogs if they would keep dog until I found a home. They said yes...a few days later I got a message to call about the dog...I called the police and they just ignored it...they took the dog to spca and now they want 240 plus 20 a day...I live on a small disability check and want my dog..what can I do if I don't have the money.

A:

There are often legally prescribed redemption fees that shelters can charge prior to returning animals to their “owners.” Sometimes these fees are waived, depending on the circumstances. When the shelter refuses to return an animal pending payment, my best suggestion is to pay the money, even if that means borrowing the money. The laws in many municipalities provide that if the animal is not redeemed within a certain amount of time the animal may be adopted out or euthanized.  


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Proof of Ownership
Q:

I have my Bichons medical records from vet's office with my account established when dog was purchased in 2001. He was taken by former domestic partner who moved to Florida 4 years ago along with his AKC paperwork. I was told that medical records are verifiable as proof of ownership.

The local police here said that I need to bring evidence to judge who recently reopened civil case.

A:

An animal’s veterinary records are one indication of “ownership,” but do not necessarily prove “ownership.” People frequently give away and sell animals but still have possession of an animal’s veterinary records, photographs, etc. Having these things after giving away or selling an animal does not negate the sale/gift. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it possible for us to get the dog back?
Q:

Hello, we have a golden retriever that moved with us to Illinois and the landlord of our home did not allow pets. We were able to ask a friend of my husband's uncle to look after the dog until we could get him back once we moved to a place where we could keep him. Now we are in a house in Colorado where we can have him and called to tell the friend we were coming to get him this weekend and now they said we cannot get him back without legal actions. What kind of rights do we have in this case and is it possible for us to get the dog back? Thank you for your time.

A:

When a person agrees to care for a friend’s animal, the caretaker does not typically gain “ownership” of that animal (unless the animal’s “owner” agreed to give away, and not just board, the animal). Often disputing parties have different versions of the agreement and then it may be up to a court to decide who “owns” the animal. A court may also decide that an animal was abandoned. These unfortunate situations can be avoided when people with pets make sure they find pet friendly housing, even though that can sometimes require more time and effort.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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