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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:

Neighbor turned cat in to animal shelter.
Q:

My HOA states that cats must be supervised outside. However in the past 4 months that I have lived here I have seen 6+ cats out and about. I let my 14 year old cat out first thing in the morning and then he comes back in before I leave for work; however one day, he didn't. The HOA president took my cat to the local animal shelter. The staff there questioned him about bringing the cat in and stated they felt sure the cat belonged to someone in the neighborhood. He stated he thought so too but didn't know who. He is my next door neighbor. Does he have the right to turn in my cat?

A:

I hope your cat is safe and sound now! Pet cats unsupervised outside can get run over, lost, mistreated, and the list goes on. The fact that other people in your HOA allow their cats outdoors unsupervised in violation of HOA rules does not make it right. People who find animals may bring them to local shelters. A person who intentionally steals a neighbor�s cat may face criminal charges depending on the circumstances, but that is less likely if the animal is brought to a shelter. Lost, stray, abandoned, and wandering dogs and cats are brought to shelters all of the time, many by caring people who find them and don�t want to leave them in the street. < /p>
Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

Can I sue vet for negligence after injuring my cat?
Q:

Got our cat back from vet and cat could not walk, he could walk fine when we took him in. Brought him back next day and vet rammed thermometer in cats anus so hard cat screamed, did it again and cat screamed again. Vet said that was normal. Took x-rays and found vet had broken cats pelvis in three places. They had cat for 4-5 hours and never gave any pain meds. Cost $10,000 to fix cat with 3 metal plates, 25 screws and a bone graft. Can I sue vet for negligence?

A:

Veterinarians can be sued for malpractice and negligence. In such a lawsuit, one could seek compensation for veterinary and other expenses incurred as a result of the veterinarian�s malpractice/negligence. Courts tend not to award money for emotional distress. In one California case, the �owner� of a dog who died as a result of a veterinarian�s malpractice was awarded $39,000 (although generally awards are much lower). Complaints against veterinarians can also be made to the state�s veterinary licensing board (in Oregon, the Veterinary Medical Examining Board). I hope your cat is feeling better.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I track down adoption paperwork if shelter is no longer in business?
Q:

I am trying to recover the original adoption papers from the place I adopted my dog, but they are no longer in business. Is there somewhere they were required to file the documents, ie, the state, county ect? My signature is on the adoption papers and I need that document as proof of ownership, trying to prepare for court to get my best friend back, please help

A:

While there are laws throughout the country requiring certain animal shelters (such as government funded shelters) to maintain statistics on animals adopted, returned to �owners,� euthanized, or transferred to another shelter/rescue, etc., I am not aware of laws requiring animal adoption applications and agreements to be filed with a governmental agency (although municipal shelters may be subject to freedom of information laws [FOIL] and records can sometimes be accessed through a FOIL request).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What are my rights to keep dog I've been fostering?
Q:

Fostering a dog for a rescue, I never signed a contract or foster application. They are demanding dog back, been with me 2.5 months. Dog taken from shelter under rescue name, but I never signed anything. What are my rights? Do I have to give her back? Rescue never contacted me until Thursday, dog not fixed, month behind in heartworm prevention. But they say I am unfit. Need help!! Scared for the dog! She is loved!! I need to know my rights. They don't even have my address. Threatening me with the police.

A:

Typically an animal�s foster care �parent,� as compared to an adopter, does not �own� the fostered animal. Usually a foster care agreement will contain provisions regarding the rights and responsibilities of the parties, including, for example, who is responsible for providing the animal with necessary veterinary care. It is unclear why the rescue suddenly believes you are unfit, unless its understanding was that you, not the rescue, were responsible for getting the dog spayed or neutered and giving the dog heartworm medicine. It is unclear why a rescue would give possession to a foster care �parent� without having a correct address or following up on the dog�s care for more than two months. It is difficult to say if the police will get involved. They typically will not if they believe there is just a pet custody dispute, but they might if they are convinced an animal was stolen. Sometimes individuals and organizations commence civil lawsuits for the return of an animal that they believe is being wrongfully withheld. How a court decides who �owns� an animal depends on the evidence presented (such as, was the animal only fostered and not adopted, did the rescue abandon the animal, is the animal being neglected or otherwise mistreated). I hope the dog is doing well.< /p>
Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

What legal action can I take to get dog back from my aunt?
Q:

I had to give my dog away because we were moving. My aunt took him under the agreement that if she didn't want him that he be returned to me. She got a puppy and gave my dog to someone else. I asked for him back and she said that she has him back now and is refusing to give him back to me. I have his papers, vet documents, and eye witnesses of the agreement that was said along with messages stating that she gave him away and the agreement. What legal actions can I take to get my dog back if she refuses to give him to me after telling her I would get my lawyer involved?

A:

People who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can sue (replevin action) for the return of their animals. However, generally when a person gives his/her animal away, such person has no further rights to the animal unless there was an agreement providing otherwise (and verbal agreements can be difficult to prove). In any event, it sounds as if at least for now your aunt has complied with the verbal agreement since you indicated that she now has the dog. In the future, consider your pets in your moving plans. Regrets do not equal rights and it is often very difficult to undo one�s actions. I hope the dog is doing well.


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
How can I legally adopt a dog abandoned at kennel?
Q:

I work as a veterinary technician at a veterinary hospital in California. We have had a dog boarding with us for a few months and the owner is about 6 weeks behind on paying, and has not answered or returned calls. The dog is left boarding in a kennel meant to house dogs temporarily, not for unbeknownst lengths of time. I was wondering the process required to adopt said dog and how to legally go about doing so? Thank you for your time!

A:

The California Veterinary Medical Association has issued an explanation of the laws regarding abandonment of animals left for boarding. See http://law.onecle.com/california/civil/1834.5.html. The law provides that an animal left for boarding will be deemed abandoned if not retrieved within 14 days after the animal was scheduled to be picked up. The law further provides that �The person into whose custody the animal was placed for care shall first try for a period of not less than 10 days to find a new owner for the animal or turn the animal over to a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter, or nonprofit animal rescue group, provided that the shelter or rescue group has been contacted and has agreed to take the animal. If unable to place the animal with a new owner, shelter, or rescue group, the animal care facility may have the abandoned animal euthanized.� The law further provides that �There shall be a notice posted in a conspicuous place, or in conspicuous type in a written receipt given, to warn a person depositing an animal at an animal care facility of the provisions of this section.� There are also lien laws (explained in the link above) allowing for sales of animals not retrieved on time, although the animal�s �owner� must first be given notice prior to any such sale.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I bring a civil suit against ex who gave away my cats?
Q:

How do I go about bringing a civil suit on my separated spouse for giving my 2 prized cats away without my permission.� I have paperwork they are mine.� I would like a contingency lawyer to do this now, not during the divorce.

A:

It will likely be difficult to get an attorney to handle such a case on a contingency basis unless the cats have a very high monetary value, it can be proven that the cats are yours, and the case is brought for money (not for the return of the cats). A case for the return of cats can be brought if that is the relief sought (but don�t expect a contingency arrangement�most attorneys want to get paid in money, not �a share� of a cat). Alternatively, one can sue for money in Small Claims Court even without an attorney (these courts tend to be user friendly). According to Missouri Small Claims Court rules, the maximum amount one can sue for is $5000 and the court does not handle cases for the return of property. Since rules change from time to time, check with the clerk of the court.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I sue SPCA who witheld cancer diagnosis?
Q:

I adopted Layla and asked about the lump on her neck. They said it was benign but after taking her to a vet they said it should be biopsied. After several attempts to follow up it was admitted that they had the biopsy already done and it was cancerous. Their internal systems failed to relay that info to the shelter. They are willing to do some of the treatment themselves but have also put us in the position of having to pay thousands of dollars. Should I sue them so they can fully treat layla? It has been a tremendous burden to our family emotionally, time wise and financially- and we all love the dog.

A:

I hope Layla is doing better. The rights and responsibilities of adopters and shelters/rescues are usually delineated in an adoption agreement so it is important to carefully review that document before commencing what could be a costly and unproductive lawsuit (although Small Claims courts are an inexpensive and user friendly venue for relatively small monetary disputes). Often adoption agreements state that the adoption agency will not be responsible for future veterinary expenses although when possible shelters/rescues�will help with veterinary care for pre-existing conditions. I hope�that Layla gets the veterinary care that she needs.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Pet sitter neglectedmy dog.
Q:

I had a friend whom I paid to watch my9 year old basset hound for a period of 3 months. I gave him a list of instructions in regards to cleaning his ears, clipping his nails, and other maintenance. The sitter sent me photos weekly of my dog and how he was doing, In the agreed contract him and I signed regarding his care, there was an agreement that if given 24 hour notice, I could pick my dog up and spend time with him or chicken him. This deal was met for the first month. After the first month, he then refused to allow me to see him, and stopped sending updates. He also contacted me once to say he could no longer watch him, and that I had 24 hours to pick him up, or he would put my dog in a shelter. I immediately moved and found a new home that allowed pets, and picked up my dog, two days after he notified me he would be breaking our contract. Upon picking my dog up, I noticed his tail was broken, something that was not told to me. It has healed weird and there is no pain. I took him to the vet and they said his ears were not cleaned, leaving him with a horrible yeast infection in them. Because he didn't clip his nails in two months, my dogs toes were slanted and it caused him great pain to walk. I am upset that he failed to meet our contract agreement, neglected his needs, refused to allow me to see him, threatened to put him in a shelter if I couldn't take him in 24 hours or agree to give him rights to my dog. I had to call the police to escort me to pick my dog up. The day after, i took him to the vet. Can I get payment from him of the vet bills for the neglect during the time he watched him, or sue him for animal neglect? I am so heartbroken about the situation and don't know my rights. Since the return of my dog, I have not been in contact with the sitter. Any info would be appreciated.

A:

I hope your dog is doing much better. A person can sue for breach of contract and monetary damages resulting from such breach. Well-drafted contracts clearly specify the rights and responsibilities of the parties, including rights if the contract is breached, so it is important to carefully review the contract. Persons who board animals are responsible for providing humane care. Small Claims courts are a relatively easy and inexpensive venue to try to resolve small monetary disputes.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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