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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:

Will my soon to be ex-husband'd dog still be considered a service dog if I have custody?
Q:

My soon to be ex-husband and I have a dog that is his service dog, but when we get divorced I'm taking the dog. I wanted to know if that means she is still considered a service dog even if it's not under my name? Thanks so much for your time. Oh and yes he does approve of giving her to me because she's like my child so he agreed to let me have her.

A:

The federal Fair Housing Act, federal Americans with Disabilities Act, and various state laws define ‘service dog’ differently, but the one thing these laws have in common is that the rights granted are for the benefit of the disabled person. The purpose of these laws is to prevent discrimination. For example, persons with disabilities have rights to bring their service animals to places where pets are not allowed and persons with disabilities are usually allowed to keep their assistive animals in housing that prohibits pets. A person without disabilities who is accompanied by a dog who was trained or otherwise used as a service/assistive animal by a disabled person, would not be afforded the same rights as the disabled person.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is my adopted dog a rescue?
Q:

I adopted my dog from an animal shelter. Would this make him a rescue?

A:

Absolutely! Animal shelters are filled with wonderful homeless animals, all who need loving homes.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Veterinarian Neglect - Justice for Boomer!
Q:

To add to my story about my Boomer, a beautiful Lhasa Apso who just turned 2 in July. Do you give a human medicine for high blood pressure with out first testing for it, to see if indeed you need it? After unnecessary tests my Boomer got x-rays. They found huge gall stones in his gall bladder; some lined up in his urinary track - sharp too. So him stretching his leg out was from being in so much pain and day 2 he did not want to walk. I told the vet this when I went to pick him up to bring him in he bit at me - he was letting me know he was in pain. This was a leashed dog, I was always with him, telling everything he did and all shots up to date including rabies shots. After the surgery to remove these sharp big stones, I was there after he came out of surgery. So relieved he lifted his head and responded to me right away - clear eyed and all! Thinking he was going to be watched over all night too, that's what the vet made me think because if I knew he would be alone for 1 minute I would have taken him home. The vet did not tell me he would be alone, that also is ripping me apart. I go the next day, my Boomer was in a vegetative state. He could not move and his eyes were kind of gray. I was beyond shocked and said what the heck happened and why did you neglect to tell me he would be alone. She admitted she should have told me, said she was sorry, are you kidding me? No matter the outcome at least my baby would have been home next to me, not alone, that would have been closure for me. He woke up strong and lifted his head fine and opened his eyes. His clear loving eyes to a vegetable the next morning, said he had a seizure. Bull and no one there to see that seizure, while someone was there they even told me he was standing up. So this vet administered meds for a seizure that I really don't believe he had.

It does not add up. How many family's have lost their beloved pets to carelessness. So no Boomer, no closure, and a $1,600 bill to add to all this mess. This story has more after I had to put Boomer down the day before Thanksgiving, I knew he was not going to pull out of this by now he was suffering worse. She, the vet, calls to tell me they are taking a piece of his brain to see if he had rabies. I told her then we have an issue because he had all his shots up to date and nothing bit him. That did not make sense as if I did not got through enough and my poor Boomer too. So I said since I don't have a choice in the matter please look for anything that might be wrong. She told me a couple of days we would know. Well a week and a half later I called for 2 days wanting to speak to her directly. I was told she could not talk to me that day so I left my house to only come back from a message on my phone from her. As if she didn't do enough wrong, her message (that I kept by the way) was this: Oh the test came back negative for rabies. Oh and it's good you got his ashes. Are you kidding me, how heartless of a comment. She could not talk to me, but called and left a message. It's wrong and it tells me she was avoiding me about this whole matter. Shows guilt to me. Please I need legal advice.How many stories with animals dying because the wrong medicine was administered? Too many and they get away with it and the owner has lost something precious and left with a huge bill. This is so wrong. Someone must do something about this, please help for justice for Boomer!

A:

I am so sorry to hear about Boomer. Every state has a veterinary licensing board. In Illinois, The Department of Financial & Professional Regulation accepts complaints against veterinarians. This department has the authority to revoke and suspend licenses, place veterinarians on probation and reprimand veterinarians. One can submit a complaint at www.idfpr.com/DPR/filing/complaint.asp or by calling 312-814-6910. Pet guardians can also sue veterinarians. It is preferable to have an attorney handle such cases, but when that is not possible, some aggrieved pet guardians commence lawsuits in Small Claims Court. I suggest you get a copy of your veterinary records. While it is not always necessary, it is often beneficial in such cases to have an expert witness, such as another veterinarian, willing to testify.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I locate my surrendered dog by microchip?
Q:

My ex put our 13 month old boy into the animal shelter and left town. I didn't know for 3 weeks, by the time I got there he was gone. The shelter microchipped and sold him. Can I somehow find him through the chip?

A:

Microchips are usually registered to the shelter which places an animal for adoption or the adopter. It is highly unlikely that without a court order the shelter or microchip company would release the identity of a dog’s new “owner.”


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my deceased mother's dog out of an abusive home?
Q:

My mother died and willed her dog Maxwell to a friend because everyone in the family wanted him put down. Maxwell was only 4 years old at the time. I lived in Ohio and at that time, my girlfriend drove to Ohio to pick him up. I made my decision to go and live in Missouri to be close to Maxwell. When I arrived, he was way way too thin. He was thrilled to see me and started gaining weight. I stayed there and started watching my friend abuse animals(kicking them, almost hanging puppies, screaming at them, and this scared the puppies to death, some dogs starved to death, the grooming shop was filthy, very little vet care). She also abused me and I left. Now I want to go get Maxwell out of that hell hole. Please help me.

A:

Animal neglect and abuse is against the law. Contact your local police and other law enforcement officials in your area and ask that they conduct an investigation. For further guidance, also contact your local humane society.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can we ask for our dog back?
Q:

We have a 6 month old Pom microchipped, a day ago we put him up for adoption as we thought we may be leaving the country. We had a response right away, I was not ready and everything happened very quickly.

He went to a couple that are retired - the husband can hardly walk due to his size and his wife is bent over while walking with bad back issues. I really did not look at the big picture until after I left him with them. After a night we could not get him out of our heads, we were up crying all night and unable to eat. All the paperwork is in our name along with the microchip. Can I ask for him back?

A:

Sometimes, new adopters are willing to return animals. You can explain that you had a change of heart and ask them to return the dog, but that does not mean they will give the dog back to you. If this matter is litigated, courts would consider the evidence presented to determine if ownership was transferred. For example, courts would consider an adoption agreement, if there is one, as well as the circumstances under which a person acquired an animal. For example, did the adopters respond to an ad you placed indicating your dog was available for adoption? While a court would consider that a microchip is in one’s name, that in and of itself does not prove that one still “owns” the dog. The courts can consider from the evidence presented whether one gave the dog away after the dog was microchipped. I hope this all works out for the dog--- he should have a family who can provide him with a loving and forever home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I send the police to retrieve my dog from my ex?
Q:

I had been living with a man for the last 3 months. I have dated him on and off for 14 years, but he is physically & mentally abusive so I left him and was unable to get my belongings or my dog. The next day I went with the police and I was allowed to take my belongings but he won't give me my dog. I have threatening messages on my phone and he keeps saying he doesn't want the *%& dog but won't give him to me without me paying money. I have all ownership papers, etc. Based on the calls and paperwork, can I get an officer to pick up my dog?

A:

The police usually will not get involved in animal custody disputes between separating couples or roommates since the police generally consider these disputes to be civil, not criminal, in nature. In other words, the police often do not view these situations as they would a criminal case of pet theft where, for example, an animal is stolen from someone’s yard or house. When the police do not help to retrieve an animal, the parties can either reach an agreement regarding pet custody, the parties can reach an agreement for one party to purchase the other party’s alleged interest in the animal, or one can sue for the return of the animal. There is no way to know with certainty how a court will decide a pet custody case. Courts will consider who purchased/adopted the animal (and that should be helpful to you), but the court may also consider other factors, including, for example, who paid for the animal’s care and who was the animal's primary caretaker. Sometimes, courts will consider the animal’s best interests, but one should not count on that. In determining who "owns" an animal, the court may consider that one left an animal behind when leaving a home (although the circumstances of the departure may also be considered). I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area to help you to resolve this conflict if the police will not retrieve your dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I legitimize a Craigslist adoption?
Q:

Hi, I'm about to adopt a dog from this lady off of Craigslist that claims she can no longer take care of her dog because she travels a lot. I want to know if I adopt her dog, is there anything I can do to make sure when she is done traveling she can't just come back and take the dog away ?

A:

When an animal is sold or placed for adoption, there should be a written agreement which clearly states the terms of the transfer. For example, such an agreement could say that the person selling or placing the animal for adoption (that person should be named) is the owner of the animal (the animal should be described), that he/she (owner) fully understands and agrees that he/she shall have no further right, claim, or title whatsoever to the animal and is relinquishing ownership of the animal to the purchaser/adopter (who should be named). The agreement should be signed and dated. The name under which the animal is microchipped, licensed or otherwise registered should be changed immediately. Most animal sales/adoptions go smoothly, but there are exceptions when people change their minds and then try to get an animal returned or when people are selling or adopting out an animal who they don’t “own.”


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my puppy back that my mom surrendered to a shelter?
Q:

My mother surrendered my 8 week old puppy without my permission. I went to the dog shelter to get him back. They refused to give him back. I paid for the puppy and I live in my mother's house but am willing to move out to get my puppy back, as a 19 year old kid in University what are the chances of getting my puppy back? Can I pursue legal action against the city?

A:

Just today, I read about a pet custody case involving a mother who allegedly gave away her daughter’s puppy. In the NY case, the plaintiff brought three of her puppies to her mother’s apartment while the plaintiff was having renovations done in her home. The plaintiff’s mother, without the plaintiff’s permission, gave one of the puppies to the defendants. The court in this case stated, “Even, assuming,... that plaintiff’s mother had promised or offered the dog to defendants, it was not hers to do so. Defendants argue that the dog was sickly and lacked proper care before they took custody. That may have required some reporting to the appropriate humane organization but does not give license to curative possession.” The court ordered the defendants to return the puppy to the plaintiff. Your situation is more complicated. The shelter may no longer have the dog and your mother may claim the dog was hers. If you want to pursue legal action, consult with an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do you go about having a law enacted for full disclosure on where a dog came from when adopting?
Q:

How do you go about having a law enacted for full disclosure on where a dog came from, when you purchase the dog from a store? I bought a dog from a pet store on LI, that came from a horrible puppy mill in Minnesota. If I would have known before, I might not have purchased the dog. This dog had a congenital kidney disease and passed away at the age of two. I had spent over $12,000 on medical bills. I loved my dog very much. You go to these pet stores and they won't tell you where the dog came from, until you purchase the dog. I would like to do something about this practice. I know you can't put pet stores out of business, but the public should know where they came from prior to the purchase, so they can make an informed decision. Please help guide me, so I can help other dogs.

A:

I am so sorry to hear about your dog. New York law already requires pet dealers to post conspicuously near the cages of dogs and cats offered for sale a notice containing the following language: “Information on the source of these dogs and cats and the veterinary treatments received by these dogs and cats is available for review by prospective purchasers.” I suggest that you contact the NYS Attorney General's office to file a complaint if the pet store you purchased your dog from violated this law (section 753-b (4), General Business Law).

Sadly, many, if not most, puppies sold at pet stores start out in puppy mills, large commercial breeding facilities where dogs are often warehoused in unsanitary conditions, in cramped cages, deprived of socialization, exercise, and necessary veterinary care. The breeding dogs spend years, if they survive that long, suffering in these deplorable conditions. As a result of these poor conditions and the unchecked breeding of dogs with congenital problems, dogs from puppy mills are sometimes sick and/or suffer from hereditary problems.

I suggest that people who are interested in getting a pet go to their local animal shelter and adopt a homeless animal. Doing so will help homeless animals and reduce the number of animals who endure horrific conditions at puppy mills. Some communities have already banned the sale of dogs and cats at pet stores, except if the dogs and cats are from animal shelters or rescue groups.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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