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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:

My ex won't give me my dog as we agreed.
Q:

My ex-boyfriend has my dog. We got two together and agreed if we broke up he would get the boy and I would get the girl? Its been a year since we broke up, and I am getting a house she can live in, but he refuses to give her back. He continues to brag about how he gets her high off weed. Her leg is injured and he refuses to give her the medical attention she needs. Please help me get her back! I love her so much!

A:

Animal abuse and neglect are illegal and cruel. I suggest that you contact law enforcement authorities and humane organizations and request that they investigate. A lawsuit can be brought to attempt to get possession of an animal who one believes is being wrongfully withheld. In pet custody cases, courts may try to establish whether the animal was given away or abandoned by one party. In cases where an animal has been residing with one of the disputing parties for a year, courts are likely to consider who has been paying for the animal’s care and what interaction, if any, the person claiming to be the animal’s ‘owner’ has had with the animal. Courts may also consider the best interests of the animal. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I reclaim dog that shelter already adopted out?
Q:

We gave up our dog in a shelter 3 weeks ago and he already got a dopted. I wanted to reclaim him but I was 2 days late, somebody already adopted him. What can I do?

A:

A person who surrendered an animal to a shelter can request that a shelter reach out to adopters to let them know that the person who surrendered the animal had a change of heart. While not likely, it is possible that a new adopter will voluntarily relinquish the animal. However, it is important to consider that shelters and new adopters may not be accommodating for a variety of reasons, one being fear that whatever caused a person to surrender an animal in the first place will likely happen again.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can the SPCA put my dog up for adoption if I can't pay to release him right away?
Q:

My dog recently got out the our yard and a neighbour took him to the SPCA. I called and was advised to come through to identify him, when I identified him they told me he was handed in as a stray and I needed to pay in order to get him back. I advised that I did not have funds at the moment and could pay at the end of the month. They advised me that since I could not pay he would be given up for adoption. What can I do to get him back?

A:

Many states and municipalities have impoundment/redemption laws which set a fee for an “owner” to redeem his/her pet from a shelter. One can sue to attempt to enjoin a shelter from placing an animal for adoption but unless one can obtain the services of a volunteer attorney, the legal fees could exceed the reclaim fees. Sometimes these situations can be resolved by going to the shelter and speaking with staff. Attempting to borrow money from friends and family may be the most expedient way to handle these matters since time is often of the essence and once an animal is placed in a new home, the situation becomes much more complicated.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get back my dogs who my friend surrendered?
Q:

My supposed to be "friend" surrendered my dogs without my permission. She was only to babysit them for a weekend when I had to go out of town. How can I get them back? They were only 6 weeks old at the time & no paperwork yet.

A:

If simply asking for the return of animals does not work out, sometimes lawsuits are commenced. These cases can become complicated if the person who surrendered the animals and the person alleging to be the animals’ “owner” have different “facts” regarding the animals’ “ownership” or their agreement concerning the surrender of the animals. These cases can become even more complicated if the animals have already been adopted. I hope that the animals’ best interests are being considered.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Am I liable if my dog bites neighbor who constantly taunts him?
Q:

I have an 8 month old puppy, he's considered fearful aggressive. Because when he sees other dogs he gets anxious. But he also doesn't like it if people get near our gate. I have a neighbor that likes to antagonize the dog. And I have told him about the dog and how he gets spooked easily and gets defensive. Yet he still does it.  He sticks his hand over the fence and tries to get my dog to bite him and so does his Autistic grandson. And my If my dog bites them am I responsible?


A:

As the expression goes, “Good fences make good neighbors.” To safeguard one’s animals and others, supervision is very important as is appropriate fencing to prevent people from putting hands over, under, or through a fence. To help to socialize a dog, humane training is also important. New York State's dangerous dog law (and some local dangerous dog laws) provide that a dog will not be declared dangerous if the conduct of the dog was justified because the injured person was tormenting or assaulting the dog. However, proving those circumstances can sometimes be a challenge both in a dangerous dog proceeding and in a civil action where one is sued for money to compensate the injured person. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I prosecute for my dog being put down?
Q:

My baby was put down for no other reason than my ex (the one I entrusted with her) taking her to the vet and telling them that he wasn't going to spend any more money on her. I am the one on her paper work. They didn't call me. I talked to the vet. They assured me that they don't put animals to sleep just because. I had the vet do an autopsy. Now I want to prosecute him for killing my baby. How can I do this?

A:

The police, local sheriffs, and certain humane organizations investigate animal cruelty complaints. In some states, designated peace officers or investigators from the district attorneys office investigate these complaints as well. However, it is unlikely that a law enforcement entity would bring criminal charges against a veterinarian for euthanizing an animal at the request of a person who was entrusted with the animal. Complaints against veterinarians can also be made with the state’s veterinary licensing board. In Missouri, the Veterinary Medical Board accepts such complaints. A form is online at its website. These boards have authority to suspend and revoke licenses. One can also bring a civil action for monetary damages against a veterinarian and a person who unjustifiably authorizes a veterinarian to euthanize an animal. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I find out what breeds my German Shepherd is mixed with?
Q:

We adopted Tiki in Florida and she is now 5. We moved to Boston and are now moving back to Florida. We are finding it hard to find an apartment as her papers say she is a German shepherd mix. She has a lot of breeds in her, how can I find out if that is her primary breed as we adopted her from the rescue?

A:

There are dog DNA tests which supposedly tell the breed composition of a mixed breed dog, although I do not know how accurate these test are. Also, sometimes a veterinarian or other animal care professional will provide his/her opinion in writing. Additionally, a rescue may review its original breed designation stated in an adoption agreement and change the predominant breed indicated. Often when a dog matures it can be easier to provide a more accurate opinion. These opinions may indicate that the dog is not predominantly a breed that a landlord finds objectionable. It is really unfortunate that this process becomes necessary with some landlords since so many of the dogs on the typical ‘breed ban list’ are gentle and loving, including German Shepherds. I hope you find a pet friendly apartment.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I sue or file a petition against an animal hospital for neglect?
Q:

Took my bunny to a local animal hospital. He wasn't eating and his poop was runny. I suggested to the doc that it could be from over heating or from blockage in the digestive tract. He noted how active he was which is a good sign. He then felt my bunnies tummy and said there was no blockage. Thats it. Thats all he did. So pretty much I diagnosed my bunny. He didn't take any tests or x-rays. He said they would give him vitamin B complex to induce his appetite cause all he needed was fiber to get better, would give fluids to keep him from dehydrating (which i don't know why cause he was drinking) and that they would keep him over night. Next day i called to know when to pick him up. They said 2-3 pm. my husband then called to ask if 12 was ok. They then informed us he was dead. later the doc said they "found" him ( aren't they supposed to check up on him?) in the morning, before I called and ask about him. I want to sue or at least start a petition to shut them down. How would I start? Best advice. This is not the first animal that has died in their hands due to neglect. One dog was euthanized instead of being given his rabies shot. HOW ARE THEY STILL OPEN AND WORKING!?

A:

The California Veterinary Medical Board accepts complaints against veterinarians. Go to www.vmb.ca.gov and click “Consumers.” Veterinary boards can take actions against veterinarians, including suspending and revoking licenses. In addition to making such a complaint, a companion animal “owner” can also sue a veterinarian for monetary damages. Necropsies can sometimes help and expert testimony is sometimes needed in such cases to prove the allegations.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can someone buy back a dog I already paid for?
Q:

I bought a dog from someone I met on craigslist and now she wants to buy back the dog. Does she have the right to do so, or is this illegal?

A:

It is not illegal for an individual to offer to purchase an animal from an individual to whom he/she previously sold the animal. On the other hand, the person who purchased the animal is not usually under any legal obligation to sell/return the animal unless the sales agreement provided for the opportunity to re-purchase the animal.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I reclaim a kitten I gave away?
Q:

Hi! I have a question. I gave away a kitten, but we miss her so much and we feel like we lost a family member. Can I reclaim her back 3 weeks after we gave her away to someone on Craigslist.
Thank you much!!!

A:

Generally, an individual does not have any legal rights to an animal he/she gave away, unless the agreement stated otherwise. Occasionally, new adopters are willing to return an animal. However, if the new adopter has already bonded with the animal or is concerned that whatever caused the person to give the animal away will happen again, the new adopter would probably be less inclined to return the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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