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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:

Is my dog considered a legal family member?
Q:

Is a dog considered a family member in all states in a divorce to have shared custody?
Please advise.

A:

Hopefully, pet “parents” consider their animals to be family members. But animals are generally considered to be property in divorce and other legal matters.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I need a special tag for my dog to appease condominium board?
Q:

I adopted a dog, a Chihuahua mix, Rabies tag, all other vaccination up-dated, very calm and never barks. Some people started to complain about dogs inside the condominium. I'm a 74 years old lady and I need a dog for company. I have a letter from my doctor saying: "She failed initial therapy but now is responding with a change in regimen. This may affect her mood and mental status at times, leave her stressed, tired, or insomnia and depression. She also has anxiety. It improved with help with Pet Therapy".  I already sent this letter to the Board of Director Building. Need I a tag to put on my dog and how to acquire it?

A:

Special tags are not legally required for emotional support animals.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Relative gave me their dog, now wants it back.
Q:

Hello I recently got a dog from a relative who said she couldn't keep the dog. I came to see the dog and took it the same day. I have bought her items and had her for three days before recieving a call she wanted her back. I told her no and she called the cops. The cops told me I could keep the dog because of texts and pictures of the dog showing she was given to me. They also told me to keep them in case she takes me to court. But will the court except these as proof? What else could help me. I love my dog too much to return her. I also don't know what story the relative told police and I was never given a police report.

A:

I suggest you hire an attorney to represent you if a lawsuit is commenced for the return of the dog. Courts will consider the circumstances under which one got possession of an animal, such as whether the animal was given as a gift or for temporary boarding, sold, or stolen.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Cared for neighbors neglected Pug, now they won't let me see him.
Q:

I left my previous address 2 months ago, for the past 2 years there lived a pug/english bull dog mix next door. When I first got there he seemed friendly and I started caring for the dog, I would take him inside my house and he slept there for those 2 years I lived there due to the fact that they would leave him out in the rain or cold weather. They stopped caring for him. I would be the one feeding him and payed for his medicine when sick once, but I gave her the money and never had a receipt under my name. Now I rented another place, the dog got depressed. So I asked her to lend him to me for 2 days out of the week, but she refused. She says the dog is still sad. What do I do??? I love that dog and I know he loves me. She even said it herself he wants to be with me, but she says shes the owner and he has to live by her rules and accomodations and now they locked the dog up so I wont see him, not even through the fence.


A:

Sometimes when an animal’s “owner” is not devoted to the animal, he/she will sell the animal. Have you considered offering to purchase the dog? I suggest that when people purchase an animal there be a written agreement making it clear that the seller has no further rights to the animal (unless the parties want other terms).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can shelter/rescue insist on a home visit?
Q:

I adopted a puppy in May of 2014. I live in WV, but I adopted the dog while in NC for the summer. I fulfilled my contract exactly as required (all vaccines on time, spay on time, kept in the house except on a leash, etc...). Once the last item (the spay) was completed in August 2014, I asked if they could send me some sort of written confirmation that I had fulfilled my contractual obligations. They said nobody ever asked for that, but that they would. I've waited and waited, inquired a few more times since then, trying to be nice, but explaining that I really wanted to have that written documentation. Finally a few days ago in November 2014, I was much more pushy and explained that I had been waiting for 3 months with no paperwork, and that I really didn't understand why it was an issue for me to receive it. The first response was that I, unlike other adopters, had never provided pictures for their marketing materials. I explained that I didn't really want to be used for marketing purposes. The representative then got rather angry with me, saying that my contract required me to submit whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. I double-checked my contract and I'm only required to allow them to check up on the dog in person; nothing else (pictures, phone calls, etc...). I pointed that out, at which time she said "Well then I guess I will personally be making a visit to OUR dog". I feel that this threat was a direct result of my being unwilling to submit to being used in their marketing, and nothing to do with the dog at all. They had expressed absolutely no concern about her since I adopted her. I certainly do not trust these people at this point and fear they might fabricate a story of neglect. Can they insist on a home visit? What happens if I refuse? I can certainly document the health and well-being of the dog, but can they make my life miserable? I don't even want them in my house at this point.

A:

It is fairly common for animal adoption agreements to have a home-check provision. If one does not comply with contract terms, a lawsuit may be commenced. I suggest you consult with an attorney who can review your agreement. Generally, animal shelters/rescue groups do not issue letters indicating that an adopter has fulfilled contractual obligations. Oftentimes, contractual obligations, such as home visits and animal care, are ongoing.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Nephew looking for legal pro bono advice in animal welfare field.
Q:

My nephew has just passed the New York bar. He needs to do pro bono and knows how near and dear the homeless pet issue is for our Family. I have done "rescue" my entire life - now 24/7 for 6 years. I am working on lobbying and legislation in Florida. This could turn out to be a gig that goes on for a lifetime for my nephew! He is working full time after graduating from NYU and St John's, passed the bar and did his undergrad at University of Florida. Please consider speaking with him or give us a referral. Thanks for all you do for the animals!

A:

Congratulations to your nephew! I suggest that he join one or more bar associations that have animal law committees. Some committee members do very worthwhile pro bono work for animals. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I administer vaccinations if I am not a licensed veterinarian?
Q:

I'm starting a pet sitting business. I offer services like feeding, grooming, vaccinations for your pet while I take care of them. Are there any legal ramifications involved in charging people to vaccinate their pets if I am NOT a licensed veterinarian? I know that baby shots have to legally be given by a licensed veterinarian. But can I get in trouble for giving the other vaccinations that I can purchase at my local feed store?

A:

It would be unlawful for a pet sitting business to give vaccinations to customers’ pets, unless the vaccinations are given by a veterinarian licensed to practice in the state or under the supervision of the veterinarian by a veterinary technician. For further information, contact the Arkansas Veterinary Medical Examining Board.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my late mother's ex take away the dog I gave her?
Q:

My mother gave me her dog a couple months ago when she kicked her sex offender husband out. She then got a restraining order on him. She just passed away and he came back to Ohio, and now he's trying to get the dog back. I paid for his vet, and adopted him for my mother before she met him, and she now has a loving home. Can he legally take the dog back?

A:

Probably not. Generally when one gives a dog away as a gift (and you indicated your mother gave the dog to you), a third party would not have greater rights to the animal. There could be exceptions if one gives away an animal that one does not exclusively “own.” I suggest you hire an attorney and/or contact the police depending on actions taken by your mother’s husband. Oftentimes, it can be helpful to prove that an animal was acquired by one party (in this situation, your mother) prior to marriage.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can we keep an abandoned cat?
Q:

A neighbor has been systematically neglecting a cat for quite some time. Leaving it to unwarranted care of roommates. She was forced to leave the apartment and left the cat in our care with the provision of coming back for it at a later date.
The cat is in poor health, old age and declawed by this girl. She routinely leaves doors open and we often find the cat wandering up to a few blocks down the road.
The previous owner has offered to buy food and cat liter once in 4 months.
In the past, she has had the cat "stay" with friends often and the cat has been passed around for months at a time for years. We have had her for 4 months now and granted her health has gotten better, but the cat needs veterinary care.
The girl claims she wants the cat back in a couple months, but could have someone else take the cat if we couldn't take care of it anymore.
I am really at a loss. Can we legally keep this cat and tell her she can pursue legal means if she wants to?
We have ample records of the costs of care and a good number of witnesses who will attest to the previous owners negligence. Any advice is greatly appreciated.



A:

This falls into the category of “no good deed goes unpunished.” In some situations, it is clear when “ownership” of an animal ceases.  For example, an “owner” will generally lose all rights to an animal if he/she signs an agreement surrendering rights to the animal or fails to retrieve an animal from a shelter within the time period prescribed by law. An “owner” may also lose rights to his/her animal if court ordered after a conviction for animal abuse or neglect. If one sues for the return of an animal he/she believes is being wrongfully withheld, courts will consider evidence of whether the animal had been given away, sold, or abandoned.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I be fined by Animal Control if they've never seen my dog?
Q:

There is a crazy lady down my road, and she called and complained that my sweet dog (who had gotten out of the fence, we have since fixed it) was aggressive and attacked her. My dog didn't bite her, but I find it hard to believe she was aggressive. There are dogs wandering our neighborhood that will try to attack our car as we are driving. There is also a dog that runs around that makes me fearful to walk my kids to the car. A neighbor warned me that someone called animal control so I called them and gave them my address, but they had nothing on record for me. I was concerned that they didn't leave a letter and I didn't want to lose my dogs, I was willing to cooperate fully! Turns out they mailed the letter to the wrong address and are trying to fine me (thousands of dollars) for not responding to the letter. But I never received it. They threatened to take my dogs. But I just don't understand how they can fine me, when they never came out to see my dog, to see if she's aggressive. And fine me for not cooperating with them, when I tried. Please tell me what to do.

A:

I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area who can ascertain what charges have been filed against you. For example, are you being cited for an unleashed dog (although I have never seen a fine for an unleashed dog in the thousands of dollars)? Were you scheduled to appear at a dangerous dog hearing? These hearings are sometimes held when it is alleged that a dog bit or attacked a person or other animal. Is there an allegation of animal abuse or neglect? Persons convicted of animal abuse or neglect can be subject to substantial fines, imprisonment, and sometimes the forfeiture of the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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