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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:

I gave my dog away but its still registered to me.
Q:

Hi I need help. I gave my dog to a friend a week ago to have, as me and my partner split. I now want me dog back home. We all miss her so much but the person won't giver her back. The dog is registered to me and my address. Where do I stand and what do I do next ?



A:

Generally when a person gives his/her dog away, such person has no further rights to the animal, unless there is an agreement providing otherwise. While a dog license, registration, and microchip demonstrate “ownership,” they do not necessarily prove “ownership” all of the time. For example, a dog license, microchip, or other registration would not negate an act subsequent to the registration, licensing, etc., such as giving away or selling the dog. If litigated, courts would also consider evidence to determine whether an animal was given away, sold, or temporarily boarded.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dog adopted from a neglectful rescue.
Q:

I found a beautiful dog, a husky that was a supposed rescue.  I contacted the organization and was quickly contacted about the adoption.  I was sent an application to fill out which was a standard template, and then I sent it back.  I was told the dog was being boarded at a kennel and that I could meet the dog there. 

Upon getting there, the place is surrounded by a chain link fence with a trailer/house on the right side and another fence separating the dogs.  You could hear what was probably hundreds of dogs behind this place, I cant say for sure, as the lady who came out to meet me said it was against the rules and she would bring the dog to me. 

Once she brought her out, the dog who has terrible social anxiety and most likely a history of abuse instantly jumped into my arms and bonded with me.  I wanted to bring her home that night.  They agreed to let me take the dog home even though the requirement of a home visit had not been fulfilled, I offered to pay the adoption fee that night to the boarder but was told not to.  

Upon getting the dog home she did well in settling in but I started to notice she wasn't feeling well.  She had a hot nose, a persistent hacking cough, continuous vomiting and diarrhea.  This went on for days.  I contacted them and told them I was concerned about kennel cough, and other possible infections and was taking her to my vet.  They called me back and told me not to take her to the vet, but instead to meet them at a gas station, where they would give me antibiotics for the dog. "Wait don't you want to come do the home visit?"  She replies; "No, I don't have time."

Anyway I reluctantly drove an hour away waited for them.  Two hours went by and without them showing. Finally, they called me back and said they were running late. I waited another 45 mins and finally they showed up.  They gave me a file on the dog which shows that she has only had two vaccinations: parvo, and kennel cough and nothing else. They assured me that it would be taken care of.  They get in the back of my car and before I realize what they are doing, they jab needle into the dogs back to do the microchipping. They miss and have to do it a second time..  The poor dog was in agony and I was just speechless.  They gave me a ziplock bag with pills in it and tells me to give the dog a dose daily to treat the kennel cough, gets in the car and leaves.
The next day they contact me and says that they wants the $300 adoption fee, and that the home visit isn't necessary, that I can just send pictures of my apartment.

I question where the money is going since this is a supposed non profit organization for rescue dogs, and since nothing had been done to help my dog why would I pay $300?  I never said I wasn't willing to pay, I simply questioned where the money would be put to use.  They flip out, and starts acting really unprofessional, calling me names, saying I was a terrible person, and that the adoption was cancelled and that she was coming to get the dog.


They continued to harassed me for a couple days and then another lady starts contacting me, stating she is on the "Board of Directors" for the rescue.  Another lie, I looked the lady up, she isn't even involved with the rescue, I assume she is a personal friend.   

Now I have a guy claiming to be an attorney emailing me, saying that I have to pay the $300, and get the dog neutered myself or they will File Suit Against me.

A:

If one suspects that animals are being abused or neglected, local law enforcement authorities should be contacted, such as SPCAs (societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals) and the police. In some areas, other law enforcement officers also investigate such complaints. With respect to adoption fees, most animal rescue groups provide good care to their animals and the adoption fee usually does not cover the amount of money spent by the rescue on an animal’s care prior to adoption (food, shelter, veterinary care, grooming, etc.). Typically a prospective adopter signs an adoption agreement and pays an adoption fee/donation prior to getting the animal. When this does not occur and a lawsuit is commenced by the rescue group for the adoption fee or for the return of an animal, the adopter runs the risk that a court will order the animal to be returned or the payment of the adoption fee, court costs, etc. I hope that the dog is doing well now!
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Stolen Bengal cat.
Q:

Hello, my Bengal cat was stolen by a neighbor of mine. They are refusing to return my cat to me. I've already got the police involved and they were unable to get my cat returned to me. They said there was nothing they could do and that I would have to take it to a small claims court. I just have some questions on what my rights are regarding my cat, and what I need to do to retrieve her back. Thank you.


A:

An individual who believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get the animal returned.  Small Claims courts often only handle cases for money and not for the return of property (and animals) so it is important to check with one’s local Small Claim court regarding its jurisdiction prior to commencing a lawsuit. If the Small Claims court does not handle actions in replevin (for the return of property), other courts in the state will handle such cases.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dog given away while impaired.
Q:

I was recently on prescribed antidepressant and succumbed to severe side effects. I have an M.D. as well as a PsyD's letter stating the antidepressant I was taking was contradicive to another prescribed medication, causing severe mood swings and an extreme altered state of mind. I had given my dog to my ex. Now that my mind is back on track I want my dog back. Under normal circumstances I would never have parted with him...EVER. Do I have any legal standing?


A:

I hope you are feeling much better. Generally when a person gives an animal away, such person has no further rights to that animal unless there was an agreement stating otherwise. Contracts can sometimes be voided based on the incapacity of one or more of the parties, although courts are reluctant to void contracts without significant justification. In one noteworthy case, for example, the court refused to void a contract (written on the back of a bar check pad) for the sale of a farm, where the person who tried to void the contract (the seller) stated that he was “high as a Georgia pine” when signing it. Nonetheless, the facts of each case to void a contract based on incapacity differ and thus the results can and do differ too.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Am I entitled to a refund from rescue league?
Q:

I purchased a puppy from a rescue. The dog was said to be house trained and neutered. I paid and picked up the dog. The puppy was constantly urinating in the house and outside. We took the dog, after 2 days, to a vet and they said it might have some form of kidney disease, probably not a UTI. We gave him medicine for 2 days , but nothing changed. We made arrangement to return the dog and the company said their vet said the puppy was fine and there will be no refund. What could be our "next step" ?



A:

It can often take several days or even longer for animals to adjust to their new home. During this adjustment period, there could be lapses in housebreaking and animals may appear anxious but that is perfectly understandable and usually changes once the animals feel secure and loved in their new home. Two days of medicine usually does not correct most health problems. Adopters who believe that they are entitled to a refund can sue. Courts will consider the terms of the adoption agreement and other relevant evidence in determining whether the adopter should be awarded any compensation.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Friend is threatening to take dog back.
Q:

Hello, I was given a dog by a friend who needed to find her a home.  I have had her for 10 months and now he is threatening to take her back.  Can he do that?  I have a text from him saying she is mine and that he would not take her. I don't want to lose her.

A:

Generally when a person gives his/her animal away, he/she has no further rights to that animal unless there is an agreement stating otherwise.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can the vet hold my dog because I can't afford to pay bill in full?
Q:

Can the vet hold my dog because I can't afford to pay bill in full?

A:

Alabama law provides that veterinarians have a lien on animals left in their care under contract with the animal’s owner, for payment of charges due and “shall have the right to retain such animal until said charges are paid.” This lien law also provides that if the charges are not paid within 10 days after demand (in person or by registered or certified mail), the veterinarian is authorized to sell the animal. There is also an animal abandonment law in Alabama which provides that animals placed in the custody of a veterinarian and not claimed for a period of more than 10 days after written notice (by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, to the owner or owner’s agent) shall be deemed abandoned and may be turned over to the local humane society or pound or sold to collect the lien. Many states have similar laws.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Did I give up the rights to my dog?
Q:

I had a dog for 12 years prior to my now ex girlfriend moving in. She moved in for less than a year and decided to take my dog when I was at work one day after we broke up. I begged and pleaded, left messages to try to get the dog back and no response. After a few days and under the emotional distress I was in, I left a voice mail saying she could just have the dog if she thinks he's better off with her and not with myself and my 2 kids. Maybe she would respond back at least or feel bad about taking him and do the right thing. Did I give up my rights to the dog now by telling her that, or do I have a shot in court to get my dog back? I have all the vet bills, adoption papers, and bill of sale for the dog that I have owned for 12 years prior to her moving in.

A:

It is difficult to predict the outcome of a case, particularly when parties to a dispute often present conflicting evidence. Generally when roommates and ex-boyfriends/girlfriends split, they get to leave with what they brought, including animals. However, this general “rule” is not absolute since sometimes, for example, an animal is given away (which a court could construe that you did). Also, occasionally, but not routinely, a court will consider the best interests of the animal. In a Minnesota case involving a divorced couple, the appellate court, in upholding the trial court’s decision to award the couple’s dogs to the wife, stated that the  “the trial court can award the dogs to respondent in part on evidence of mistreatment of the dogs.”
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Friend threatening police action to get dog back.
Q:

My friend asked me to take his dog because he couldn't feed him and he was going to be charged with a fine because it was tied up outside in the cold snow without somewhere warm. I took him and now trying to find somebody that can take care of him and because of that he is threatening to have cops come and take him back. Can he do that?


A:

Generally when a person gives away his/her animal, he/she has no further rights to that animal, unless there was an agreement providing for such rights. However, sometimes there is a dispute regarding whether an animal was given away, sold, abandoned, or temporarily boarded. Usually the police will not get involved in such disputes (but in the event that they do, it is helpful to have an attorney available to intervene). While courts generally decide pet custody cases based on property rights, there have been cases where courts have considered the interests of the animal, particularly if one party has mistreated/neglected the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
I surrendered my dogs under false pretenses.
Q:

I was given a 30 day notice to vacate... The first thing I thought of was my two dogs and what was going to happen to them. I had spoken to an owner of a animal sanctuary. She had told me she had a home for both my dogs and we had to move fast. So feeling rushed and panicked I agreed. She sent a guy to pick them up the next day. I was very sad but happy they could be together and have a nice home as the lady told me.... But this was not the case she stuck my babies in a shelter that was against what she told me and I feel this was very wrong what can I do???


A:

State Attorney General offices generally have departments/bureaus that investigate allegations of consumer fraud. Have you considered going to the shelter to try to adopt the dogs?
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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