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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:

Is there anything legally that can be done about my pet sitter?
Q:

Hi, I hired a pet sitter for 9 days while we were on vacation. I have 4 cats and a 200 lb. St. Bernard. He is elderly. When we came home we found that the pet sitter had not fed our dog appropriately. He gets 8 cups of food a day, and she had only been giving him one can of tuna per day. We found his food in the trash can that she had tried to hide. He lost so much weight in the 9 days that his ribs are showing. She also had not fed any of the cats and they had no water in their feeders and we have had 100 degree temps. Is there anything legally that can be done?

A:

Animal neglect/abuse complaints can be made to local animal control, the sheriff, and the police. In some states, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA) and humane organizations also enforce animal cruelty laws. Cruelty to animals is against the law in every state. A pet “owner” can also sue a pet sitter for monetary damages (veterinary bills, for example) resulting from the pet sitter’s actions/neglect. Success in such a lawsuit will be dependent on whether one can prove to the satisfaction of the court that the pet sitter failed to provide necessary care (such as food and water) to the animals and that such failure resulted in harm to the animals.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
The seller of my cat is harassing me to return the pet
Q:

Hello, I'm active duty navy stationed in Virginia. I recently found a cat on Craigslist that perfectly fit a description for a loving pet for my 6 year old daughter. The cat was not listed for a price and we met the owner and the cat, we decided to get him and bring him home. We've had him for over 2 weeks now and my daughter and him have connected and he never leaves her side, she was sick for 2 days in bed and he guarded her like a sheep dog. I am about to deploy soon, and today on Memorial day of all days the woman we got the cat from has been bombarding me with about 20 text messages asking for us to return the cat because of the emotional effect it is having on her 2 children, begging us and saying that her "special needs" daughter is upset. we do not want to give him up. does the previous owner have rights?

A:

Generally when a person sells or adopts out his/her companion animal, such person has no further rights to the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can I do about the death of my dog?
Q:

We had to surrender our dog to a foster home and a week ago due to we are moving across state and can't afford him due to having an child. Teddy was attacked by a pit in March and it broke his jaw and damage most of his teeth. I found an foundation to help find an foster hom. Teddy was healing  and in good spirits he had an healthy heart and kidneys even due to the attack.  She called me today May 12th telling me what happened. She out right lied to me and tried to tell me this was Teddy's fault. He is an 7 pound terrier poodle mix. She tells me Teddy go out of his crate and her room. which she said she shut the door and lock the crate. I'm shocked that she did not lock his crate or double check it. I'm shocked that her bedroom door was not closed. I'm shocked that she lets big dogs roam the house when no one is there. they all should be in crates when no one is home no one knows what could happen. He should of never been around any of these strange dogs alone (without supervision) during his healing. We don't know if Teddy was dramatize since his attack by the pit and to have this dog around him alone was wrong. I don't care that Teddy got out of he crate that's means they did not do an good job checking the crate before they left also he should of been in another room were the dogs could not get to him. Which she said he was. She told me when we meet that it was going to be that way. Teddy in a crate while he was healing and no dogs around while they were gone. Now he is dead. Please tell me if there is any way I can shut her down. She is not calling me back and I would like my dogs ashes. She has had him only for an week.

A:

 I am so sorry to hear about Teddy. Complaints about animal neglect or abuse should be made to the SPCA (society for the prevention of cruelty to animals), the police, and animal control. The Attorney General also can investigate charities. Generally when a person surrenders an animal, he/she has no further rights to the animal or the animal’s ashes.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
No puppy and no reservation fee back!
Q:

I recently handed over 100 pounds to the owner of a pregnant husky to reserve my puppy. I visited pregnant mom and and handed over cash and arranged to visit puppy in its first week in the meantime we received pics and videos daily and were looking forward to our new addition.unfortunatley due to work comittments we asked if we could reschedule first visit with puppy. Owner has now insisted on refusing us our puppy (due to "lettibg it down" and finding someone who will "come and visit" and will not return the deposit. I explained circumstances and disappointment and the fact that i thought it was a pretty harsh decsion. Was told she would return deposit as it was her choice dale not going ahead but have received nothing and get no response to messages. Where do i stand on this/what shall i do?

A:

I am not familiar with the judicial system or laws in the UK but at least in the US people can sue for money they believe is due to them and for enforcement of a contract (which can include getting possession of an animal). Courts will consider the terms of a written or verbal contract (although when a contract is not written, parties often have different accounts of the deal). 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Legalities of Gifting a dog.
Q:

My sister had been living with her partner for about a year, when she raised the question of getting a dog. Partner continually told her that it wasn't going to happen, but within a week of finding that special pet, the partner adopted the dog and surprised my sister with the gift of a new lifelong companion. After a nasty breakup, partner decides to keep said dog, even after multiple friends and our family were well aware that the dog was indeed a gift to my sister. Now, partner decides that my sister no longer will recieve visitation of the dog, and we are all understandably heartbroken. What steps can I take in this situation? Please help us.

A:

A person who believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue for the return of the animal. Courts consider evidence of “ownership,” such as an adoption or purchase agreement, veterinary records, registration papers, and proof that the animal was given away, sold, or abandoned. Courts may also consider evidence regarding who has been the animal’s primary caretaker and who has paid for the animal’s needs (food, veterinarian, grooming) and for how long. The best interests of the animal may be considered. An animal’s “owner’s” relative would normally not have standing to sue. I suggest that your sister consult with an attorney if she is interested in pursuing a lawsuit for the return of the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Trying to reclaim ESA that was sold
Q:

Facing financial insecurity, I sold my beloved ESA on Craigslist. Finally settled and facing old issues, I contacted the person they were sold to and they had gotten sick and they gave them away. We had discussed prior (and a little on the ad) that the cat was to be in a forever home, not to be gifted or resold and was due for his shots. He claims that I sold him a sick cat (giardia), but he was healthy while he was here, no symptoms, etc and the previous seller said he'd been checked at the vet and was healthy (3 weeks prior). 

How do I get my cat back since the person got rid of the cat after an agreement not to and also without getting it medical attention?

A:

When an individual chooses to sell his/her animal, such individual usually has no rights to get that animal back. An individual who sells an animal to a stranger should realize that once the animal is sold, the deal is generally done and it will be very difficult to get the animal returned (unless the purchaser wants to return the animal). When there is a well drafted written contract providing for the return of an animal for certain contract breaches, there is some chance that a court would order an animal to be returned when such a breach occurs. These cases become much more complicated (and even more difficult to win) when the purchaser no longer has the animal and when the agreement is not in writing. 

 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Ownership of pet after death
Q:

D had a boxer when he moved in with me 2 1/2 yrs ago . The dog has been inside all this time D dead March. He had said I could have his dog --- now his children are wanting him back .Do I have the right to keep his dog?

A:

Typically, a decedent’s property is distributed based on Will provisions (and many people specifically provide for their pets). If there is no Will, intestacy laws are generally followed and next of kin usually inherit the decedent’s property. However, if a person gave an animal away prior to dying the animal would not be subject to the decedent’s Will or intestacy laws (since the animal would not have been “owned” by the decedent at the time of his/her death). I suggest you consult with an attorney in your state.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Owner wants back abandoned dog
Q:

I always try n help strays etc. my sons x-girlfriend asked me to watch her dog-for a few weeks while she moved  its going on 5 months now. she says she wants her back. we have fallen in love with her & her with us. recently had to have all her teeth removed. all were abcessed & roots were rotten. shes so happy here & acts like a new dog. before she growled & cowered down to everything Scared & Afraid. Do you have any advice? PLEASE. Thank you, she has dumped her 2 times before I found out. 6 months each time. no wonder the dog is so scared of everything. no stability.  ive told her so many times how happy is. ive never seen a dog do a 180 degree turn In my life in a Positive way. when I took her to the vet to get her teeth checked out - it was her 1st ever vet visit & she 9 yrs old. a weenie dog. took her 2 vet because her teeth were falling out everyday. she is now getting social. I take her to petco with my dog 3 times now to shop & she just loves it & loves life now. its breaking our hearts. she will not let me out of her sight & cries for me.  I never saw her cry for her owner. never saw owner give her attention either. Shes telling me now its her property & she'll send police.

A:

It is not uncommon for pet sitters to become very attached to the animals in their care, particularly when the care is provided for an extended period of time. Nevertheless, unless the animal’s “owner” is found to have abandoned the animal or given or sold the animal to the pet sitter, typically the pet sitter has no legal right to keep the animal. If the animal’s “owner” has not paid the pet sitter for the animal’s expenses, including, for example, extensive veterinary services, it is possible a court could order the animal’s “owner” to pay such expenses (and then sometimes the “owner” voluntarily agrees to relinquish the animal). Ideally, the parties involved in these types of disputes can reach an agreement that considers the best interests of the animal. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area regarding next steps.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Accused of neglect
Q:

I recently surrendered my dog to an animal rescue. He has lymes disease and other reason for him being there but they are treating him and helping him. I have had my dog for 7 years and because of how skinny he got from the lymes disease and he also swolled rocks they said i neglected my dog. Why would i wait 7 years to neglect my dog. I have all paper work showing that i tried to help him with his lymes and that i tried to save him but money was the reason i couldnt do the vet. They are saying i wont get him back because of how expensive the surgery and everything else was i want him back?

A:

When an individual surrenders his/her companion animal to a rescue group or shelter, such individual generally has no legal right to get the animal returned. I hope the dog gets better. Although sometimes costly, providing one’s animal with necessary veterinary care is an essential part of being a pet “parent.” In fact, people have been prosecuted in NY for failing to obtain veterinary care for their sick animals.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Medical problems with my puppy
Q:

Hello! we bought our puppy from a family in Woodland WA and they told us she was completely healthy with no medical problems other than being the runt. now two months into having her we find out she has a serious liver condition. she needs surgery and needs to be on medication for the rest of her life. this family will no longer contact me when i have questions about the mom and dad. do we have legal rights to ask for our money back or do anything to find out if this liver disease is in one of the parents? or do we have legal rights to do anything since we already paid for her and she is ours?

A:

There are laws in several states granting rights to individuals who purchase sick dogs and cats from pet shops and certain breeders (including, for example,  a purchase price refund or reimbursement for veterinary costs—although the laws generally contain caps on the reimbursement). Even without specific pet sale laws, there are general laws relating to the sale of “goods” (including animals) when such sales are made by “merchants” (persons normally engaged in the business of selling such goods). These laws provide consumers with protection when the “goods” are not as warranted or basically were unfit for purchase. When an individual purchases an animal from another individual (not a merchant) and the animal becomes ill (or is diagnosed as having a congenital disorder) it can be very difficult for the purchaser to get compensated. A court may be sympathetic to a purchaser if it can be shown that the seller knew that the animal was sick and lied about it.  While being a pet “parent” can be financially costly, the rewards in love and companionship far exceed the monetary costs. Good luck with your new family member.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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