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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 have some advice on my friend's neighbor who wants his dog to be euthanized?
Q:

Hi, I am asking for a friend of mine. He has a greyhound and has never had a problem with him. A couple months ago a woman moved in next door. He was working in his yard and his dog saw the new neighbors dog (small dog) and accidentally got out of the yard and ended up biting the little dog. He took the neighbor and her dog to the hospital and paid instantly for the dogs injuries. This happened yesterday and the dog is home from the hospital. The new neighbor has threatened my friend stating that she would kill my friends dog and she knew exactly how to do it. She said that my friend has three days to get rid of his dog or she would go to the media and have his dog euthanized. He loves his dog and it never hurt anyone before. He has lived in his neighborhood for years. Do you have any advice?

A:

Dangerous dog laws generally provide mechanisms for a hearing where the evidence is presented and the magistrate determines whether or not a dog should be declared dangerous. If after a hearing the dog is determined by the magistrate to be dangerous, the magistrate usually can require the owner of the dangerous dogs to take certain actions. While the laws differ, remedies often include spaying/neutering, procurement of insurance, muzzling, confinement, or euthanasia. The magistrate generally can order one or more actions be taken. Dogs who harm another companion animal are rarely ordered to be euthanized. The dangerous dog laws in some areas do not even address dog attacks on other companion animals.

Cruelty to animals is against the law in every state. Your friend’s neighbor could be prosecuted if she intentionally kills or injures your friend’s dog, unless the neighbor does so to defend herself or her dog at the time she or her dog is being attacked. To protect his dog and his neighbor's dog, your friend should take better precautions to ensure that his dog does not accidentally get out of his yard.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Who has rights to the dog I was looking after for 3 weeks?
Q:

I contacted a girl and she said can me and my partner look after her dog for 3 weeks. This was done via email. We said yes. We met her and she said face to face we could have the dog. But now she is saying the 3 weeks are up and she wants her dog back. Who has what rights? And me and my partner had even taken (her dog) to the vets as it needed an operation and was very skinny. We also provided food and spent money on this dog. We have even got it microchipped in my name. What can she do? And can anyone take the dog off us?

A:

If one agrees to care for another person’s dog for a limited amount of time (such as three weeks), the temporary caregiver does not typically gain “ownership” of that animal. When these cases are litigated, courts will review the facts, including, for example, if there were advertisements that stated the arrangement was temporary or permanent, if the animal was left for much longer than originally indicated, and if anything happened after the original agreement was made which demonstrates that the agreement changed. The police will usually not get involved in animal custody disputes unless they believe pet theft is involved (which is more likely when the dispute involves strangers rather than family members, roommates, or couples).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
I recently had decided to find a family for a dog I had helped with issues because of a court surrender
Q:

I recently had decided to find a family for a dog I had helped with issues because of a court surrender. I had gotten this dog about 6 years ago and a couple of months ago I found people with kids and he seemed to be comfortable to be with them. I have kept up with him and found out they had gotten another dog that was aggressive towards him and just received an email about him being so stressed that he was throwing up blood. That was what their vet told them. I am wondering if I have a legal right to get this dog back.

A:

I recently had decided to find a family for a dog I had helped with issues because of a court surrender. I had gotten this dog about 6 years ago and a couple of months ago I found people with kids and he seemed to be comfortable to be with them. I have kept up with him and found out they had gotten another dog that was aggressive towards him and just received an email about him being so stressed that he was throwing up blood. That was what their vet told them. I am wondering if I have a legal right to get this dog back.


Submitted by Dawn, VA
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My friend has a dog and two cats that were taken from him and housed while he was incarcerated
Q:

My friend has a dog and two cats (much loved and very well cared for, in fact they're his world) that were taken from him and housed while he was incarcerated for 7 months. He was released on bail, had his trial and is awaiting his sentencing hearing in August 2013. The woman who placed his pets in other homes refuses to furnish him with ANY information concerning the whereabouts of his pets. To say the man is suffering because of the loss of his beloved pets is an understatement. Is this legal?

A:

It is unclear if there was a boarding agreement between your friend and the woman who placed his animals, whether your friend permanently relinquished his pets, or whether the pets were seized by a law enforcement officer at the time of arrest. When one permanently relinquishes an animal, generally such person does not have the legal right to be informed of the animal’s whereabouts, unless there is an agreement stating otherwise. When one boards an animal, one generally would have rights to that animal. However, there are laws in some states which provide for the termination of an “owner’s” rights if the person with whom the animal is boarded provides notice to the "owner" giving such “owner” a specified period of time to retrieve the animal. Boarding facilities sometimes utilize these laws when boarding fees have not been paid. Also, some boarding contracts contain abandonment provisions for failure to redeem an animal on time or to pay fees. When animals are seized by a law enforcement officer at the time of arrest, the animals’ “owners” can sometimes get their animals returned if they pay the expenses incurred in caring for the animals. If your friend is awaiting sentencing, it is possible that he will be imprisoned again in which case the animals would still need someone else to care for them. I hope the animals are doing well.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I get my dog back?
Q:

I left my dog in another state with some of my family. I gave them everything he needed. Now that I am able to go back and get the dog they won't give him back. If I can't get my dog back, can I have him put down? What should I do they are trying to sell my dog?

A:

It is unclear how long the dog has been with your family and what arrangements you made with your family when you left the dog with them. Animal custody disputes that cannot be resolved amicably are sometimes litigated in court. Frankly, it is alarming that you are inquiring about having the dog killed. I hope that the dog gets a humane home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What are my rights as a foster parent?
Q:

Hi. My fiancee and I are currently fostering a dog for a Rescue that is well-meaning, but poorly equipped to care for animals. We have kept the dog in order to spare it having to go back to the Rescue, which is filthy and packed with animals stacked up in crates far too small for them. We have been working with them to bring the dog to the vet for his shots and to make a groomers appointment, etc. and were just told that he has an appointment at 5pm Friday and that his "adopters will take him from there." This seems to imply they have adopted the dog out without ever having done a meet and greet or allowing us to provide input, not to mention that we can't get the dog there by 5pm anyway.

I wonder what our legal rights are to keep the dog until they agree to have the potential adopters meet him? We are paying for his food and transportation to and from vet appointments and to get home during the day to walk him, etc. - I think we should have some say, especially since the Rescue is such a mess? We did not fill out any paperwork with them or sign a contract of any kind - they don't even know where we live. Thank you for your advice.

A:

Unless there is an agreement stating otherwise, usually individuals who foster animals do not have rights to dictate adoption procedures for the shelter or rescue that placed the animal in foster care. Perhaps if you want to adopt the dog, the shelter or rescue would consider that. If you believe that animals are being neglected, contact your local SPCA or police.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I keep my dog in my townhouse if I have a doctor's note?
Q:

I have a doctor's note form my doctor stating that I need my dog due to the fact that I'm paralyzed in one arm from a motorcycle accident. I'm buying a new townhouse in Indiana that has a weight limit and a breed restriction. Can I keep my dog?

A:

Housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Just this April, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a Notice regarding service and assistance animals for people with disabilities in housing. In that notice, HUD reiterated that “breed, size and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal.” According to HUD, if the person seeking to keep the animal has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and the animal works, provides assistance, or performs services for such person, OR provides emotional support that “alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability,” then the housing provider must make an exception to a “no-pets” rule or policy. There are limited exceptions to this rule for animals who pose a direct threat of harm to people or property but according to HUD, that assessment must be based on evidence about the specific animal’s actual conduct and may not be based on “mere speculation or fear.”


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What do I do about my lost and found dog needing surgery?
Q:

My dog got off his leash and broke his collar. We put signs up everywhere and three days later a man called saying he found our dog. I called him back and he was very rude. He told me he took him to the vet and he needs surgery. The man called me names and told me that I'm responsible for every vet bill and if I didn't take care of my dog right it would be the last thing I would do. I spoke with the vet that has him and the vet thinks someone ran him over and now our dog has a broken leg and needs surgery. What do I do?

A:

I suggest you pay for your dog’s care. Your dog is your responsibility. I think you should also thank the man who found your dog and brought him to the veterinarian. If it wasn’t for him, your dog could have died.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can my friend get her dog back or can I adopt for her?
Q:

My friend gave her dog up years ago because she could not care for him. Now however, years later, she is stable and is able to have a dog financially. However, the rescue he has gone to now will not even talk to her because she asked about getting him back. Is there anyway she can get her dog back?? And is it illegal to adopt for someone else?

A:

When one gives a dog away, one generally has no further rights to that animal unless there is an agreement stating otherwise. Many shelters have adoption screening procedures and do not allow persons to adopt for another person. I hope the dog has a guardian who can provide him with a loving forever home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
The vet changed our dog's operation - where do we stand?
Q:

Hi, I was just wondering where I legally stand. I took my dog to the vets and found out he had a dislocated knee cap on his left side as we had noticed limping and our dog seemed to not be comfortable on his left leg... Anyways, he went for the operation and everything went well and it wasn't until I got him home I realized he had been operated on his right knee! We immediately phoned our vet who apologized for not mentioning it when we collected him but said his right leg was worse and then said our dog would need the other leg done in the future! I feel he should have phoned me before doing the procedure as now I feel that he's only done the right leg (which had no signs of illness) so that we have to go back and have the poorly leg operated on.

A:

Every state has a veterinary licensing board. These boards can take disciplinary actions against veterinarians. In the United Kingdom, one should contact the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to file a complaint against a veterinarian. Individuals who believe a veterinarian committed malpractice or otherwise acted inappropriately may also sue a veterinarian. It is important to review veterinary records along with forms that may have been signed at a veterinary hospital. Sometimes these forms give veterinarians discretion during the course of performing veterinary procedures.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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