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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 did friends do with dog they adopted from us?
Q:

We needed a good home for our dog. Gave him to some friends who wanted him just to find out they got rid of him. We asked where he went out of concern and they refuse to tell us anything. We are hoping they didnt drop him off somewhere. What can we do? We are thinking the worst.

A:

Generally when a person gives his or her animal away, such person has no further rights to that animal (unless there was an agreement stating otherwise). That would include no further rights to find out where the animal was later re-homed.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get dog back from long-term pet sitter?
Q:

A friend agreed verbally to watch my dog while I was out of town for 4 months. Now that I've returned home she does not want to give me my dog back. Is there anything l can do?

A:

Individuals who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can commence a civil lawsuit to try to get the animals returned (replevin action). People can also contact the police (although the police may not get involved unless they believe a criminal law has been violated, such as pet theft).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Won't return lost dog.
Q:

My Yorkie went missing. I posted signs & rcvd a mess. from someone who said their brother found her & gave her to their Aunt. I'll admit my dogs hair was in dire need of grooming as well as her nails, but due to a new baby in the house, my out of state wedding & traveling for the holidays I did not have the time to get her rabies shot updated so we could get her to the groomer. The lady said they don't want to return the dog because of her condition when they found her. She is not malnourished, just in need of grooming. I have receipts to prove I paid well over $1000.00 for her. What can I do?

A:

People who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can commence a civil lawsuit for the return of their animals or sue for monetary damages (such as for the cost of the dog). People can also contact the police. Before trying to have the dog removed from her current home, consider whether you really have the time to provide the dog with the care she needs. First, the dog went missing which can indicate that the dog was not being adequately supervised. Second, the dog was �in dire need of grooming as well as her nails.� Grooming is not only for cosmetic purposes. Failure to groom certain breeds and to have nails clipped can cause health problems, pain, and discomfort. I hope the dog is doing well.< /p>
Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

Former foster refuses to return dog to Rescue.
Q:

One of our volunteers is fostering one of our Rescue's dogs. She has failed to respond to the 20 approved applicants interested in this dog. She finally responded to us that she is no longer interested in working with our Rescue organization. We asked her if she will chose an adopter from the many applicants, or adopt this dog herself and she will not respond. We have been covering all this dog's medical bills, and the dog has been listed on Petfinder under our name for months. As a registered charity devoted to saving dogs, we prefer not to spend money on lawyers. What are our options? This is NYS - will the police help? It's essentially theft, is it not?

A:

The police will typically not get involved in pet fostering and pet custody disputes. New York's animal stealing law (section 366 of the Agriculture and Markets Law) covers situations such as enticing or seizing animals out of their homes or enclosures or from a person. When the police will not intervene, people can commence a civil action for the return of an animal they believe is being wrongfully withheld. Although it is preferable to have attorney representation in these cases, it is not required. Court clerks are sometimes very helpful. Of course, in order to prove that a person is wrongfully withholding an animal, a written agreement specifying the rights and obligations of the parties would be useful. Often when there is only a verbal agreement, the disputing parties have different versions of the agreement.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My ex wants to have shared custody of my dog.
Q:

I rescued my dog from a home that couldn't care for him. His microchip and vet records are all in my name. I just broke up with my boyfriend and now he wants to take me to court for custody. I do not have adoption papers as there was no fee, I simply brought him home. Does he have any ground? He has paid a vet bill here and there. He says he wants to see my dog on a schedule like a child, and if I dont agree and let him he will take me to court. Any advice? This is really stressing me out as he is only 4 and I cannot maintain communication with an ex for the next 8 years over my dog.

A:

Generally when roommates split, each can leave with possessions that they bought (although complications can arise with “shared” animals and when one person alleges that the animal was a gift). A person who believes he/she has “ownership” rights to an animal can sue to try to get the animal returned or “visitation” (although some courts have said they would not order pet visitation or enforce a pet visitation agreement). For example, one NY court stated, “The extension of an award of possession of a dog to include visitation or joint custody—components of child custody designed to keep both parents firmly involved in the child's life—would only serve as an invitation for endless post-divorce litigation, keeping the parties needlessly tied to one another and to the court...” Sometimes in pet custody cases, courts have also considered the best interests of the animals. Good luck!


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Whose cat is it?
Q:

This girl couldn't take care of her cat due to the fact the apartments do not allow cats. She gave me her cat and she dropped him off at my house. I decided to rename him and she got upset. She threatened to take him away since she has all his paperwork and the microchip information. She does not have a place qualified to take care of him.

A:

Generally when a person gives away or sells his/her animal, such person has no further rights to that animal. Having the agreement in writing can help to avoid future conflicts regarding the animal�s �ownership.� Microchip, license, and other registration and veterinary records should be changed when �ownership� changes. Even if they are not changed, an animal�s microchip and license registration and other indicia of �ownership� do not always prove �ownership,� particularly when there is evidence that subsequent to registering the animal�s microchip or license, the animal was sold, given away, or abandoned.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can be done for abandoned dog?
Q:

My cousin has been caring for a dog for 11 months without any financial compensations or reply to texts from the owners. The vet will not treat dog without documentation from owner. What can be done? Is this a case of abandonment?

A:

First, try another veterinarian. People who board animals are responsible for providing the animals with humane treatment and can be prosecuted for neglecting animals in their care. It would be up to a court to definitively decide whether under the facts and circumstances the �owner� abandoned an animal. Sometimes this issue is addressed in the boarding agreement and sometimes by law (some states in addition to criminal animal abandonment laws have laws requiring veterinarians or others who board animals to give written notice to an �owner� that the animal will be deemed abandoned within a certain number of days). Hawaii�s criminal animal abandonment law states: �It shall be unlawful for the owner of any animal or any person in possession of an animal that belongs to another person to leave the animal without the intention of returning to it. Any person who violates this section shall be guilty of a petty misdemeanor.�


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Does new owner have to relinquish dog if they change mind?
Q:

Can a person give her dog away to someone else,then a month later decide they want it back? Does the new owner have to relinquish the dog back after it was given to her?

A:

Generally when a person gives his/her animal away, such person has no further rights to that animal unless there was an agreement stating otherwise.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get replacement AKC papers?
Q:

Cousin give me a pair of AKC boxers, however he said he can't find the papers for the dogs. How can I get those AKC papers?

A:

Contact AKC. There is a procedure for replacement paperwork. Next time consider adopting a homeless animal from a shelter/rescue.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Shelter will not approve adoption because roommates smoke.
Q:

I was denied adopting any animals at a shelter I had volunteered at because my roommates smoke. After I inquired about adopting, I began receiving negative feedback about the "smell" and have since been told to consider volunteering at a different shelter. Is this discriminatory? I would like to adopt but is this going to be a problem at any other shelter as well?

A:

Adoption policies at animal shelters differ. Due to the harmful effects of second hand smoke on animals, some shelters (as you have seen) will not adopt to a person if there is a smoker in the household. Not all shelters/rescues have this policy.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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