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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 I sue for refund of cost?
Q:

I got puppy who had coccidia and c diff from breeder. Extreme diarreah Breeder kept saying just nervous. Now I am sick! Gave puppy back and she refused refunding me. Can I sue for refund of cost and vet bills and my medical care?

A:

An individual who believes that he/she was sold a sick animal can sue the seller (although it is often less expensive and less time consuming to try to try to settle these types of disputes). Success in such a lawsuit is dependent on various factors. Florida’s pet sale law provides remedies to persons who purchase sick dogs or cats from pet dealers. One of this law's provisions states that if within 14 days following the sale by a pet dealer a licensed veterinarian certifies that the animal was unfit for purchase due to illness, the purchaser can return the animal and receive a refund and reimbursement for reasonable veterinary costs related to the veterinarian’s examination and certification that the dog or cat was unfit for purchase. The law provides for other remedies for purchasers who want to keep the animal and get reimbursed for veterinary care to treat the animal (up to the purchase price) and for purchasers who want to exchange the animal for another animal. There are also provisions providing for remedies in the event the animal has a congenital disorder which adversely affects the health of the animal or if the pet dealer misrepresented the breed, sex or health of the animal (where the purchaser has one year from sale to attempt to exercise rights under this law). The law defines “pet dealer” to include any person or other entity (but not animal shelters) who “in the ordinary course of business, engages in the sale of more than two litters, or 20 dogs or cats, per year, whichever is greater, to the public." In addition to specific laws addressing pet sales, another law (Uniform Commercial Code “UCC”) may be relied on by consumers who purchase an animal from a merchant. Purchasers can have greater latitude under the UCC since the time frames provided in the pet dealer law may not apply. For more information, contact the Florida Department of Consumer Services. Also, unless one can prove that the pet dealer knowingly sold an animal with a disease that is contagious to humans, it will probably be difficult to get an award for one’s own medical expenses. Additionally, many sales and adoption contracts specifically state that the seller/shelter will not be responsible for any injury, sickness, etc. caused by the purchased or adopted animal. I suggest you contact a personal injury attorney in your state if you want to pursue this matter. I hope the puppy does well and is placed in a humane forever home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Whose dog?
Q:

Hello. On Easter Sunday this year 2015, I was called to a home and a pitbull was given to me. The girl stated that her boyfriend left the dog to her. The Dog was very very skinny weighed about 35 lbs. Now she is 58 pounds and vet checked an on meds. her boyfriend wants the dog back. what do I do I love her

A:

Generally, if a person gives an animal away (in your scenario, the boyfriend) then such person (the boyfriend) would not have any further rights to that animal. Therefore, the person to whom the animal was given (in your scenario, the girlfriend) would normally have the right to give away or sell the animal and the new “owner” (you) would typically have the right to keep the animal. However, as with many situations, the various parties often have different “recollections” of the “facts.” When disputing parties cannot agree, lawsuits are sometimes commenced. When one suspects animal neglect or cruelty, the local humane society, SPCA (society for the prevention of cruelty to animals), and police should be contacted.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Caretaker designation
Q:

Does the Animal League have a program where pets, adopted from the League, will be taken care of in the event the owner dies or becomes incapacitated (and has no family)?  The League would be named as caretaker in the will as well as a beneficiary.  I look forward to hearing from you.

A:

YES and North Shore Animal League America’s Safe Haven Surviving Pet Care Program is available even for those animals who were not adopted from the League. Information about the program can be found at www.AnimalLeague.org/SafeHaven. Contact North Shore Animal League America at 516-883-7900, extension 354, SafeHaven@AnimalLeague.org.  


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Breeder won't pay after death of dog
Q:

I indirectly knew a breeder that was offer to sell me a dog. My older sis was going to get a pup as myself. The breeder cashed my check and went on vacation leaving the pups with a sitter. My dog choked to death. My sis rescued her dog the next day. This happened last June 2014. I paid $200 and she wont pay me back. She is also still breeding. Another friend didn't know about the "accident" now her puppy is gravely ill. I have been nice up till she posted another litter on a flea market site on Facebook. I warned readers of proceeding with caution. She blew my phone with messages saying what I did is defamation and slander. Can you help me please? I am worried she is going to hurt the pups again and then crush the pups new owners. This all could very well be a scam. I really need advisement. thank you for your time...

A:

Complaints about animal neglect/abuse can be made to the Pennsylvania SPCA and local humane socieites The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture also investigates breeders.

 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get my lemur back?
Q:

I was having trouble with my lemurs aggressive behavior and asked my vet for help. he got me in touch with what i was told was his exotic pet rescue partner and they have other lemurs that she would be with. after i let them take her i found out my vet doesnt have part ownership and they dont have other lemurs. they said i cant visit her and I want her back and they said thats not an otion what are my rights,help!!!

A:

Lemurs should not be kept as pets. They are wild animals. If you have concerns regarding the facility where the lemurs are being kept, I suggest you contact your local humane society, SPCA (society for the prevention of cruelty to animals) and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Generally when an individual gives away his/her animals, he/she has no further rights to the animals. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
I was promised a puppy for studding.
Q:

some neigbors saw my fawn cheweenie and wanted him to mate with thier  mini dusand he said I could have two puppies and pick of litter  . so we did we even have pics of them  locked and mated  we did it 2 times .well he came over told me she had 5 puppies  . we went over see them she had a pure white they said they was keeping then she had a blue they said they was keeing i said  all i want is a lil female  . the wife said they was all the puppes was given away  . but the husband  let me pick one female out  .  we went today to get out puppy the wife said  the girls was all gone all left was the blue and the white and they was thiers . she offered me 50 gollars for using my male  . but i was promised a puppy not one but two and pick of litter but i just wanted a lil female  .now she told me leave not come back the puppies was gone but what they kept  , can i take them small clamis court i have  witnesses of the aggreement and pictures they mated our doig since he a rare gold eye fawn he made two rare pure white and blues for then

A:

Small Claims Court is a user friendly and inexpensive way to resolve relatively small monetary disputes. The judge will decide the merits of the case based on the evidence presented. Rather than breeding your dog, I suggest you have him neutered. There is a tragic overpopulation of dogs and cats. Spaying and neutering also provide health benefits.

 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it safe to say that the horse is mine?
Q:

In 2009 a client purchased a racehorse off the track. She was not old enough to sign as the purchaser, so I did. He has since been in my name legally on his registration papers. 2 1/2 years ago she left for nursing school through the army, and I began training him again. Her mother was paying the bills for him, but not paying for his training. Eventually it turned into me paying half the bills and now all of them. Where he is still legally in my name (with the exception of his vet records) and I've been caring for him and paying bills, is it safe to say that he is mine? I didn't begin paying all the bills by choice, they have been nonexistent for the last 4 or 5 months and the credit card can no longer be processed. 

Thank you for any advice or info you can provide.

A:

When people share an animal’s expenses and enter into convoluted arrangements (one person signs as the purchaser but another person pays for the animal), it is not “safe to say” that only one of the individuals involved in this transaction is the animal’s “owner.” That would be up to a court or up to the individuals to enter into an agreement wherein one individual relinquishes rights. Otherwise, “ownership” remains unclear.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is there anything legally that can be done about my pet sitter?
Q:

Hi, I hired a pet sitter for 9 days while we were on vacation. I have 4 cats and a 200 lb. St. Bernard. He is elderly. When we came home we found that the pet sitter had not fed our dog appropriately. He gets 8 cups of food a day, and she had only been giving him one can of tuna per day. We found his food in the trash can that she had tried to hide. He lost so much weight in the 9 days that his ribs are showing. She also had not fed any of the cats and they had no water in their feeders and we have had 100 degree temps. Is there anything legally that can be done?

A:

Animal neglect/abuse complaints can be made to local animal control, the sheriff, and the police. In some states, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA) and humane organizations also enforce animal cruelty laws. Cruelty to animals is against the law in every state. A pet “owner” can also sue a pet sitter for monetary damages (veterinary bills, for example) resulting from the pet sitter’s actions/neglect. Success in such a lawsuit will be dependent on whether one can prove to the satisfaction of the court that the pet sitter failed to provide necessary care (such as food and water) to the animals and that such failure resulted in harm to the animals.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
The seller of my cat is harassing me to return the pet
Q:

Hello, I'm active duty navy stationed in Virginia. I recently found a cat on Craigslist that perfectly fit a description for a loving pet for my 6 year old daughter. The cat was not listed for a price and we met the owner and the cat, we decided to get him and bring him home. We've had him for over 2 weeks now and my daughter and him have connected and he never leaves her side, she was sick for 2 days in bed and he guarded her like a sheep dog. I am about to deploy soon, and today on Memorial day of all days the woman we got the cat from has been bombarding me with about 20 text messages asking for us to return the cat because of the emotional effect it is having on her 2 children, begging us and saying that her "special needs" daughter is upset. we do not want to give him up. does the previous owner have rights?

A:

Generally when a person sells or adopts out his/her companion animal, such person has no further rights to the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can I do about the death of my dog?
Q:

We had to surrender our dog to a foster home and a week ago due to we are moving across state and can't afford him due to having an child. Teddy was attacked by a pit in March and it broke his jaw and damage most of his teeth. I found an foundation to help find an foster hom. Teddy was healing  and in good spirits he had an healthy heart and kidneys even due to the attack.  She called me today May 12th telling me what happened. She out right lied to me and tried to tell me this was Teddy's fault. He is an 7 pound terrier poodle mix. She tells me Teddy go out of his crate and her room. which she said she shut the door and lock the crate. I'm shocked that she did not lock his crate or double check it. I'm shocked that her bedroom door was not closed. I'm shocked that she lets big dogs roam the house when no one is there. they all should be in crates when no one is home no one knows what could happen. He should of never been around any of these strange dogs alone (without supervision) during his healing. We don't know if Teddy was dramatize since his attack by the pit and to have this dog around him alone was wrong. I don't care that Teddy got out of he crate that's means they did not do an good job checking the crate before they left also he should of been in another room were the dogs could not get to him. Which she said he was. She told me when we meet that it was going to be that way. Teddy in a crate while he was healing and no dogs around while they were gone. Now he is dead. Please tell me if there is any way I can shut her down. She is not calling me back and I would like my dogs ashes. She has had him only for an week.

A:

 I am so sorry to hear about Teddy. Complaints about animal neglect or abuse should be made to the SPCA (society for the prevention of cruelty to animals), the police, and animal control. The Attorney General also can investigate charities. Generally when a person surrenders an animal, he/she has no further rights to the animal or the animal’s ashes.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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