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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:

Neighbors who neglected their dogs want them back.
Q:

I have a friend who's neighbors dogs keep breaking out of the fence into his yard. He keeps going over to tell them the dogs are in his yard but they wouldn't come get them. He had the dogs for 2 days. The dogs are being abused and not fed so his friend came to his house and took the dogs to foster, vet, and rehome because the dogs are in really bad shape. They are left outside with all the time with no food, water, or shelter and horrible living conditions. During the two days he had them he went over and talked to the neighbors several times to come get their dogs but no one would come get them. Now the owner after 3 days is wanting them back but the dogs are already in a foster home. Can the person who has the dogs keep the bad owner from claiming them? If so what do they need to do to keep them from that bad situation?





A:

Animal cruelty/neglect is illegal in every state. People who suspect that an animal is being mistreated should contact local authorities, including the police, humane society, SPCA, and animal control officer. Persons convicted of neglecting, abusing, or abandoning an animal may be fined, imprisoned, and forfeit rights to the animal. A “bad owner” could try to claim his/her dogs and it will be up to the court to determine whether the dogs were mistreated or abandoned. Sometimes the police will get involved when pet theft is alleged but that depends on the facts of each situation.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How o I get custody of a shared dog?
Q:

My roommate brought a dog home in 2009 and I became the dogs primary caretaker. Making sure she had food, walks, care when she was sick, my roommate was in Texas for all of 2015, She just returned because we have to move and now she wants to take Mellie, our pup, to Texas, I Want To and can keep Mellie here. I have found a place where I can have her. I am also a much better caretaker than my roommate, who doesn't even take her for walks, but just lets her run free outside. She has claimed in the past that she can't afford to buy food for her, but I've always made sure she had food and was well taken care of. We have become very bonded and I want to keep her. I am concerned for her welfare if my roommate takes her to Texas, under my roommates "care" dogs have gotten lost and sick and then she claims she doesn't have the money to take them to the vet for care. Is there a way that I can prevent my roommate from taking Mellie. I fear that if she does, Mellie will either be lost or no longer with us before the year is out due to my roommate`s carelessness.

A:

Ideally, pet custody disputes would be resolved amicably between the parties and that the parties would resolve the dispute with the best interests of the animal as the primary consideration. When this does not occur and the case is litigated, courts will consider who “owns” the animal. In trying to determine “ownership,”courts will consider a variety of factors, including, for example, who purchased/adopted the animal, who has been the animal’s primary caretaker, who has paid for the animal’s necessities (food, veterinary care, etc.), and under whose name the dog is licensed, microchipped, and registered. The court will consider evidence to determine whether the animal was abandoned or given away subsequent to the adoption or purchase of the animal. Sometimes, the court will consider the animal’s best interests. In one New York pet custody case involving an older cat, the court stated, “Cognizant of the cherished status accorded to pets in our society, the strong emotions engendered by disputes of this nature, and the limited ability of the courts to resolve them satisfactorily, on the record presented, we think it best for all concerned that, given his limited life expectancy, Lovey, who is now almost ten years old, remain where he has lived, prospered, loved and been loved for the past four years.”
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How do I get my cats back from the shelter?
Q:

I took my cats to a rescue because I had to move.  I wasn't happy about the place but my daughter forced me to leave them.  I cannot leave them in that place and I told the owner I want them back.  She said I can have two but she's giving me problems about momma and her kittens.  I am so worried about them and want them back. Does she have to give them back?  She only wants the kittens so she can make money off them with no regard to the kitty's happiness.


A:

Generally when a person surrenders an animal to a rescue organization, such person has no further rights to the animal. The mission of rescue organizations is to provide humane care to homeless animals and to place them in loving forever homes, not to make money off of them. While adoption fees are usually charged, the fees rarely cover the cost incurred by the rescue organization in providing for the animals.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can i get my dog back?
Q:

Hello, I had to rehome my great dane 2 months ago due to a divorce and not having a place I could take care of him. So I set a rehoming fee and talked to many people well I found one couple I thought was perfect, now it's a nightmare. I agreed to $500, $100 the night they took him the a week later on the 1st they would give me the remaining rehoming fee. Well that day came and went then its we will give you $50 more for the inconvenience. Well I have only gotten $200. So they still owe me $350.
Text after text "you'll have it Friday" or "by the first"; this has gone on and on. I have stated that if they did not pay I would be picking the dog up. They say no need for that and they will pay. Well I've gotten nothing and now I want my dog back, what can I do?


A:

People who believe that another person owes them money can sue. Small Claims courts provide an inexpensive and user friendly means to resolve small monetary disputes. One can also sue for the return of an animal (generally known as replevin actions) but such actions in Texas and many other states are not heard in Small Claims courts. There are other courts that handle actions for the return of property and animals. These cases tend to be more complicated than Small Claims cases and it is generally beneficial to have attorney representation.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can someone adopt a pet they were given?
Q:

I have a friend who has a friend that had a cat and gave birth. That friend gave my other friend one of the kittens once she was 2 months and has be doing a wonderful job taking care of her. The question is can someone adopt a pet they were given? Can they get legal papers for traveling or clinic visits and be the legal guardian?

               

A:

When people adopt an animal from a shelter or rescue group, they generally sign an adoption agreement and when people purchase an animal from a pet store or breeder, they usually get a receipt (many laws require that additional information be provided, including, for example, information regarding remedies in the event the animal becomes ill). However, when a person is given an animal as a gift, there is often no paperwork, although the parties can enter into a written agreement. One does not generally need adoption papers or sale receipts  to bring a companion animal to a veterinarian or to obtain health certificates that might be needed for travel. Also, if an animal is licensed, microchipped, or  registered, the "owner's" name and contact information should be changed with the appropriate entities when the animal is given away or sold.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Giving an adopted puppy away.
Q:

My husband adopted a puppy from an unlicensed facility in January & our 25 yr.old son passed away. It was too much to have a puppy & devote the time she needed while we were & still are grieving. So a friend of ours for over 22 years has taken the pup to keep her young dog content. They have a fenced in yard and are responsible pet owners. They original people that fostered the puppy liter is threating to sue us & she has called the police. I don't know if we can take anymore stress. Thank you.


A:

I am so terribly sorry for your loss. Although some adoption agreements provide that adopters may not give an adopted animal away without the consent of the adoption agency and that the adoption agency may reclaim animals for breaches of the adoption agreement, the police generally do not get involved in these types of disputes unless criminal laws pertaining to animal neglect/abuse are being violated. Also, most adoption organizations do not sue for breaches of adoption agreements as long as the animal is getting good care and is spayed/neutered pursuant to the terms of the adoption agreement. To relieve the burden on you, if at all possible retain an attorney who can handle any legal issues that arise regarding the dog.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Shelter adopted out my friends cat before the hold time was up.
Q:

My friends cat went missing Feb 14th and she has been searching high and low for him even calling the shelter every day to which they told her they had no black and white cats and if any came in they would call her. Well three days later I'm on petfinder.com and there is this cat that is a spitting image of her cat so I call her and tell her, she calls the shelter they are closed and she leaves a message. Not even ten minutes after she left the message the cat is pulled off the website, so she shows up at the shelter the next day and refuse her any information and give her the run around saying they don't deal with petfinder.com and that the cat could of been put down for behavior issues. Well my friend leaves and the manager calls, looks up the cat and says the cat has been adopted out. They are suppose to hold cats for seven days and it's only been four since her cat went missing. She said the cat was adopted out early because of some reason they won't tell my friend. Is there anyway she can get her loving family pet back? The shelter lied on numerous accounts and we have proof he was on that website.

A:

If shelters violate legally required hold times, there is the possibility that the animal’s “owner” can get the animal returned. That may take a lawsuit if the shelter and new adopter do not cooperate. However, consider that many cats look alike so there is the chance that the cat who was adopted out is not your friend’s cat after all. It is very important for people who lose their pets to visit local animal shelters every day.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My father has custody of my dog, how do I get him back?
Q:

I just moved from my father's home but he still has the puppy that I've raised for the past 2 years. I just moved in with my mom, is there any way for me to get my dog back? I can't speak to my father about it. My dog means the world to me and isn't treated well there. He has bad anxiety and I'm the only one he isn't scared of. I don't know what to do.


A:

Arizona’s law provides that if a court issues an order of protection, the court may “Grant the petitioner the exclusive care, custody or control of any animal that is owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by the petitioner, the respondent or a minor child residing in the residence or household of the petitioner or the respondent, and order the respondent to stay away from the animal and forbid the respondent from taking, transferring, encumbering, concealing, committing an act of cruelty or neglect … or otherwise disposing of the animal.” I suggest that if your mother is willing to take in the dog, she consult with an attorney in your area about getting the dog returned.

 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How long does a shelter hold a lost dog before they adopt him out?
Q:

My dog got out and fell into a pond and was rescued. 4 days later they adopt him out. How long do they really have to adopt your dog out? They wanted me to pay 300 dollar vet bill or I couldn't get my dog back. He was the family pet and they refused payments.


A:

Hold times at shelters vary throughout the country. West Virginia’s law provides that impounded dogs at shelters must be held for a minimum of five days (this gives“owners” an opportunity to redeem their dogs). The law states that if the dog warden knows who the dog’s “owner” is, the warden must immediately give notice to the “owner,” but if the “owner” is not known, the warden must post a notice in the county courthouse describing the dog, location where the dog was seized, and that the dog must be redeemed within five days. There may be local laws that address these issues so they must be checked out as well. Impoundment fees also vary. Animal “owners” who refuse to pay the amount due and  redeem their animals in a timely manner risk losing "ownership" rights to their animals. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your state regarding your specific rights under these circumstances.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Previous owner wants dog back.
Q:

A friend of my son's had a dog but she couldn't keep him; he was around 13 weeks old. She said my son could keep him and just had to pay for his shots which we did. I paid for his shots and his license. Now she says that her cousin gave her the dog wants him back; he will pay us for the shots or if we want to keep him we have to pay him $400. What can I do? We love the dog and I don't think it's right to give him away and then want him back.


A:

Generally when a person gives his/her animal away, he/she has no further rights to that animal, unless there is an agreement that states otherwise. Often people who give an animal away have a change of heart, but that does not change the legal consequences of their actions. When multiple people are involved in multiple transactions regarding an animal (son, son’s friend, son’s friend’s cousin, you) and there are no written contracts, the terms of all of the agreements can be unclear and subject to different interpretations. For example, did the friend “own” the puppy at the time the puppy was given to your son? What was the actual agreement between the friend and her cousin?  Sometimes in an effort to get a quicker and less costly resolution, these disputes are settled out of court. Any agreement should be in writing to avoid further conflicts.
 


Submitted by anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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