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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:

Legal Rights To A Surrendered Dog
Q:

My neighbors a little down the road from me owned this husky that always ran away to my house. for the last THREE YEARS. They recently agreed to let me adopt him. as they claimed they were moving to the city. I have had him for over 2 months. She refused to give me his papers but i have proof with vet bills and texts that she voluntarily surrendered the dog to me. She also refused transfer of ownership apon request. She decided to take the dog back,claiming she was voiding adoption because i was not properly caring for the dog. which i also have whitnesses and proof that he in fact was in the best care possible. he escaped out of there house came back to my place as per usual. This is his home. What legal grounds do i have to keep the dog. i now have evidential proof she was not properly taking care of the dog. 

A:

When  a pet "custody/ownership" dispute cannot be amicably resolved, sometimes the person who does not have possession of the animal commences a legal action for the return of the animal. Courts will consider the evidence presented to determine "ownership," including, for example, whether the animal was given away, sold, or abandoned. Courts may consider the best interests of the animal, particularly if there is evidence that one party neglected/abused the animal. If one suspects an animal is being neglected or abused, local law enforcement authorities should be contacted. Cruelty to animals is against the law in every state.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dog was given away
Q:

My fiancee and I had a dog some things happened and we needed her aunt to watch our dog we stayed in contact for th whole 3 weeks she watched him. We went to pick him up today and she gave him away. She wony tr ll us to who didn't ask us or even bring it up to us. What can we do?

A:

An individual who believes that his/her animals are being unlawfully withheld or were unlawfully given away can sue for the return of the animals and/or for monetary damages (money). Certainly these cases get more complicated when the name of the person who has the animal is not known, but courts can order that such information be disclosed. One can also make a pet theft complaint with the police, although the police will usually not get involved in family disputes regarding pet “ownership.” 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Pet adoption from animal shelter
Q:

We found a Golden Retriever dodging cars on a busy street 9 days ago.  The dog did not have a collar and a local vet checked the dog and she was not micro chipped.  The dog was infested with fleas so we bathed her and treated her for the infestation.  She had an eye and ear infection, potentially pregnant, (or had been pregnant recently) had large callouses on her hind quarter from potentially laying in a cage or on concrete.  She also suffered a large seizure. We brought her to the county medical shelter for care.  No one claimed her so at the end of the week my husband and I legally adopted her.  We were told that she would have to stay at the shelter over the weekend until they could get her spayed.  

Late Saturday afternoon (a day after we legally adopted her) two people showed up claiming she was their dog.  We happened to be visiting the dog at the time.  They showed a vague picture of the dog and claimed it was the same dog.  They also said that the dog was five years old but three veterinarians previously claimed she was about two years old.  The people had no other proof this was their dog but the shelter went ahead and reversed the adoption.  

The shelter informed the owners that they would have to seek medical attention for her and that they would be following up.  The alleged owners left the dog in the shelter over the weekend because they didn't have their own personal identification with them.  They put the dog on another five day hold so that the alleged owners could come back with their id to claim the dog.

This dog is obviously neglected and mistreated.

Is it legal for the county to reverse the adoption?  Also, if so, shouldn't the shelter advocate for the dog by insisting the owners provide more than just a small picture of the alleged dog to prove ownership? (vet records, licensing, family pictures etc.)  And is it unreasonable for me to ask the shelter to do a home inspection prior to releasing the dog to these people? To confirm their address and make sure it is a safe environment for this dog?

A:

I suggest you check the language of the adoption agreement to see if it addresses this issue. Consult with an attorney in your area for further information. Typically (but there are exceptions) when the redemption period has expired, the original “owner’s” right to redeem is extinguished and the shelter can adopt out the animal to another person. Shelters often transfer possession of an animal to the adopter at the time an adoption agreement is signed. As you have seen, when the shelter adopts out an animal but still has possession of the animal when the original “owner” comes forth to claim the animal, the situation gets much more complicated. Lawsuits can ensue and the animal’s future will be in limbo, not a good situation for the shelter, the original “owner,” the adopter, or the animal. Nevertheless, if animal abuse/neglect is suspected and the animal was held for the legal time period, many shelters will not release the animal to the original “owner” and may contact law enforcement officers to make an animal abuse complaint. Whether a person will be prosecuted depends on the facts of each situation, e.g., when was the animal lost, do the animal’s health issues indicate that the animal was neglected while in the “owner’s” custody or could the animal's health problems resulted from being uncared for while lost. Shelters should get adequate proof of “ownership” before returning an animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Are the puppies legal to have?
Q:

I have a pitbull/boxer mix. She recently had puppies with a dog next door. Don't know the breed of dog. We're in trouble because our breed of dog is illegal on our reservation. DNR came & said I had to get rid of my dog & her puppies. But the puppies would be considered "mutts" wouldn't they? So they should be legal to have.

A:

It seems that not only are the puppies mix-breeds but so is your dog. Pit bull is defined differently in the various ill-advised breed ban laws. Denver’s law, for example, states: “A “pit bull” … is defined as any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one (1) or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the above breeds…” Sometimes it can help to get a letter from a veterinarian indicating that the dog/puppy in question does not meet the definition of pit bull in the law affecting one's locality/reservation. A breed DNA test may also help. Worth noting is that more and more states and municipalities are recognizing that breed bans are inhumane and ineffective. In fact, many states have passed laws to prohibit municipalities from enacting or enforcing breed specific bans and some localities have repealed their breed bans, preferring to focus on non-breed specific dangerous dog legislation. I suggest you have your dog spayed and consult with an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
About taking my dog back
Q:

We just give our beatifull female golden dog to nice family they have big back yard and nice people..we frst find rescue team and then they find for us that family..but my son and daughter are so upset specally my son is disability he is in special aid also kidney problem taking blood pressure pill he still doesn't eat food doesnt talk to us so we have to take back to dog back we don't have any other choice..is there anythink we can take her back

A:

I get so many questions from people who gave away their animals and then decided they wanted them back. Regrets and guilt do not equal legal rights. When thinking about re-homing a companion animal, people need to consider what is best for their animals and their families and, hopefully, come to the right decision for all concerned. As I have said many times, once someone voluntarily gives his/her animal away, he/she generally has no further legal rights to that animal. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My ex stole my puppy
Q:

My ex attacked me, got arrested, released, came into my house with police escort when I wasnt home and took things including the 1 yr old puppy I bought. My room mate let them in and didn't notice the removal of my pet. I reported theft to police but they said it will have to be a civil suit and out of their hands. I want my puppy back! What are my options. I have no money for lawyers.

A:

Other than trying to find an attorney who will handle a case on a pro bono (free) basis, a person who cannot afford to pay an attorney can represent himself or herself (pro se). Court clerks can be helpful.


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

I gave my cats away to a family in Idaho because I was going to school. I want them back if possible. They are my babies. I plan on visiting them because the lady hasn't kept in touch and I'm worried about them. What are my rights if I want them back?

A:

They are not your babies anymore! When a person gives his/her animal away, such person typically has no further legal claim to that animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Pet sitter fee?
Q:

Please advise!!! I hired a local pet sitter who is a vet assistant and totally reliable I thought! A home monitor installed to view pet sitter activity. She did not provide the pet service I had asked for. She only fed my chi's once a day my chi's get fed twice a day.  She told me she fed them. She didn't show up the first night so my pets didn't get fed. She said she was there and fed my pets. I felt so helpless. I was out of town for a week and I knew my pets were not being cared for. She is charging me full price $30.00 a day and not performing as requested. What should I pay her? Thank you.

A:

I can’t tell you what you should pay, if anything. When people cannot resolve disputes involving relatively small amounts of money, actions are sometimes commenced in Small Claims Court (by the party who believes he/she is owed money). When there is no written contract, the disputing parties often have different recollections of the agreement. Also, pet “owners” who are aware that their animals are not getting necessary care and do nothing to rectify the situation could be charged with animal neglect along with the pet sitter, depending on the severity of the situation. It is bewildering why one would have a home monitor to view pet sitter activity, learn that his/her animals are not being properly cared for, and not take steps to rectify the situation while it is actually going on. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dog taken by animal control
Q:

Ok here is the story.  My son an commercial electrician goes from job to job has his 2 dogs with him in a hotel which he pays extra for.  Anyway 2 weekends ago he got intoxicated and had to be transported to the hospital and the hotel wen into his room and called animal control and he has not  been able to get them back and no one will return his or my calls.  What is our next step?

A:

Animal control procedures vary around the country but there is often a local shelter where seized animals are brought and housed. In order to preserve rights, “owners” of seized animals should immediately attempt to reclaim their animals and that includes going to the shelter. Sometimes animals are withheld pending a criminal case if animal abuse/neglect is suspected, but otherwise animal “owners” are usually able to reclaim their animals. However, often impoundment fees must be paid, a dog license must be procured, and sometimes the animal must be spayed and neutered prior to release.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What should I do about my dog's puppies?
Q:

So I had my dad keep my chihuahua for a few day's because I was going to be away. I wasn't aware his dog was in heat until I came back and she was pregnant. Guess who the father is - my dog. Now she has given birth to four pups and he plans on selling all of them. The problem with that is, he doesn't have papers for his dog and I have papers for my dog. So wouldn't that mean half of the litter is mine.

A:

My first suggestion is that you and your dad get your dogs spayed and neutered. There are so many wonderful homeless animals waiting to get adopted. Random breeding adds to the already tragic overpopulation of dogs and cats. Proving “pupternity” may arise in a dispute involving rights to puppies. Establishing “ownership” of a dog does not necessarily prove that the dog impregnated another dog. Hopefully, you and your dad can resolve this situation in an amicable manner. An individual can sue if he/she believes that his/her animals are being unlawfully withheld or that he/she is owed money from another person. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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