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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:

What legal claim do I have over the cat?
Q:

I moved out from my girlfriend's house a couple of months ago. We had three cats together. One cat I adopted from a shelter, one cat she adopted and one cat we found together as a stray. I couldn't take  (cat I adopted) with me at the time because of the place I was staying. I want to know what legal claim I have over (cat we found together). She is in my name at the Vet. However, she is in my girlfriend's name when it comes to micro chip that we had gotten.

A:

Sometimes people share an animal and they are both “owners.” Ideally if the individuals split, they would decide what living arrangement is best for the animal. Occasionally people agree on shared custody which can work as long as the individuals cooperate and the animal adapts to the agreed upon arrangement (which can be visitation or moving the animal back and forth from one residence to another). Such arrangements may not be practical for the animal or the individuals, particularly as time passes and the individuals move on with their lives (possibly finding new significant others, relocating, getting other animals, etc.). If the case gets to court because the parties cannot reach an amicable custody agreement, the court will review the evidence to determine “ownership.” The court could decide that an individual who moved out of a shared residence and left animals behind gifted or abandoned the animals. Best interests of animals may also be considered by courts, particularly in situations where the facts indicate that both individuals “own” the animals. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Pet owner not returning in time
Q:

We have been pet sitting and have already agreed to extend the stay this dog and now the owner is telling me he needs it for longer but we said no but he isn't returning nor is he arranging for someone to pick him up.  He also owes us now more than half of the payment. What can I legally do about A. getting our payment and B. getting his dog picked up? Thank you

A:

Washington State and several other states have laws which specify when an animal left for boarding may be deemed abandoned. The laws in some states are limited to animals left in the care of veterinarians. Some laws provide that even if the owner of the animal cannot/does not pay for fees due, the animal may not be held “hostage” and must be returned (although the person with whom the animal was boarded would still have a claim for money due, meaning that a lawsuit may be commenced after the animal is returned). Washington’s law states, in part, that an animal who is placed for treatment, board or care may be deemed abandoned if the animal is not removed by the date the animal was scheduled to be removed. The animal may also be deemed abandoned if no specified date was given for removal of the animal and the animal is not removed within 15 days after notice to remove the animal was given to the person who left the animal. In either situation, the law also provides that the animal can be deemed abandoned if the person who left the animal refuses or fails to pay the agreed upon or reasonable charges for the animal’s care. The law further provides that the person with the abandoned animal may deliver the animal to a humane society. Many boarding facilities also have contracts with customers which address this issue. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your state who can review the particular facts of your situation and advise you.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Shelter adopted out my cat
Q:

The Animal Care adopted out my cat of 5 years to a family and will not call them to give them our information. They had our cat for 4 days, and got him adopted the next day. We kept looking on their site but didn't see him because he was already adopted. What should we do to try and reach out to the new owners?

A:

Typically if a shelter held an animal for the time period required by law before placing the animal in a new home, the animal’s original “owner” loses rights to that animal. The amount of time a shelter must hold an animal before releasing the animal for adoption varies throughout the country. It is so important for people who lose their pets to visit shelters each day. If the person who lost an animal has the adopter's contact information, a call or letter may help to convince the new “owner” to return the animal. It is generally advisable in these situations for contact to be made quickly before the animal gets adjusted to his/her new home and before there is bond that the new “owner” won’t break. Of course, these situations get complicated when the new “owner’s” name is not known. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Crazy neighbor trapping cats
Q:

In the past two months, two of my cats have gone missing and been taken to the OC Animal Care. One we got back in time, the other was adopted out to another family on the 5th day. My next door neighbor has had their 2 cats go missing in the past two months as well. One found at OC Animal Care and one still not found. We think our crazy neighbor is doing this because he "hates cats" but the shelter won't help or tell us. What should we do?

A:

 One suggestion would be to keep your cats indoors where they will be safe!


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is there anyway to fight this?
Q:

So I rescued a dog from a back of a truck back in late October of last year. A friend of mine rescued his brother. We kept our beautiful beagle/chihuahua mixever since; however, my friend gave his away to his grandma. Well the grandma wasn't able to take care of him anymore and so she happened to give him away to a friend of mines close friend. I had my friend nicely ask if the two, being almost a year old, could see each other and because of something that happened in the past between my significant other and my friend's close friend, he is refusing to.  Is there anyway to fight this?

A:

 An animal’s “owner” is under no legal obligation to schedule a “dog play date,” even if the dogs at one time were”friends.” 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is there anything legally that can be done?
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
How do I get my dog back from the kennel?
Q:

My dog ran off someone put her in a kennel but the kennel won't give her back what do I do?

A:

An individual who believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue for the return of the animal. The rights of the parties depend on the facts of the particular case. For example, does the person claiming “ownership” of the animal have sufficient proof of “ownership?” Was the animal held at a shelter for the time period provided for in the law and did the “owner” fail to retrieve the animal within that time period? Was the animal neglected or abused and is being held as evidence in an animal cruelty case? Did the animal bite someone and is being held pending a dangerous dog hearing? Is there an issue regarding payment of boarding fees? I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area.

 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What should I do about the puppy?
Q:

I rehomed a puppy to a woman in Omaha. I was suppose to hold the dog till she got to texas on July 3rd. She payed $250 for her. The puppy was perfectly healthy. But all of a sudden she seemed odd and when I was on the way to a 24 hr vet clinic she passed away. There was no contract just me selling and her buying and wanting me to hold till she got in town. The puppy ate good meals and was fine but health dropped within an hour. What should I do?

A:

I am so sorry to hear about the puppy’s death. Generally when an individual gets paid for an animal but cannot deliver the animal, the purchaser would be entitled to a refund. I suspect that when the money is not refunded in such situations, a lawsuit might be commenced. While each case has its own facts and circumstances, when an animal dies before an individual purchaser takes possession it is unlikely that he/she would be responsible for veterinary bills or boarding fees pending pick-up (unless there was a specific agreement providing for this).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
PTSD Prescribed Service Dog Denied Access
Q:

Is it legal for an animal daycare to deny access to my 7-year old female service dog because she has NOT been spayed?

Note: She is qualified as an ADA Service Animal medically prescribed by a licensed physician for Combat Related PTSD.

A:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows service dogs to accompany persons with disabilities in public facilities and accommodations but does not address situations where a service dog is being boarded and not accompanied by his/her handler. For further information, contact the US Department of Justice ADA hotline, 800-514-0301.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my cat back!?
Q:

I have had a cat for 3 1/2 years i just recently gave her away because i wasnt sure if i could keep her because my son was in a Nicu but i just found out that i can have her. So for the past 5 days ive been trying to call and visit them to ask for her back. They also have 5 cats and a dog so i thought they would be nice and give het back to me. I even called the first night to see how she was doing and they wouldnt answer im worried about her and want her back please help.

A:

One should carefully consider whether to give away an animal BEFORE, not after, doing so. That means that any questions or concerns one may have should be resolved before giving an animal away. Generally, an individual who gives his/her animal away has no further rights to that animal. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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