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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 keep my Mom from leaving dog outside?
Q:

I live with my mom and I have a dog that I take care of, not her, and I walk her and pay for everything. If she takes my dog and ties her outside cause she doesn't want her in the house anymore is there anything i can do?

A:

In these situations, one can move, find another family for the dog where she will be allowed in the house and treated humanely, or work out the existing controversy so that the dog can have a comfortable place in the house. Not only is tethering dogs outdoors for extended periods of time unlawful in a few NY municipalities, it is also cruel. In addition, there is a NY statewide dog shelter law (which requires shelter appropriate to the dog’s breed, physical condition and climate) and a cruelty to animals law which, among other things, requires that animals be provided with necessary sustenance and prohibits the causing of unjustifiable suffering. The police are authorized to enforce these laws as are societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals and other designated officers. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Are NY pet stores required to micro-chip puppies?
Q:

Are pet stores in NY required to chip puppies before they are sold? I was told this by a pet store owner. I was looking to buy a puppy, he said this is the law

A:

There is legislation pending before the New York City Council to require pet stores to microchip dogs and cats before releasing the animals to a purchaser. The bill has not passed yet. Microchips help to reunite lost animals with their guardians. No question about that. While it is also a good idea to keep tags on collars, they can be removed or fall off so a microchip provides added protection.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My ex wants my cat, but I have a restraining order.
Q:

I was dating a guy on and off for the past 3 years. In February 2014, my cat was having significant anxiety problems due to a toddler being in my home. I asked him to temporarily take care of my cat while we taught the toddler to be nice to cats. We called this a "cat vacation." We agreed it was temporary.

In April 2014, I broke up with my boyfriend. He begged me not to take back my cat. I told him that he could continue to care for my cat as long as I was able to visit her while he was not home. He agreed to this.

In July, 2014 my ex attacked me and threatened my life. After this incident, I sought a restraining order for my safety and the safety of my cat. The judge approved the temporary restraining order and ordered that the cat be returned by me. The police escorted me to get my cat. The cat is now in my possession. At the hearing, the judge extended my restraining order for 1 year, but said in passing that the cat seems to belong to my ex. (He had presented a text message out of context that convinced the judge of this.) His lawyer asked the judge to order the cat be returned to my ex and the judge stated that he could not do that and that he would have to file a different suit.

After that, I got a lawyer. My lawyer has been calling his lawyer over the past 20 days and the lawyer has not answered the phone, and his voicemail box is full so my lawyer can't leave a message.

Today, 20 days after the hearing, I received a letter in the mail from my ex's lawyer stating "please make arragnements with me for the cat to be delivered to --- If you do not respond, or refuse, I will file suit."

Is his lawyer allowed to do that? Is he breaking the restraining order? He's threatneing me and I feel bullied and scared. I cannot give the cat to my ex because I'm worried he will hurt her. I'm worried he will hurt me, which is why I got the order.

The cat does not belong to him. I bought her 2 years before I met him. I have all the vet bills. I have witnesses to the temporary vacation of the cat being with my ex.

I don't know what to do.


A:

It is common for attorneys to write a “demand” letter prior to commencing a lawsuit. If a lawsuit is commenced regarding the “ownership” of an animal, courts will consider the evidence which may include, for example, who purchased or adopted the animal, who has paid for the animal’s care, and who has been the animal’s primary caretaker. Sometimes the best interests of the animal are also considered. Disputes regarding the “ownership” of an animal are usually adjudicated in a civil, not criminal, action unless there are theft or other criminal charges involved regarding the animal (for example, people who are convicted of cruelty to animals may be ordered to forfeit the animal). Attorneys (with authorization from clients) can also send a letter to another attorney indicating that they are representing the client and that communication be directed to the attorney.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can an adoption agency force treatment?
Q:

We are wanting to adopt a dog from a local agency. However, their policy requires all dogs in the home to be on heart worm medicine or they will refuse adoption. They are the only agency in 3 counties with this requirement. How can they legally force their agenda on pet owners, and still refuse adoption on that issue alone?

A:

Animal shelters and rescue groups often have adoption requirements (which vary although some requirements, such as spay/neuter, are quite common). This helps to better ensure that the animals will be cared for in a humane and safe manner.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
I gave my dog away while under extreme stress. Can I ever get her back?
Q:

I surrendered my beloved puppy to an "animal rescue" locally that I know did good work. I was lied to about her breed (french bulldog) and only found out the day I gave her to them that she was a terrier. This explained how I was starting to feel overwhelmed by how to deal with her needs, especially in the apt I was living in at the time. My living situation and life at that time was so stressful-I was under severe duress. All that has changed. I bought her and she was my constant companion for 8 months 24/7. Pampered to the hilt, vetted, all her needs cared for. NEVER abused, neglected, only loved. I made a rash a decision but they will not give her back. They hurried me throughout, even when signing their agreement. My copy is not even signed. They promised she would be homed immediately. It's been 3 and half months and she's still available but they will not let me plead my case. Their mission statement was to "keep families together first" - help with training, even financially. She NEVER offered this-just scooped my beloved pup up within 24 hours. We have been begging for her return since. I have doctors that are willing to submit ppwk stating my stress levels @ the time. Should I hire an attorney? Do I have a case for her return?

A:

When an individual signs an agreement surrendering all rights to an animal, he/she usually has no legal right to the return of the animal. Rescue groups and shelters are often reluctant to return an animal to an individual who surrendered the animal for fear that whatever caused an individual to surrender a “beloved puppy” may happen again. After all, the mission of rescue groups and shelters is to place animals in humane forever homes. If you choose to pursue this matter, consult with an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I make sure my ex-wife gets custody of my dog if it's not stated in my will?
Q:

I am going to have a big surgery next week, and I am not sure if I will make it or not. I already wrote a will, but my dog is not in it. I want to give my dog to my ex-wife after my death. What should I do to give her the legal rights to have my dog and stop any one else from taking it? As I said, I wrote a will before but the dog was never mentioned in it. Please advise and fast PLEAAAASE.

A:

Many states, including Connecticut, have laws allowing for the establishment of trusts for animals. I strongly suggest consulting with an attorney in your state who can draft a new Will, codicil to your existing Will, or living trust which provides for your dog. Best of luck!
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I legally adopt cat left in our care for 2 years?
Q:

My husband's friends dropped there cat off for what was supposed to be a couple weeks to a few months. It has now been 2 years and still they are not responding to our calls or texts asking when they will be picking up their cat. At this point we want to legally adopt the cat as she has become a member of our family and our kids are very, very attached to her. Since we can not get hold of the the original owners and don't want them showing up out of no where to pick up the cat, we would like to make it legal. How would we go about adopting her legally? Thank you.

A:

While one can enter into an animal adoption or foster agreement with an animal shelter, rescue group or individual, I know of no other legal mechanism to adopt an animal one already has. When custody disputes arise, courts typically consider who “owns” the animal. Such factors as who purchased or adopted the animal, who paid for the animal’s care, who has been the animal’s primary caretaker, and under whose name the animal is registered, microchipped and licensed will be considered as well as evidence regarding whether the animal been given away, sold or abandoned. Some courts have also considered the best interests of the animal. I believe that unless there are extenuating circumstances, most courts would find that a person who left an animal in another person’s care for a couple of weeks but failed to pick up the animal for a couple of years has abandoned that animal and has no further rights to the animal. In these situations, the person with whom an animal was abandoned would not normally hand over the animal to the original ‘owner’ just because the original ‘owner’ showed up two years later.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Friend won't give dog back after return form military deployment.
Q:

I left my dog with a friend during my military deployment. And now, she has him registered to her name and won't give him back. I never signed him over to her, she was just watching him. What can I do?

A:

One can sue for the return of an animal if he/she believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my cats back from shelter, after I mistakenly gave them up?
Q:

I had 2 cats for 11 years. I made a horrible mistake and I gave them to a Foster rescue Shelter. I have Anxiety/Depression and I wasn't thinking straight at the time. I have asked this foster many times to please give me back my cats. She won't.S he said they're not my cats anymore. I never signed anything. Do I have any rights to get them back? I'm under a doctors care since they left.

A:

Generally when one surrenders an animal to an animal rescue group, the person surrendering the animal does not have any further rights to that animal. However, usually these agreements are in writing so the rights of each party are clear. When the agreements are not in writing and the issue of ‘ownership’ is litigated, courts will consider the evidence and determine the rights of the respective parties.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have any rights against crematorium or vet for wrongful cremation of my dog?
Q:

My sweet dog declined rapidly from cancer and I had to have her put to sleep. I made arrangements to have her body picked up by a local pet cemetery so that she could be buried there, they would be able to pick her up on Friday (3 days later). I even asked the vet office if that would be OK with them, and stated I would take her body home if she could not be kept there that long. They assured me that she could be kept at the vets office until pick up and they confirmed with the pet cemetery before I left. The vet even said to me "we'll take good care of this kid". I was informed yesterday after the pet cemetery called to say that they were coming to pick her up, they went to find her body "and it wasn't there." They informed me that my Sophie had been picked up by the office's crematorium 2 days before and has already been mass cremated with several other dogs. I am heart broken and devastated, not only do I not get to lay her body to rest, I don't even get her ashes. They were so cold about it stating that "there was a note on her, the truck driver shouldn't have picked her up
", and then had the gall to say they would help with the fees for adopting another pet!!!!!  And of course the crematorium is claiming there was no such note. But it was also implied that the driver who picks up the dogs on a regular basis does not check with the anyone at the vet office before leaving with all of the dogs. How can this be, this simple act would have stopped this tragedy. Do I have any legal grounds with what happened. I want to make sure this can never happen to anyone else.

A:

I am so sorry to her about your dog’s passing as well as the loss of her body. There was a similar case in NY many years ago. Arrangements were made for a veterinary hospital to transfer the dog’s remains to an organization that maintained a pet cemetery. Upon opening the casket at the dog's funeral, the dog's guardian found the remains of a dead cat. The court, in awarding the plaintiff monetary compensation for her loss, held that the plaintiff “did suffer shock, mental anguish and despondency due to the wrongful destruction and loss of the dog’s body. She had an elaborate funeral scheduled and planned to visit the grave in the years to come. She was deprived of this right.” In addition to suing, one can also file a complaint with the Missouri Veterinary Medical Board. There is a complaint form online.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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