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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 dogs be taken away?
Q:

Can the pound take the owners dogs away? Can they get the owners in trouble if the dogs are not taken care of properly?


A:

There are animal cruelty laws in every state.  People convicted of violating animal cruelty laws may be fined and/or imprisoned. Depending on the circumstances, abused and neglected animals may be seized by the police and other officers with authority to enforce animal cruelty laws.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Negligent Vet
Q:

Hello,
    Do you know of vets who could look at the records?     
    I need confirmation from a vet that they did things wrong in order to satisfy the credit card company.
I am not disputing all of the charges because the ultrasound was done by a separate office within the facility.
    Molly went there Sunday Oct. 25, 2015. There is a list of things that they are guilty of.
    The vet said that if Molly's glucose was normal she was sending her home Wed. at 6PM. because they are doing more harm than good.
    Unfortunately I did not visit in the morning. I went every morning and evening but I decided to wait until 6 when she could come home.
    It took them weeks to send the records. They were emailed when I asked for them to be mailed. When they finally mailed them there were five pages less than in the email. I was told they sent all of them.
    They gave meds that I told them not to. Then changed to another one than has the same bad thing in it which causes loss of sight. Molly was petrified when I saw her Tuesday night and they did nothing.
    When I arrived about 5:10 to visit with Molly before they released her, they kept putting me off. I was persistent so was taken to a room and told the vet would be in to talk to me. After asking about 5 times how Molly is, the tech said told Molly was in cardiac arrest.
    They never did a cysto for instance and yet records dated Nov. 23rd, after Molly died. Also they took other blood tests that were impossible at that time.
    I wanted to discuss the entire bill numerous times. There were too many discrepancies. They insisted on being paid everyday. One night at 10:00 the vet asked me to pay more. I said I am not going to discuss that at night and will tomorrow when I come to get Molly.      
    Finally the administator emailed that she was taking off the amount due. That was for the day they killed Molly. She said that she was informing her entire staff not to have any contact with me.
    After that I was sent a notice of past due bill. After that I was sent a final notice that it was being turned over to a collection agency.
    All they ever cared about was money.
    I know a vet will be able to discern from the records that what they did was negligent. That is all I need to get a lot of my money back.


A:

I am very sorry for your loss. We do not maintain lists of veterinarians who review medical records for credit card challenges. Individuals who believe that a veterinarian’s negligence or other wrongdoing caused harm to their animal can sue the veterinarian for monetary damages (money) and can file a complaint with their state veterinary licensing board (in Arizona, the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board). Please note that the Arizona Board does not handle fee disputes, award money, or require veterinarians to refund money. Disciplinary actions taken by licensing boards are usually in the form of censures, monetary penalties, and license suspensions and revocations.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Lost cat possibly found and has a new owner, what can I do?
Q:

About a year ago my cat who was new to the outdoors followed me to the bus stop, and since then there's been no sign if him till now. He wasn't aware of his surroundings and easily frightened of cars, most the time he was inside the house. We couldn't afford to collar for him with our address, but he was healthy nonetheless. Someone from my school has a picture of a cat that is identical to mine on a social media website. This person probably assumed they were helping a poor cat, but that's not the case. If I show photographs of him, right before he left, and that person still refuses, what can I do?


A:

A person who believes his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get the animal returned. Courts may consider efforts made by the person who lost the animal to find the animal and efforts made by the person who found the animal to locate the animal’s “owner.” Courts may also consider the animal’s interests. Consider that your cat was let outside when, as you stated, “he wasn’t too aware of his surroundings and easily frightened of cars.” Fortunately, he was not run over or otherwise harmed.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Breeder refuses to return dog.
Q:

A Penbrook Corgi owner (purchased and AKC registered by owner) allowed the breeder/handler to prepare and show owners dog to obtain Champion status in preparation for breeding. Breeder was to return dog when competition was completed. This was to take a couple of months. The owner arranged transportation of dog from Texas to Michigan and paying for food; no other costs were agreed upon. Without the owners permission the breeder claims eye and hip checks were performed. She claims the said the dog had poor hips. The Breeder, again without the owners permission, decided to have the said dog spayed. The breeder is asking for monetary compensation for everything. The owner contacted the Vets office but they refuse to reply when asked if they performed the hip X-rays or had the dog spayed. The X-rays never went for OFA certification. The owner refuses to pay and has asked for the return of her dog and the cost of the dog since it was not show quality as advertised to owner originally. Breeder refuses to return dog or payback the original cost of dog. What legal means does the owner have in the case and should she contact the local police first? What steps are needed here? Thank you.

A:

Wow, wouldn’t it have been simpler to adopt a homeless dog? The police get involved in pet theft crimes but not contract disputes, particularly when an animal’s “owner” voluntarily transferred possession of the dog. It will be important to review the show/breeding sales agreement entered into between the purchaser and breeder to best understand the rights and obligations of the parties. Agreements for show dogs sometimes indicate that there is no guarantee that the dog will complete a championship or be breedable since while the dog may appear to be show quality at the time of sale, this can change over time.  These agreements also sometimes state that if the dog is not of show quality, the dog will be spayed/neutered and the purchaser will have the choice of keeping the dog or returning the dog to the breeder for a replacement puppy. If a purchaser believes a breeder has violated the agreement, a lawsuit can be commenced for monetary damages or specific performance, such as the return of the animal or another animal.         
 


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

I purchased a dog in October 15th through the humane society. My name is on all the paper work and all vet bills. I had a 19 year old that wanted the dog. I told her if she proved to me she would work with the dog everyday, be responsible for the dog, and show me she could care for the dog properly, she would get the dog when she moved out. The girl accepted my terms. She then refused to train the dog. Bought 1 bag of dog food for the 4 mounths post agreement and often left the dog here for days without contact from her. When she was moving out i told her she could not take the dog as agreement was not met. Her and her friends refused to leave without my dog and were trying to intimidate me. Finally I said take the dog just to get them out of my house. I really want my dog back but I am not sure I can get her back. My contract with the humane society does state if dog changes ownership it must be done so in writing with them. Can I get her back?




A:

When a person gives his/her animal away, such person typically has no further rights to the animal. If the humane society has contact information for the new “owner,” the humane society might intervene to try to get the animal back or screen the new "owner" to make sure the new "owner" can provide a loving forever home for the animal. However, one should not expect a humane society to return an animal to an adopter who gave the animal away and violated the adoption agreement.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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
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