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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 Members' animal law questions as she can each week.

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:

Breeder won't let us adopt toy poodles
Q:

We want to adopt a pair of Toy Poodles. After 3 emails, 3 phone msgs and 5 days silence we wrote again with warning that if they keep on ignoring us we would complain to the Humane Society. Within 30 minutes came the reply that the dogs "...are available but not to you, I don't take to threats very well..." We tried twice to reach to her, suggested for the sake of the dogs we all calm down and discuss it rationally. No reply yet and it's been 4 days. We believe these doggies will be happy with us and we with them and don't want to give up. What should we do? Thanks.

A:

Responsible animal adoption organizations try to make the best fit for their animals and potential adopters and are not required to place an animal upon demand. This means that sometimes an animal is not adopted to an individual who may wish to adopt the animal. However, since animal shelters and rescue organizations have so many wonderful animals waiting for a loving home one can usually find a great match.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Father gave dog away without my permssion
Q:

Hi, my dog was given away by my dad without my permission for free while I was out of town. I purchased her and had her in AKC training. The new owners were aware the next day, but don't want to give her back to me. What can I do? Thank you!

A:

When animal custody disputes cannot be resolved amicably, one can sue to try to get an animal returned. The courts will review the evidence and determine who is the rightful ‘owner.’ While courts sometimes consider the animal’s best interests, one should not count on that.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Boyfriend gave dog away after 3-week break
Q:

My boyfriend and I purchased a dog together and split all vet bills. We took a break for 3 weeks from each other within the 3 weeks he gave her away without my consent. He could not handle the mess or clean up. As I did all of that. Am I entitled to getting her back?

A:

Resolution of pet custody disputes cannot be easily predicted as the facts of each case are different. Courts may consider that when one ‘co-owner’ left the animal with the other ‘co-owner,’ the person leaving the animal intended to give up rights to the animal, but that would depend on the circumstances and the agreement. These cases get even more complicated when the animal is living in a new home. I hope the dog is doing well and that you all consider what is in the dog’s long term best interests.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Surrendered dog still microchipped to me, can I get him back?
Q:

I surrendered my dog due to a moving situation. I owned him for three years. I just got a call because he is microchipped to me still because the owner didn't change it and he had been found by some man. I told them I was willing to pay for adoption to get him back but they gave him to this random man whom found him wondering the streets. Obviously the SPCA didn't find a safe home for him like I was told and I want him back. What can I do? they keep telling me he isn't my dog because I surrendered him but they called me to get him and then told me I can't take him.

A:

A person who surrenders an animal usually has no further rights to that animal, even if the new ‘owner’ fails to change the microchip registration. In these situations, the shelter generally has no obligation to return the animal to the original ‘owner,’ although the person who lost the dog may still have rights. Consider that the animal shelter did not give the dog to a ‘random man,’ but rather to a Good Samaritan who rescued the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
We want our dog back.
Q:

My parents gave away our dog to some people down the street and signed some note to give the dog to them. Now we want it back. They refuse to answer our calls or answer the door. What can we do to get the dog back they don't have any of his papers, except the invoice when we purchased the dog and some medical records. Please help.

A:

One who gives away a dog or other animal should have no expectation that the animal will be returned, unless the agreement contained a provision allowing for the return of the animal within a certain amount of time or under specified circumstances. I hope the dog does well in his/her new home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to return this dog left in a car?
Q:

A few months ago a friend of ours rescued a dog from a car, with the help of the local police--he'd been locked inside for several days. She contacted the family and told them she would take care of him until they got back on their feet and then turned him over to us because she found it too difficult to care for him and the dog she already had. The family has been in minimal contact for the last five months, and have not been contributing at all to his care. They refuse to neuter him--we offered to pay--and say they want him back. We are concerned for his well-being. Do we have any grounds for not giving him back if they ever ask?

A:

A court could (but might not) decide that an individual, whose dog was rescued by the police after being left in a vehicle, abandoned the pet, particularly if after the incident the animal’s ‘owner’ failed for an extended period of time to provide for the animal’s care.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
I think someone is trying to keep my outdoor cat.
Q:

I live in an apartment complex and I have an indoor/outdoor cat. He goes out everyday and pretty much everyone knows about him. He has a collar with his name and my phone number on it. He has gone missing before and this last time he came home with his collar missing and a little girl's necklace around his neck. I feel like someone purposefully took his collar off and tried keeping him. His collar never slips off nor has he ever tried taking it off. I'm scared to let him back outside in the case that I never see him again. What should I do?

A:

I suggest you keep your cat indoors. Outdoor cats face many dangers, including, for example, getting lost, stolen, run over, exposed to diseases, and subjected to cruelty. Unspayed and unneutered cats also contribute to the already tragic cat overpopulation problem, which leaves many cats and their litters homeless. The fact that a cat’s collar has not fallen off in the past does not mean it never will. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can a Vet adopt out my dog who was to be euthanized?
Q:

My 14 year old dog was suffering from old age and hip dysplasia. I paid for my dog to be put to sleep and two years later found out that my dog was adopted out. Is this legal?

A:

There would be a breach of contract if there was an agreement guaranteeing euthanasia and euthanasia was not done. However, I have seen many agreements which acknowledge that the animal may be euthanized, but leave the ultimate decision to the animal shelter or veterinarian.
 






Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
I think my neighbor injured my dog.
Q:

My dog always barks at the neighbors dogs through the fence in my backyard. I heard my dog yell, when I went outside to investigate, my dogs face was full of blood, and so was the fence, there was a young man outside in his backyard, I think he hit my dog, what can I do?

A:

Cruelty to animals is a crime. Contact the police and SPCA. Hopefully they will investigate and will make an arrest if they have enough evidence. However, it was unclear if the young man you saw was your neighbor or if you knew his identity. To avoid future problems, consider altering/covering the fence so the dogs do not see one another and your dog does not “always” bark at your neighbor’s dogs. Good fences may make good neighbors, but not all of the time.
 





Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Vet Tech was treating my dog for 7 years.
Q:

I'm not sure if you can help or point me in the direction of where I should start. I live in Orange County, California and I have a been taking my dogs to the same vet for more then 7 years until a few months ago.  I have a 6 year old puggle just recently diagnosed with Cushings disease.  I have recently been informed and then after researching myself, found that the meds and care my puggle had been receiving for so many years was illegal.  I had never actually seen or spoke with the actual vet herself.  The only person who has ever seen my dog, diagnosed my dog , and had administered his steroid injections and prescriptions was actually the vet tech.  When I demanded to see the actual vet she told me and my brother who came with me that I cant expect to get "red carpet treatment" for my dog and pay clinic prices.
I feel like the vet should at least reimburse me for the cost of care they charged me for since the vet tech wasn't qualified to treat my animal.

A:

Every state has a veterinary licensing board. People who want to make a complaint about a veterinarian in California should contact the California Veterinary Medical Board, 916-263-2610, www.vmb.ca.gov. However, these boards do not resolve fee disputes. One who believes he/she has been overcharged can sue. Small Claims courts are an easy and user friendly way to resolve disputes that do not involve significant money. People should be prepared to prove their allegations.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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