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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:

What can I do about my dogs wrongly being seized by the breeder?
Q:

One dog on breeding contract. One not on any contract. Both were taken without notice on grounds of a breached contract. Contract was not breached. Do I have rights to my dogs or the right to tell them not to sell my dogs until I take them to court?

A:

I suggest you contact an attorney in your area. Sometimes one can get a court order to prevent/enjoin the sale or other disposition of property or animals pending the outcome of the case.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get my surrendered greyhound dog back?
Q:

I adopted a greyhound from ------- greyhound trust after my dog ran away. My dog has since came back. The lady from the greyhound rescue center persuaded me to let the adopted dog go back to them. I wasn't thinking straight; I want the dog back but they won't let me. I have the signed adoption papers, can I do anything to get him back?

A:

Normally when one surrenders an animal to a shelter/rescue, one signs a surrender agreement which states that the person surrendering the animal has no further rights to the animal. Just because a person has a signed adoption agreement does not mean that the person still “owns” an animal if that person subsequently surrendered the animal to a shelter/rescue or gave or sold the animal to someone else. However, some agreements are vague and occasionally animal shelters and rescue groups will agree to re-adopt an animal to a person who surrendered the animal. If you still want to pursue getting the dog back and cannot work out a re-adoption with the rescue group, consult with an attorney in your area who can review your paperwork and advise you about your chances of success in a lawsuit.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What should an owner be aware of when researching pet boarding services?
Q:

There are hundreds of dog walkers, trainers and other pet professionals who offer home boarding for your pet in their homes or apartments. Some of these sitters have impeccable reputations who I would certainly prefer rather than leaving my dog in a commercial kennel. Are these businesses operating "legally" in the city of New York -- or is this a gray area? If this is indeed a legal & regulated industry, what business licenses, regulations, etc., should a pet owner be aware of when investigating these services?

A:

After Cindy Adams’ dog Jazzy died at a kennel in upstate New York, she worked successfully for the passage of a New York City law, "Boarding Kennel Regulation Act.” This law states, in part, that boarding kennels may not accept dogs unless provided with proof that the dog has been vaccinated against rabies, distemper, hepatitis, para influenza and parvo during the previous three years and against bordetella during the previous six months, unless the dog’s “owner” provides a written statement from a veterinarian indicating the dog should not be given the vaccination because of a “standard veterinary contraindication and that such dog does not show symptoms of the disease or diseases for which such vaccination is contraindicated.” The law defines ‘boarding kennel’ to include "a facility other than an animal shelter where animals not owned by the proprietor of such facility are sheltered, harbored, maintained, groomed, fed or watered in return for a fee." The law further requires boarding kennels to maintain records and to make such records available for inspection by the Department of Health.

The New York City Health Code also provides that persons who operate a grooming parlor, boarding kennel, or training establishment for small animals must have a permit from the New York City Commissioner of Health. According to the Health Code, persons charged with the supervision of a pet shop, the boarding or grooming of small animals, animal training, or similar types of operations must obtain a certificate indicating the successful completion of a course, acceptable to the Department of Health, in the care and handling of animals. Pet stores that exclusively sell dogs and cats are regulated by New York State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets, while other pet stores are regulated by the city.

Zoning laws, lease provisions, and condo/co-op rules sometimes are pertinent when people conduct a ‘business’ in their apartments or keep animals in violation of a lease or rule.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can the shelter make me return my adopted dog for living out of state?
Q:

I live in TN but adopted a pet from GA. We picked up the dog then bought toys, food, etc. Two days later the adoption agency asked for the dog back, stating they are denying our application because we live out of state. We told the woman straight out, we are not driving two hours to return the dog. She is going to call the sheriffs office and report the dog stolen. Do we have any legal grounds to keep our "adopted" dog? Technically the agency didn't run our credit card info, so they are stating we didn't pay for her yet. But we signed the agreement and they made a copy of our credit card info.

A:

The rights of the adopter and animal adoption agency with respect to “ownership” of an animal are generally spelled out in an adoption agreement. Usually an adoption agency will not transfer possession of an animal without first approving the adoption application. It is unclear if your application contained misinformation regarding where you live and if the adoption agency is now alleging that you adopted under false pretenses. Since the adoption agency transferred possession of the dog to you, it is not likely that law enforcement officers would consider this a case of pet theft. However, if the police believe that fraud is involved, it is possible they would investigate. If the police will not get involved, the adoption agency can sue for the return of the dog. Their likelihood of success would depend largely on the terms of the adoption agreement. It is not common for animal adoption agencies to sue adopters. Rather, animal adoption agencies usually will work with adopters to ensure that an adopted pet is given good care.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I owe the shelter money for a dog I had a week and then gave away?
Q:

I had a friend that was moving and couldn't take his dog with him. I told him I would take him and find a home for him. While I had him I got his shots and got him neutered. I had another friend who told me she had friends that wanted him so I gave him to her to take to them. I only had this dog for about a week and now I have an animal shelter telling me he is there and I owe them money. I can't get a hold of my friend to find out what happened. Do I really have to pay the shelter for a dog I had a week?

A:

It is unclear from your question why you have been in contact with the shelter and what the shelter’s explanation is for you owing them money. For clarification on the shelter’s position, you should ask the person in charge at the shelter. Adoption agreements sometimes state that when an adopter no longer wishes to keep an adopted animal, the animal must be returned to the shelter. These agreements sometimes also include financial “penalties” for violations. However, a person who never signed such an agreement would normally not be obligated to pay a penalty or other fee to the shelter.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What legal action can I take against an adoption agency not honoring its contract?
Q:

I adopted a heartworm positive dog which the organization signed a contract to pay for treatment of which they will not honor now. What legal action can I take?

A:

I suggest that you carefully review your contract with the adoption organization. If the agreement states that the adoption organization will pay for heartworm treatment and the organization refuses to comply with the specific terms of the agreement, consider talking with someone else in the organization to work out the dispute. If you cannot resolve the dispute and want to take the matter to the next step, you may choose to sue the organization for the cost of the heartworm treatment. Of course, since pet adoption organizations try very hard to help animals, suing should be a last resort.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What are the legal standards for the size of dog cages?
Q:

I know of a dog who is left in a cage that is too small. How do I tell if it is too small by legal standards? Also, the owner leaves her in the cage for 8 or more hours a day; a minimum of 2 days a week. Is this neglect?

A:

I suggest you contact your local humane society and the Illinois Department of Agriculture to request that an investigation be conducted. The investigator (if he/she gains access) can assess the dog’s condition and whether there is a violation of the animal protection laws. Illinois (as does every state) has laws prohibiting animal abuse and neglect. Laws regulating cage size generally pertain to animals kept by pet dealers/stores/laboratories. Illinois’ general animal cruelty law specifically requires “owners” to provide animals with adequate shelter and humane care and treatment. Based on the conditions the animal is kept in and the condition of the animal, the investigator can determine if there is a violation of the law. If, for example, there is inadequate room for the dog to stand up and turn around or if the dog is lying in his/her excrement, an investigator may very well find that there is a violation of the law. Also, investigators can and often do educate animal guardians about humane care so even if a summons is not issued, sometimes conditions improve based on the investigator’s input. It is wonderful that you are looking out for this dog. Please follow-up with the investigator.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Am I legally obligated to pay my friend back for impound fees?
Q:

12/19/12: Yesterday my friend gave me his dog cause he was getting rid of her. Today she ran away and got impounded while I was home alone with my young kids (2 years and 6 months old). The friend who gave her to me paid the fees without me asking him to get her out after I looked everywhere for her once my fiance got home. After he paid the fees, he asked me to pay him back. I agreed, but when he told me I couldn't have her back and that I lied about looking for her and the way she got let out, I told him I wasn't going to pay him back. Now he's threatening to take me to court. Am I legally obligated to pay him back even though I didn't ask him to get her out of the pound in the first place?? Didn't he technically dog-nap her as well??

A:

There is a tragic overpopulation of dogs and cats. Millions of dogs and cats are euthanized each year at shelters. Thankfully, this dog was reclaimed. Rather than being angry at your friend or accusing him of dognapping, consider that you lost the dog on the first/second day you got her, you did not look for the dog until your fiancé returned home (unless there were extenuating circumstances, young children can go outside with adults to look for a missing pet), and your friend took the time to retrieve the dog. It is unlikely a court would require a person in your situation to pay for the impoundment fees, but one cannot say with certainty how a court will rule. I hope the dog finds a loving home where she will get the care and attention that she needs.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I take legal action against neglectful pet boarding of the Animal Hospital?
Q:

My family and I went home to Detroit, MI for thanksgiving. We have two Zebra Finches that I gave as a birthday gift to my three year old granddaughter, she fell in love with the birds at first sight. She named the birds Aaron & Bechett. Aaron & Bechett are two little boys that go to the daycare that she attends. After a long drive back from our trip from Michigan, I received a phone call from the the Animal Hospital which also offers pet boarding. The director proceeded to inform me that one of the birds is no longer with us. Well, that was an eye opener, I said to myself. She continued to say, one of the staff members was feeding Aaron & Bechett and some how, some way one of the birds escaped from their bird cage. I need to know if I can take any legal action for their neglect.

A:

I am so sorry to hear about your bird. Perhaps if you place signs near where the bird was lost, someone will see the bird and contact you. In a bailment situation, the bailee (in this situation, the animal hospital) has the responsibility of exercising due care of the birds. In one South Carolina case, the court stated, “The degree of care required of a bailee for mutual benefit is defined as ordinary care, or due care, or the degree of care which would be exercised by a person of ordinary care in the protection of his own property.” The court also stated, “In a bailment action alleging a breach of the duty of care, the bailor is entitled to be compensated for all losses that are the natural consequence and proximate result of the bailee's negligence.” If you wish to pursue this matter, consult with an attorney in your area or commence a lawsuit in Small Claims court.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my relinquished dog back from the medical center?
Q:

After my Chihuahua was attacked by 3 pitbulls, the owner said she would pay all costs. Now I'm on state disability and can't afford the costs, so I relinquished my dog to the medical center. As I was pressured into signing my dog over, I want him back! Can I do anything to have him returned to me?

A:

You can appeal to the hearts of the personnel in the medical center. If they still have your dog, perhaps they will consider adopting the dog to you. Sometimes when people are under duress when signing a contract, the contract can be voided. You should consult with an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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