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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:

Getting My Dog Back
Q:

In 2013 and living on Lana'i, my aunt was caring for my dog--- until we moved back home to O'ahu. She was not given dog. Because of allergies, she ended up giving her away to a girl who gave her away to another girl on a different island. She told me she couldn't hold dog anymore, but I believe miscommunication occurred about us taking her back. I didn't know any of the people involved who dog was given to. Since our move, I've tried contacting family on Lana'i for help, but no luck. I finally contacted the first girl who had dog. She refused to tell me who she gave dog to. With help from a social media post about dog, someone told me who really had her. It's been a year and a half and I finally found the girls name. My husband and I called them and I flew out to Maui to talk to them. They don't want to give dog back. What can I do?

A:

This poor dog. While it is difficult to predict how a court would decide a pet custody case (particularly since disputing parties often have different recollections of the facts), a court may determine that an animal left with a family member (or other person) and not retrieved in a timely manner was gifted or abandoned and that the pet-sitter had the legal right to re-home the animal. Courts would likely consider how long the animal was left, whether the animal’s “owner” paid for the animal’s care, visited the animal, or otherwise demonstrated any intention to retrieve the animal. Consider what is in the best interests of the dog. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Does he even have rights after he abused the dog?
Q:

Last June 8th, I awoke to my neighbors dog trying to crawl through my ground floor window, she had front leg injuries. He was nowhere to be found at the time so I took her to the ER. A long story but it turned out that he gave the ER written permission to give me care over her, he had admitted to me that he threw her out his 3rd story window due to drugs and delusions. She has been living with me for the past 13 months and I have been taking care of her the whole time. She is part of my family, when I took her in it was with the understanding that she was not going to go back to the person who injured her in the first place. A few days ago he contacted me and wants her back, he is sicking a lawyer on me and I don't even know where to begin. Does he even have rights after he abused the dog?

A:

Laws often provide that persons convicted of animal abuse must forfeit the abused animal. Even without a conviction, a person may still forfeit rights to an animal, such as when there is evidence that he/she gave the animal away, abandoned the animal, or sold the animal.  Granting another person permission to assume care/expenses of an injured animal may be considered very solid proof that the animal was given away. The time lapse of more than a year before attempting to re-claim the animal would be further proof. Also, while courts do not always consider the best interests of the animal in pet custody disputes, they have done so particularly when it has been demonstrated that one party to the dispute has abused or neglected the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Neglected Dog
Q:

I am watching a dog that belonged to my ex. He has been highly neglected in the last 4 years and now he has splayed/ deformed paws. Vet agreed he was neglected He has been in our possession for 3 months and we have been taking care of him. Now the ex wants him back to use him as a buddy dog to the dog that was harassing him. We want to legally keep him and treat him medically.  What are the steps?

A:

If one suspects animal neglect or abuse, law enforcement authorities should be contacted. Cruelty to animals is against the law in every state. When there is a dispute regarding an animal’s “ownership,” courts will consider many factors, including, for example, whether the animal was given away, abandoned, or sold. Sometimes courts will consider an animal’s best interests. When a person who has possession of an animal believes that he/she is entitled to keep the animal, it is often up to the person not in possession to commence the lawsuit to try to regain possession. The police usually do not intervene in pet custody disputes between ex-partners/spouses, but that depends on the facts and circumstances of each situation. 

 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dog burial
Q:

My dog of 13 yrs was buried in my ex-boyfriend's mother's yard. How do I bring him to my home. This happened suddenly without any thought! I can't leave him there. Please help me!!!

A:

Ideally in this type of situation a mutually agreeable resolution would be able to be reached, which may entail removing the dog’s remains and paying for the cost to restore the lawn. However, if your ex-boyfriend and/or his mother consider themselves to be “owners” of the dog, they might not consent. Consider consulting an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Does the man claiming to be the owner have a right to get her back?
Q:

It was a Friday afternoon, I had just gotten home from work, my sister and her children were visiting and were in the yard when I got home so we stayed there and chatted for a bit.. Meanwhile a drunk man (I kmow who he is) comes staggering across the parking lot with a beer in his hand and a little pup on a piece of rope.  And of course he comes into my yard and the kids were making of the dog and loved her.  He asked them if they wanted to buy her for $10 and they said no so after a few minutes he throws the rope at my daughter and says shes yours and runs off.. baffled at this point I didn't know what to do, I already have 3 dogs and couldn't keep her so put a post on facebook to see if anyone could take her, by the end of the night she had been transferred to a wonderful home.  a few days later another man shows up at my house claiming this dog is his and the other man had no right to give her away. but like I said she was already given to someone.  My question is.. does the man claiming to be the owner have a right to get her back? the dog is not tagged or been to a vet.

A:

If a court believes that a person’s animal was stolen and then sold or given away, the court could order the return of the animal. Courts would consider proof of “ownership” documentation of the person alleging his/her animal was stolen and the circumstances of how the person who sold or gave the animal away got possession of the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My dog was taken to spca
Q:

Long story short.  I rented room for a month. After a week, I was physically threatened to get out. The police called and the landlord told me I could stay...a few days later I came home and was told that I'm not allowed on property...the police asked the homeowner who has 3 other dogs if they would keep dog until I found a home. They said yes...a few days later I got a message to call about the dog...I called the police and they just ignored it...they took the dog to spca and now they want 240 plus 20 a day...I live on a small disability check and want my dog..what can I do if I don't have the money.

A:

There are often legally prescribed redemption fees that shelters can charge prior to returning animals to their “owners.” Sometimes these fees are waived, depending on the circumstances. When the shelter refuses to return an animal pending payment, my best suggestion is to pay the money, even if that means borrowing the money. The laws in many municipalities provide that if the animal is not redeemed within a certain amount of time the animal may be adopted out or euthanized.  


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Proof of Ownership
Q:

I have my Bichons medical records from vet's office with my account established when dog was purchased in 2001. He was taken by former domestic partner who moved to Florida 4 years ago along with his AKC paperwork. I was told that medical records are verifiable as proof of ownership.

The local police here said that I need to bring evidence to judge who recently reopened civil case.

A:

An animal’s veterinary records are one indication of “ownership,” but do not necessarily prove “ownership.” People frequently give away and sell animals but still have possession of an animal’s veterinary records, photographs, etc. Having these things after giving away or selling an animal does not negate the sale/gift. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it possible for us to get the dog back?
Q:

Hello, we have a golden retriever that moved with us to Illinois and the landlord of our home did not allow pets. We were able to ask a friend of my husband's uncle to look after the dog until we could get him back once we moved to a place where we could keep him. Now we are in a house in Colorado where we can have him and called to tell the friend we were coming to get him this weekend and now they said we cannot get him back without legal actions. What kind of rights do we have in this case and is it possible for us to get the dog back? Thank you for your time.

A:

When a person agrees to care for a friend’s animal, the caretaker does not typically gain “ownership” of that animal (unless the animal’s “owner” agreed to give away, and not just board, the animal). Often disputing parties have different versions of the agreement and then it may be up to a court to decide who “owns” the animal. A court may also decide that an animal was abandoned. These unfortunate situations can be avoided when people with pets make sure they find pet friendly housing, even though that can sometimes require more time and effort.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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
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