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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:

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
How can I get legal custody of dog I've cared for after owners neglect?
Q:

I have taken care of a dog from November 2013 through current. The original owner neglected the animal and I have provided all medical care, prescription food, medication, etc.  If the dogs previous owner gets his hands on him again, he will be neglected and abused again. The dog is in renal failure due to lyme disease at only 4 years old and was not provided proper care. A Saint Bernard underweight from neglect, I finally got his weight up to 85 lbs. My female is 125 that is still very poor. The previous owner agreed to let me keep the dog because its medical care is very expensive and he is homeless, or was and cannot provide for the dog. He now is threatening to take the dog back and I was told that he can get a police escort to do so. The dog never had papers, I do have a license for him in my name and vet records, etc. Please advise. Can I sue for "custody" of the Dog? The SPCA filed a neglect report, but what do I do in the meantime? Also, this person left his other male dog in my diningroom unattended when I was sleeping, I woke to let my female out (she also had her protective underwaer on) and didnt know he was in there, it resulted in an unintended breed, with pregnancy and delivery issues and a small litter of 4 pups common with and unintended breed. He is also trying to take one of my females puppies. No contract. Unintended breed. Please help. Thanks!

A:

Generally when a person gives away or sells his/her animal, such person has no further rights to that animal. However, when the disputing parties either live together or have a personal relationship and each claim to ‘own’ an animal, ‘ownership’ rights are more unclear. If litigated, courts will consider the evidence (including, for example, who purchased or adopted the animal, was the animal subsequently given away, who paid for the animal’s care, and who was the animal’s primary caretaker). Courts, in deciding pet custody cases, have also considered whether one of the disputing parties has neglected or abused the animal. Pet custody lawsuits are usually commenced by the person not in possession of the animal. The police typically do not get involved in pet custody disputes between people who live together or have a personal relationship, although they will get involved if they believe pet theft, rather than a difference of opinion regarding ‘ownership,’ is at issue. I suggest that the animals be spayed/neutered as soon as a veterinarian says they are healthy enough for the procedure. The ‘ownership’ of the puppies would be dependent on who ‘owned’ the animals that produced the puppies.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I keep city police from taking my dogs life?
Q:

My boyfriend and I live together with two dogs. One of the dogs had to be brought to the veterinarian. We both work five days a week, 12 hours a day, so we had my mother take him to the vet. My mother sat down and waited for the nurse with my dog and there was another customer talking to the nurse with a dog on an extended leash. The dog with the extended leash came close to my dog and they began to fight. Well after they got split up we just so happen to find out that the dog my dog had just gotten into a fight with was a police officers dog. He did not say you wanted to press charges or do anything to pursue what had happened to the dog when they got into a fight. He simply just left the veterinarian, went to the city and had his Sheriff right out a regulation and sent papers to my mothers house stating we have seven days to appeal this, if we take any longer than seven days our dog will be euthanized! They had brought the ticket to my mothers house on 5-28-2014, and said you have seven workdays to appeal. Ever since we had gotten letter we had been talking to the courts, attourneys, animal controls, pretty much anything and everything you can think of. We've called the law finder 800-number, lawyer finder and they had all told us they either do not cover that kind of thing, or we get a we are not part of the cities so we cannot give you any legal information. This is not just any ordinary dog, this is our baby our son! So as of today it has been seven days since he was in the veterinarian and the veterinarian was about to put him down. The veterinarian would let us come and visit Loboe when we felt the need to come and see him. My boyfriend today went to go visit him, but instead of visiting home he stole him from the vet. He first walked up to the counter and paid for the dogs procedures that he was just in for, he then asked if he could visit with Our baby for a little bit. When he was in the visiting room with our baby he had slowly opened the door and walked out the front door with our baby. Now he has a warrant out for his arrest and is going to turn himself in on Sunday. We were just wondering if there was anything you can help us with?

A:

The American Bar Association which is headquartered in Illinois has a lawyer referral service. The Illinois State Bar Association has an animal law committee consisting of attorneys who practice or have an interest in animal law. The National Anti-Vivisection Society (312-427-6065) is also located in Chicago and may have further resources. Most attorneys can file a notice of appeal even if they have no ‘animal law’ experience. Court clerks can also assist those who do not have an attorney. Obviously, it is important that you act quickly to preserve your rights and your dog’s life.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Legally can I withhold dog from former uncle who gave it to me?
Q:

My aunt recently went through a divorce, and during the process moved in with me. Her ex-husband told her to take their dog (it was originally his). Several months ago she moved out, but was unable to take the dog with her. Both her and her ex granted me ownership of the dog, but the ex-husband has called and asked for her back. Legally can I withhold the dog from him? In addition he took poor care of the dog, and is not responsible enough to take proper care of her.

A:

Generally, when one gives his/her companion animal away, such person retains no further rights to the animal and the new ‘owner’ has no legal obligation to return the animal. Of course, disputing parties often have different recollections of the agreement. If the agreement is not in writing and a lawsuit is commenced, the court, after considering the evidence, will determine who ‘owns’ the animal. Sometimes when determining who should get an animal, courts also consider the best interests of the animal, particularly if there is evidence of animal abuse/neglect on the part of one of the parties to the lawsuit.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What are my rights if my dog was paralyzed at the groomers?
Q:

My 9 yr. old lab walked into the groomers. Was placed into a noose and was attached to the wall in the shower. He was left there for several minutes. When they returned he was down and could not get up. The manager was brought in, and they pulled him out groomed him. Then placed him in a kennel and called me to come get him. I was not notified. When I came to pick him up he could not walk. We carried him out and took him to the vet. He had a herniated disk. We carried him around for the last 5 weeks. And sadly we put him down on 6/2. Do I have any legal rights here? He had no prior history of any illess or disease or injuries. Thank you,

A:

I am so sorry to hear about your dog. Tragically, there have been several cases involving dogs who have died at groomers from strangulation, hot cage dryers, or other injuries. Sometimes people choose to file a claim with the groomer on their own or through an attorney before actually suing (groomers often have insurance policies and may settle for a mutually acceptable amount of money). Expenses incurred for veterinary bills as a result of the groomer’s negligence (which may need to be proven in court) as well as compensation for the amount paid for the animal (or to get another animal of similar market value) are more likely to be awarded by courts than compensation for emotional distress or loss of companionship (which most courts will not award). A few courts have held that if an animal had no or little market value, the animal’s intrinsic value, such as sentimental value to his/her ‘owner,’ can be considered. If an animal had special training or performed services, that too could be considered by a court in determining compensation.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What rights do I have if boyfriend tries to take back puppy he gave as a gift?
Q:

Thank you for taking your time to review my question.
I have had a puppy for about a month, he was given as a birthday gift from someone I have been dating. We have had a lot of fights and he has threatened me to take the dog away. The puppy is AKC registered under my name, and I take care of him. My information is at the vet, as his owner since I am the one that has taken him for his first two rounds of shots. The guy I have been seeing only sees him on weekends when we visit each other. I am afraid that things are going to get out of hand and he might want to really take my puppy away. What are my and the puppy's rights in this situation. Thank you again for your time.

A:

Generally a person who gives a gift has no further rights to the gift (unless the gift was given with certain conditions). However, occasionally when a relationship ends people do all sorts of unfortunate and even illegal things, including taking an already gifted companion animal or even worse. I suggest not giving access to the puppy if you are concerned that he will be stolen. When an animal is stolen, the police may get involved (although they don’t when they consider the matter to be a custody dispute, and not theft). One can also bring a civil lawsuit for the return of an animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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