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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:

Three dogs taken away after one fought stray on property.
Q:

All three of our dogs were taken because one of our dogs got into a fight with a stray dog who came into our yard. Now all three may be killed as a result. I don't knwo what to do. Please, we need help.

A:

I suggest that you immediately contact an attorney in your state who can intervene on behalf of you and your dogs. People whose dogs are seized under dangerous dog laws are entitled to a hearing. Also, dangerous dog laws do not generally provide for a �death penalty� for dogs who have bitten another animal, particularly for a first offense and in the dogs� yard. If, however, dogs are seized based on a violation of California�s animal fighting laws the dogs shall be ordered forfeited upon conviction of the arrested person. California�s animal fighting law states, in part: Any person who does any of the following is guilty of a felony�(1) Owns, possesses, keeps, or trains any dog, with the intent that the dog shall be engaged in an exhibition of fighting with another dog.(2) For amusement or gain, causes any dog to fight with another dog, or causes any dogs to injure each other.(3) Permits any act in violation of paragraph (1) or (2) to be done on any premises under his or her charge or control, or aids or abets that act.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get puppy from a litter between ex-girlfriend's dog and mine?
Q:

My dog and my ex girlfriends dog had puppies, and now she won't give me one puppy that I should deserve the right to. What do you recommend for me to do?

A:

Unless there is a written agreement granting the �owner� of a male dog rights to a puppy, it is likely to be a difficult case to win. Perhaps the female dog had other suitors? I recommend that you get your dog neutered and that you suggest to your ex that her dog be spayed. There is an overpopulation of dogs and cats. Spaying and neutering help to curb this problem. Spaying and neutering also provide health benefits to animals. < /p>
Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

Parents want to keep ex's dog until reimbursed boarding fees.
Q:

My parents have been taking care of my boyfriends dog while he has been out of town. He had agreed to pay for food, vet care etc. We have since broke up and the ex wants his dog back, but doesn't want to pay for his care. Do my parents have the right to keep the dog until they are reimbursed?

A:

Florida has a lien law that provides that persons feeding or caring for another person�s animals can have a lien for the care and maintenance of the animals. However, consider that as each day passes the money expended on care increases. It often can be more cost effective, particularly with dogs and cats, to return an animal and sue for the amount due. Also, unless there is a written boarding agreement which states the amount due, a court could find that the boarding was gratuitous (more so when the people know each other as in your situation).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back from Animal Control?
Q:

I recently moved and left my dog at my sisters house until we had everything moved and some unpacked. My fur baby is 10 yrs old and doesn't do well with confusion. Animal control was contacting regarding my sisters house and they had a warrant to take all animals on site including my dog. How do I get my dog back?

A:

Time is often of the essence in these situations. I suggest that you immediately contact animal control to try to retrieve your animal. If animal control will not return your dog immediately, consult with an attorney in your area now. Sometimes seized animals are held pending a court case but sometimes not depending on the circumstances and whether the alleged �owner� of the animals signed a written surrender. Also, sometimes animals may be deemed forfeited if after a seized animal hearing the animal's �owner� fails to comply with an order to make payment for the reasonable cost of caring for the seized animal pending the resolution of the case.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can neighbor fix my cat without my consent?
Q:

Can a neighbor take and get my cat (or dog) fixed without my consent, or even knowledge of it? What could I do if this happens?

A:

Most neighbors would not have such unfettered access to another neighbor�s animal. Also, sometimes �ownership� of an outdoor animal is not that clear. Letting one�s unspayed or unneutered dogs and cats outside without supervision exacerbates the already serious overpopulation of dogs and cats. Perhaps your neighbor wanted to avoid another litter. Individuals who believe that their animal was spayed or neutered without their authorization can sue for the difference (if any) of the animal�s monetary value as a result of the spaying/neutering (although most dogs and cats don�t have financially lucrative breeding potential and those that do are not typically outdoors unsupervised). Alternatively, be thankful that the spaying/neutering has been done.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get my therapy dog back from ex?
Q:

I recently sent my dog back to an ex of mine and now he refuses to give her back. She is my certified therapy dog and I spent a year of training with her. What is making this difficult is only his name is on the adoption papers. What should I do, if there is anything??

A:

An individual who believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get the animal returned. While adoption records are one indication of �ownership,� court would consider what transpired after adoption, including, for example, whether the dog was subsequently given away, sold, or abandoned, who has been the dog�s primary caretaker, and who has paid for the dog�s needs (food, veterinary care, etc.). Courts would also consider the circumstances behind why a person who is claiming �ownership� of an animal and further claiming that the animal is a therapy dog would send this same animal back to an ex.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dogs got out during storm and pound won't let me get them.
Q:

I had two dogs. An American bully and English bulldog. A storm occurred and the my dogs got free and were picked up by the city. I went to reclaim my dogs two hours after they were picked up and the shelter told me I had 2 options. Pay $250 to get a breeders license or pay $150 dollars and get them out with a chip and spayed/neutered. Since I didn't agree with this and told them I was seeking legal action they told if so they could no longer have contact with me, and within 3-5 business days my dogs would be available for adoption regardless of how I felt because they picked up the dogs and if I didn't pick one of the two options they would belong to the city. What can I do?

A:

Impound�fees are common and vary depending on the municipality. It is generally safer to pay the fee and sue for the overpayment later. Otherwise, regardless of who is right or wrong on the law the animals may be gone.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Former roommate/landlord won't return my cat.
Q:

Former roommate/landlord (same person) kicked me out after physically attacking me twice. Police did nothing. I had to leave immediately without any of my personal belongings. This woman did agree to care for my 2 cats until I got resettled, then ceased all communication. I provided food & attempted to retrieve my kitties several times (emails & texts prove). Sheriff has been there twice but she refuses to say who has my kitties. What can I do? I love my girls Its killing me.

A:

Individuals who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can sue for the return of their animals (known as a replevin action). These cases get more complicated when the person being sued no longer has the animals, but courts may order the release of the name of the person who does have the animals and that person may sometimes be brought in the case as an additional defendant.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can SPCA take my cat without a warrant?
Q:

The SPCA took my cat away from me and I didnt see a warrent, or wasn't given a warrent. She snatched her right of my boyfriends hands without my permisson. She told me I have 5 days to pay her and I can get my cat back. Can I press charges and how can I get my cat back for something that was illegally done.

A:

SPCA officers typically do not seize animals unless they have reason to believe the animals are being neglected or otherwise mistreated. Search warrants are sometimes needed in order to legally seize an animal. Animals who are seized due to alleged abuse/neglect are not generally returned unless the defendant is found not guilty of the charges, a plea deal is reached, or the inhumane situation is rectified (for example, better shelter for an animal is provided). Persons charged with cruelty to animals should have legal representation. Animal control officers usually have the authority to seize animals running on public property. Also, individuals who find animals will often take the animals to local shelters. In these circumstances, shelters/animal control must hold the animals for a specified number of days (the number of days varies throughout the country) to give the animals� �owners� an opportunity to redeem their animals (after which time the animals may generally be placed for adoption or euthanized). An animal�s �owner� can redeem his/her animal upon payment of an impoundment fee (the amount is often specified in the law and also varies throughout the country). Because the life of an animal could be at stake, even if someone believes that his/her animal was illegally seized, it is generally wise to pay the impoundment fee, redeem the animal within the time specified in the law, and then focus on attempting to press charges (if one has grounds for taking this action).< /p>
Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

Woman will not return my puppy.
Q:

This lady found my puppy, took her to the shelter and then took her home. I contacted her several times. At first she said she didnt have her, she left her at the shelter. I went to the shelter numerous times my puppy isnt there. The shelter said she has her. Now the lady isn't responding or answering to any of my calls or texts or emails. What should my next step be?

A:

An individual who believes that his or her animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue for the return of the animal (known as a replevin action). Shelters are generally required by law to hold animals for a specified number of days (the number differs throughout the country) before making an animal available for adoption or euthanizing the animal. It is important to act quickly in these situations. Consult with an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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