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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:

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
Kennel says I abandoned my dog.
Q:

I had my dog in a kennel and was unable to get her back because it was too much money. They sent me an email saying I legally abandoned her and I have no rights to her now. Is there anyway I can get her back?

A:

There is a California law which states, in part, that “…whenever any animal is delivered to any veterinarian, dog kennel, …or any other animal care facility pursuant to any written or oral agreement…and the owner of such animal does not pick up the animal within 14 calendar days after the day the animal was due to be picked up, the animal shall be deemed to be abandoned….” There is a discussion of this law and California’s lien law on the California Veterinary Medical Association’s website which states that, “One contingency, however, is that if the owner attempts physically to retrieve the animal or otherwise contact the veterinary facility, or give notice of intent to retrieve the animal within the initial 14-day period, even though the veterinarian’s bill has not been paid, the animal cannot be considered to be abandoned.” Sometimes animal care facilities are willing to work out payment plans and sometimes these disputes can be worked out if negotiated by an attorney or a lawsuit is commenced (although that sometimes can cost more than the debt).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Should the vet refund our money?
Q:

Our dog was recent treated for heartworms. We paid $300 up front and got her back a few days later. They told us everything should be fine. A few hours later she dropped dead. Should the vet refund us the $300 since the medicine didn't even help our animal? It just killed her.

A:

I am very sorry to hear about your dog. A person who believes that a veterinarian’s actions were improper can sue for a refund and other damages (although simply asking for compensation sometimes works but generally only if the veterinarian also believes that his/her actions were wrong). Small Claims Court is a fairly inexpensive and easy way to commence a legal action. However, proving that a veterinarian acted inappropriately can be difficult without expert testimony. A necropsy can sometimes indicate the cause of death and could be helpful in such cases. Complaints against veterinarians may also be filed online with the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, http://asbvme.alabama.gov, although the Board does not get involved with fee disputes.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I gets dogs back that my father gave away a year ago?
Q:

My dad gave away my dogs a year ago. I know where they live and I have a phone number. The thing is that I am the legal owner of the dogs. Can I do anything to try and get them back?

A:

One can sue for the return of his/her animals, although the chances of success in such lawsuits are dependent on many different factors. Given the length of time the animals have been in their new home and that that they were given to them by your father, it is probably doubtful that a court would order the return of the animals. Before proceeding, please consider what is in the best interests of the dogs. Sometimes in these situations an adopter will allow visitation by a former ‘owner.’


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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