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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:

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
In LA County, what is the protocol for holding strays?
Q:

I live in the Los Angeles County. How many days does the law require a found stray animal be held before it can be rehomed/adopted out? What is the exact protocol necessary in those holding days? Flyers, newspapers ads etc? Thank you.

A:

States and municipalities have laws which specify a minimum holding period for lost and abandoned animals at animal shelters before such animals can be adopted or euthanized. These laws are not clear with respect to minimum hold periods for an individual who takes in a lost or abandoned animal before such person can gain ‘ownership’ of the animal and re-home that animal. Certainly, filing a found report with all area animal shelters and the police should be done. It would also be advisable to at least place fliers near where the animal was found and to contact local veterinarians. There are not many reported cases on this issue. In one Vermont case involving a dispute between a person who found a dog and a person who lost a dog, the court provided an analysis of this issue:
… apart from providing care and shelter, finders of stray pets should also be encouraged to make every reasonable effort to find the animal's owner. Although circumstances will vary, this might include contacting the local humane society, veterinarians, or the police department, posting notices near where the animal was found, and placing newspaper or radio advertisements. Additionally, owners of lost pets should be enjoined to undertake reasonable efforts to locate their animals by contacting local humane societies and other appropriate agencies, printing and placing notices, or taking out appropriate advertisements. Together these requirements provide an incentive to finders to care for stray pets and attempt to locate their owners, and place the onus on owners to conscientiously search for their pet.
When confronted with a case of this nature, therefore, courts should factor these practical and policy considerations into any decision.
California and other states also have lost property statutes although they have generally not been held to be applicable to lost and found dogs and cats.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get visitation rights to see my neighbors dog?
Q:

I have been sitting with the dog next door for almost 2 years. He's 2 1/2. She is in her 60's worked nights for a few months sitting with an elderly woman. She would cage him for 14 -15 hrs at a time sleeping eating and going to the bathroom. I asked to sit with him after seeing this. He would be with me night and day for days. She would never let me know when she was leaving or coming. He got attached to my roommate and his owner got jealous and stopped us from seeing the dog. He barks loud trying to get us to come out. He hid from the lady when he saw her. He's miserable. Would I have a chance on getting visitation with him?

A:

I suggest trying to work out an arrangement with the dog’s ‘owner.’ Sometimes, offering to purchase an animal works. In pet custody cases, courts tend to focus on who ‘owns’ an animal. While the best interests of an animal standard is sometimes considered, this usually occurs when couples break-up, roommates go their separate ways, and when people get divorced, not when a person who lives in a different dwelling but has watched a neighbor’s animal (but returned the animal) is denied further access. Courts tend not to establish visitation schedules.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Who is responsible for surgical fees, the buyer or the seller?
Q:

I had a pup about 15 weeks old that I sold to a new owner. A few days later she contacted me saying he had a bite from an insect on his stomach that required surgery and for me to reimburse her for the surgery since this happen while he was with me. I never noticed any bites on him and warned her that he roamed a large property so there is a possibility of a tick on him. Is this my responsibility to cover or, since I sold him, is it hers now?

A:

In many states, including California, sales of animals by pet stores and many breeders are subject to  pet sale laws. In California, for example, breeders who sell or otherwise transfer “all or part of three or more litters or 20 or more dogs during the preceding 12 months that were bred and reared on the premises of the person...” are subject to the pet sale law which give purchasers certain remedies if a purchased animal becomes ill, including reimbursement for “reasonable” veterinary expenses. California law provides for reimbursement up to 150% of the purchase price plus sales tax. California and other state pet sale laws contain specific requirements for purchasers who wish to exercise their rights under these laws, including when such rights must be exercised. Other laws governing the sale of goods (which includes animals) may also apply. Merchants (persons who hold themselves out as having special knowledge of the goods being sold by them on a regular basis) may be held responsible if the goods sold were not fit for sale. However, whether the sale is by an individual or a seller governed by commercial and pet sale laws, if there was an intervening time period between the purchase and when the animal could have gotten an insect bite, it is unlikely a court would hold the seller liable. For example, California's pet sale law states that reimbursement for veterinary expenses shall not be required if the “illness or condition contracted subsequent to the delivery of the dog to the purchaser.”


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I keep dog as a lean until paid dog walking fees?
Q:

I've been walking a dog for a whole year because owners don't walk this Lab/Pit mix. We did agree verbally, that they will pay me for the dog walking, but they haven't till this date. There is nothing on paper, everything was just upon verbal agreement. Can I keep the dog as a lean till they pay me?
Thank you for your time and your website.

A:

When one continues to walk someone else’s dog for a whole year without getting paid and there is no written agreement regarding payment, it will be very difficult to prove that the alleged debtor should have known that payment is due. Under these circumstances, withholding someone’s pet by trying to establish a lien could instead result in theft charges. One can sue in Small Claims Court to try to get compensated for whatever money one believes is due to him/her.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back from my Ex?
Q:

I bought a dog on 9/10/06 when I was with my ex. She's tried to say he was a gift in front of other people but he never was and I tell them that when she tries to pull that. I have the receipt that I purchased him and at the time was paying all vet bills. Later, my now ex started sharing some bills later on. I pay for his state license tags, we were sharing the vet bills and I buy his frontline. She slowly tried to cut me out of paying for his vet bills and I have proof of her doing so. Both our names are on the ownership papers but only reason I included her when I bought him is so if anything happened she could take him to vet also. We are no longer together and we share him. There hasn't been any problems and now she just won't give him back or let me see him. What can I do to get him back? I've always been there for him and always came to take him for a few days at a time. I've made all the effort to see him and now she's cutting me out. She married an Attorney and tells me often there's nothing i can do about it. How can I get him back? He means everything to me and we spent quality time together going hiking, camping, fishing, swimming.... He went everywhere with me. I miss him very much and I'm heartbroken.


A:

If you cannot reach an amicable agreement with your ex regarding custody of the animal, I suggest that you consult with an attorney in your area about the possibility of a lawsuit for the return of the animal. While animals are generally considered property under the law, some courts have recognized that the best interests of animals should be considered at least as one factor in determining custody. It can be very impractical for ex’s to share custody of an animal for the long term and since courts generally are not going to get involved in ensuring compliance with pet visitation arrangements, they often will not order split visitation. Courts will consider who purchased an animal but if a court believes an animal was gifted after purchase, the court would likely allow the person who received the animal as a gift to keep the animal. However, if a court considers that there was a shared arrangement after a couple split, that could impact the court’s determination about whether the animal was a gift and who ‘owns’ the animal. There is often no easy answer. Mediation can sometimes help resolve these situations if both parties are willing to give it a try.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can breeder take my dog if I owe them for another dog?
Q:

I owe a breeder $80 for a puppy. She wouldn't return my calls, but she came over when I wasn't home and stole my other dog. Is she allowed to steal my dog because I owe her $80?

A:

No. I suggest you contact the police. Pet theft is against the law. A person who believes they have a monetary claim against someone can sue, not steal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I sue pet store for medical costs for sick puppy?
Q:

I bought a puppy from a pet store around August and the lady at the pet store told me that the puppy was in great shape and condition. We bought him when he was exactly two months old, and she said that they had sold 2 of his brothers a couple weeks earlier which was less than two months old. Now my puppy has been having seizures for the past year ever since he turned 5 months. Is there anything I can do to sue the pet store and make them pay for my puppy's medical costs since I am unable to afford it? Thanks!

A:

Several states, including New York, have pet sale laws which provide remedies to purchasers of sick animals from pet stores and certain breeders. Under New York’s law, one such remedy is reimbursement for veterinary costs to treat the dog or cat---up to what was paid for the animal. However, there are limitations in the law. The law provides, in part, that the purchaser may be entitled to reimbursement for veterinary expenses if the purchaser obtains a veterinarian certification within14 business days following the animal’s purchase (or receipt of written notification from the seller about the consumer’s rights under the pet sale law, whichever occurred last) stating that the animal was unfit for purchase due to illness, or within 180 calendar days following the sale of the animal or receipt of the notification, whichever occurred last, that the animal was unfit for purchase due to a congenital malformation which adversely affects the health of the animal. This latter provision allowing purchasers 180 days for congenital malformations, rather than only14 days, took effect January 2014. The law also requires purchasers to follows other requirements, including, for example, providing the seller with the veterinary certification within three business days following receipt.
 
Purchasers are not limited by the pet sale laws which can be very restrictive. Other laws, such as the Uniform Commercial Code, governing the sale of property (including animals) by merchants do not contain the same time restrictions as in the pet sale laws and may be helpful in cases against pet dealers who sell sick animals or animals with congenital problems.

The NY Attorney General recently established an “Animal Protection Initiative.” According to the AG’s website, “This initiative will use civil and criminal remedies to target allegations of animal cruelty and unscrupulous sales of pets and other animals.” Complaints may be made online or by calling 866-697-3444.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my cat back from a neighbor?
Q:

In New York, do I have any recourse against a neighbor who stole our cat?

A:

It is illegal to steal another person’s cat. I suggest contacting the police and local humane organizations, such as a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA). In NY, many SPCA's enforce animal cruelty and related laws. Be prepared to prove that the cat was yours. If law enforcement refuses to take action, one can also commence a civil action for the return of an animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my Ex give away my cat if I don't remove it from former home?
Q:

I am currently not 100% living at my house due to a domestic issue with my roommate/former fiance. The house is currently for sale. He has a cat of his own, as I have one as well. My cat is currently staying at the house because I cannot move completely out until the house sells. He is now saying that if I don't come get my cat, he is going to take him to a shelter. Can he legally give my cat up without my permission?

A:

I suggest that if you want your cat you immediately get your cat, and make other arrangements for his care. A court might consider that by leaving the cat in the house and then failing to retrieve the cat when given the opportunity to do so, you relinquished ‘ownership’ of the cat. In any event, by the time a court heard such a case your cat could be long gone.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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