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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:

Am I still responsible for fines if dog passed away?
Q:

I received 3 tickets in Florida a week after I got down here from Michigan. My miniature pincher got out of his house and got into a neighbors yard. Their fence was broken. Their pit bull bit my dog and the owner claims he tried pulling my dog from his pit bull and my dog bit him in the hand. I received 3 tickets, one for rabies, one for license and one for dog at large. I never was able to get the shots and license because he passed away. Am I still responsible for all these tickets even though my dog passed away?

A:

That would be up to the judge or hearing officer. Tickets are not automatically voided and cases are not automatically dismissed simply because a dog died subsequent to the date of the alleged violation. The tickets were issued to you, not the dog!


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Vet mis-diagnosed my dog, which led to her death.
Q:

My 4 yr old corgi had a high bile acid 6 months ago and was being treated with diet. My son died shortly after her test so we could not do further testing but with blood tests were assured by the vet that her liver function was fine. I took her in to check her liver and asked for a bile acid test. Vet stated he didn't need it if her liver enzymes were normal. We tested those and they were normal.
A month later she started getting sick and at each visit I asked about liver. He treated her for other things including a pinched nerve. Two weeks later and many appts and wrong meds-she died. They gave her the wrong meds which were toxic to her liver. She never recovered and died a few days later. I have a detailed report of their wrong doing. What shall I do?

A:

I am so sorry to hear about your losses. Every state has a veterinary licensing board. In California, one can contact the California Veterinary Medical Board to make a complaint against a veterinarian (www.vmb.ca.gov, click ‘Consumers’ for information on filing a complaint). These agencies review complaints regarding negligence, incompetence, fraud, and unprofessional behavior, but generally will not get involved with fee disputes. In addition to making a complaint with a licensing board, one can commence a lawsuit for monetary compensation although proving negligence can often be very difficult without an expert witness who can testify that a professional’s conduct was negligent or otherwise improper.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can a person keep your cat?
Q:

My son had a kitten. He moved and could not take the cat with him. His girlfriend agreed to watch the cat for him and that the cat was still his. Now she has had the cat for 4 months and says she will not give the cat back. She says it's hers now because of how long she has had him. Can she keep the cat?

A:

Often disputing parties have a different understanding of an animal care agreement. If the agreement is not in writing and a case is litigated, the court in determining ‘ownership’ of the cat will likely consider who purchased/adopted the cat and also who has cared for the cat and paid for the cat’s needs. Courts may consider an animal to be abandoned if not picked up until long after the agreed upon time or may (or may not) consider that an animal left in someone else's care for a long period of time was gifted and not simply boarded.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
I think my dog was abused while in a friends care.
Q:

I left my dog with some of my husbands friends. She has been their for almost two months. I got her today and there are clear signs of neglect. Her ribs are visible, as is her pelvic bone. Also, it looks like they have been letting their dogs fight or attack her. She has scabs, scratches and reds marks all over her. Please help.

A:

Virginia law provides that it is unlawful to deprive an animal of necessary food, water, shelter and emergency veterinary care. Promoting animal fighting is also against the law. Contact your local humane investigator if you wish to file a complaint. I hope your dog gets the care she needs.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I stop my Dad from putting my dog down when there is nothing wrong with him?
Q:

My dad wants to put my dog down simply for the reason his back paws don't work they way they used to. They affect the way he walks, but my dog isn't in any pain at all and eats fine, goes to the bathroom fine, and plays, even at the age of 11. My question is, is there any way to stop my dad from doing this, or delay the process? I am not aware of any way, so I would appreciate any feedback. Thank you very much!

A:

It is always very difficult when family members have different views about the most humane way to care for an aging animal, although from what you say in your question your dog still has a good quality of life. Without knowing more (such as who is the legal owner of the dog,  how old you are, and if you are in a position to move and take your dog), it is very difficult to discuss legal options. One normally has no legal right to take another person’s dog and have the dog killed. I suggest that if at all possible it might be beneficial to try to get other family members to intervene. Also, sometimes contacting the dog’s veterinarian or shelter (if you believe the dog will be brought there) to express concern can help to resolve a difficult situation. I hope this works out for your dog and for you.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can the original breeder reclaim the dog I received by answering an ad?
Q:

I was given a German Shepherd by a lady contacted through a local ad. The puppy was 16 weeks old and came with AKC papers. I have had the dog for almost a year now and the breeder has contacted me and said the previous owner broke a contract by giving the puppy away and not checking with the breeder first. She wants my address to come see the dog. I have three kids who love this dog. I did not register the dog with AKC. Does this breeder have any right to come to my house and take claim over my dog.

A:

One would need to review all of the contracts regarding the dog to know what rights the breeder may have although it is unlikely the breeder could legally take the dog from your home without your permission. Hopefully, the breeder is simply concerned about the dog’s welfare and just wants to make sure the dog is happy and healthy. Sometimes these situations can be resolved if the breeder is provided with veterinary records and photos to show that the animal is in good hands. I suggest that the dog be spayed or neutered. Not only do these procedures provide health benefits for the dog and help to reduce the overpopulation of dogs, but the breeder may not be as interested in an altered animal (although this is difficult to predict without knowing more about the breeder and the contract).
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I take back dog we gave to neighbors?
Q:

We recently gave our puppy away that we raised from birth. The understanding being our neighbors  had children that wanted her and would be part of their family.  The neighbors recently told us they were making her an "outside dog".  The puppy regularly gets off the leash they tie her to and runs across the street and sits in our doorstep whining. She has run in our house and I can tell she misses us. I have brought the dog back over several times, and am at the point now where I want to just keep her the next time she chews the leash she is on. I'm furious that these people have no moral compass to just let her come home. I have even gone so far as to offer them money for the dog we gave them. They have also told me they have not gotten any of her shots. What route can I take ? Should I just keep her next time she runs over?

A:

Generally when one gives a dog away, he/she has no further rights to the animal, unless the agreement provided otherwise. Occasionally, offering to purchase an animal or offering to take an animal back works. Some municipalities (including several in Florida) have anti-chaining laws which ban or limit the tethering of dogs. Dogs require exercise, socialization, and the ability to move without continuous restraint. When chained for long periods of time, dogs can become anxious and aggressive. Some tethering laws restrict tethering time for dogs or ban the practice altogether, particularly for puppies. Some laws ban tethering unless the dog is supervised. Local law enforcement agencies and humane societies should be contacted if one suspects a dog is being tethered or mistreated in any way.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What recourse do I have to get my puppy after boyfriend locked me out?
Q:

My boyfriend and I had agreed to buy a puppy together and split ALL costs 50/50. When we went to get our puppy my boyfriend filled out the paperwork as I was caring for our new family member and he didn't include me on the purchase agreement. When I did see the paperwork 3 days later at the vet and asked him about it he stated it wasn't a big deal and the AKC paperwork is what matters. Since than he changed the locks on the doors so I could no longer access our puppy. What recourse do I have at this point?

A:

One can sue to try to get possession of an animal that he/she believes is being wrongfully withheld. It is unclear how long you ‘shared’ the dog and who has been paying for the dog’s care and has been the dog’s primary caretaker. If a lawsuit is commenced, courts are likely to consider these factors. When two people who are no longer ‘connected’ to each other ‘share’ a puppy, it is important for them to also consider how realistic it will be to share custody of an animal for many years and if such an arrangement will be in the animal's long term best interests.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can the SPCA legally seize and give away my dogs without a hold period?
Q:

I live in New York State. The SPCA took 2 of my dogs and gave them to their friends. They openly admit it. They say the dogs were adopted immediately by people they knew very well and in regards to getting them back they state "That ship has sailed". I was told that in NY State it is illegal for them to do this. I was told even if an animal is seized or surrendered the SPCA is required by law to hold the animal for 5 days before it can offer for adoption or humanely euthanize the animal. I can't find the specific law or case law that states this. I need to stop them and expose this, it's theft of my personal property. Can you confirm this law exists and point me to it so I can confirm what my recourse is? I havent been able to locate it online. Thank you in advance.

A:

There is no simple answer when it comes to hold times since one needs to have all of the facts to know what law or laws would be applicable. SPCAs that are exercising their humane law enforcement powers seize animals when they have probable cause to believe an animal has been mistreated. An SPCA may also seize lost and stray animals. Dogs (and other animals) seized in conjunction with an animal cruelty charge are generally held pending the disposition of the case, unless the animal is surrendered. ‘Owner’ surrendered animals are usually not required to be held for any length of time (although municipalities may provide for a limited hold time even in this situation). Article 26 of NYS’s Agriculture and Markets Law addresses the seizure of abused and neglected animals (and in some other situations). Section 374 (2) of the Agriculture and Markets Law also provides for a five day hold for certain animals---animals found abandoned and not properly cared for, or lost, strayed, homeless or unwanted animals--- but this section refers to other sections of law which contain different hold times (Article 7 of the Agriculture and Markets Law). To access the laws, go to www.assembly.state.ny.us and click “Bill Search” and then “NYS Laws.” I hope the dogs are doing well and that all involved consider their best interests.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can original owners take dog I've legally adopted from a rescue organization?
Q:

I adopted a dog from a rescue organization. The dog was one hour away from being euthanized in a kill shelter when someone from the Rescue Org rescued her. The dog was in the shelter for 3 weeks and with foster for 4 weeks. I legally adopted the dog and now I believe, after 4 months, the original owners are back in the picture somehow. I don't have all the details, but what are my legal rights as the new adoptive parent of this beautiful dog? I refuse to give this dog up, as I have bonded with her and love her.

A:

Generally if a shelter holds an animal for the time period required by law (these time periods are prescribed by state and local laws), the original ‘owner’ loses rights to the animal. There have been a few cases finding otherwise in extenuating situations (for example, after Hurricane Katrina when people did not have the ability to go to the shelter and many animals were taken out of state).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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