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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:

How can I get my dog back that my cousin gave away?
Q:

I am an addict in recovery. During my recovery, my cousin invited me to his house to live. I brought myself and my dog. I relapsed, and I was brought to jail. During that time, my cousin said he called the Bondsman and they told him that I wouldn't be out of jail for another 6 months. So, he spayed my dog and gave her away to some of his friends. I got out of jail in 18 days, and when I contacted my Cousin, he said he gave my dog away. He refuses to tell me where my dog is. She is a trained hunting dog, and worth monetary value. Is there a way to get my dog back through the courts?

A:

If one believes his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld or was given away or sold without permission, one can sue to try to get the animal returned or to get financial remuneration. I hope your dog is doing well and that everyone considers what is truly best for the dog. Overpopulation of dogs and cats is a serious problem with tragic consequences. Spaying and neutering helps to control the overpopulation and also has health benefits for the animals.
 


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

I am an addict in recovery. During my recovery, my cousin invited me to his house to live. I brought myself and my dog. I relapsed, and I was brought to jail. During that time, my cousin said he called the Bondsman and they told him that I wouldn't be out of jail for another 6 months. So, he spayed my dog and gave her away to some of his friends. I got out of jail in 18 days, and when I contacted my Cousin, he said he gave my dog away. He refuses to tell me where my dog is. She is a trained hunting dog, and worth monetary value. Is there a way to get my dog back through the courts?

A:

If one believes his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld or was given away or sold without permission, one can sue to try to get the animal returned or to get financial remuneration. I hope your dog is doing well and that everyone considers what is truly best for the dog. Overpopulation of dogs and cats is a serious problem with tragic consequences. Spaying and neutering helps to control the overpopulation and also has health benefits for the animals.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get reimbursed for vet fees caused by boarders negligence?
Q:

My yorkie was hurt badly while boarded. This happened during playtime with other dogs. He was in ICU for 6 days, etc. Bills were over $3000. They paid the first $1200 when he was first rushed to the ER vet but refuse to reimburse me the rest. How can I get reimbursed?

A:

Typically in a bailment arrangement, the bailee (party, such as a boarding facility, taking possession of the animal ) must exercise due care with the animal and return the animal unharmed. Some courts have found that the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary treatment should be awarded to an animal’s ‘owner’ after an animal was injured due to the negligence of the defendant. Other courts have limited awards to the ‘market value’ of the animal. In any such lawsuit courts will also review contracts that the parties signed (which may provide assumption of risk language and other provisions which the court may or may not enforce).
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get reimbursed for vet fees caused by boarders negligence?
Q:

My yorkie was hurt badly while boarded. This happened during playtime with other dogs. He was in ICU for 6 days, etc. Bills were over $3000. They paid the first $1200 when he was first rushed to the ER vet but refuse to reimburse me the rest. How can I get reimbursed?

A:

Typically in a bailment arrangement, the bailee (party, such as a boarding facility, taking possession of the animal ) must exercise due care with the animal and return the animal unharmed. Some courts have found that the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary treatment should be awarded to an animal’s ‘owner’ after an animal was injured due to the negligence of the defendant. Other courts have limited awards to the ‘market value’ of the animal. In any such lawsuit courts will also review contracts that the parties signed (which may provide assumption of risk language and other provisions which the court may or may not enforce).
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Vet killed my dog with a bad injection.
Q:

I took my 1-year and 10 month old dog to his vet for his shots that he gets all the time and has no side effect with them. So this day they decied to give him a shot called Pro Heart 6. They never asked me about it, they never told me the side effects, and they never told me to sign anything about that shot. I always gave him the pill. So they gave my dog his regular shots and the Pro Heart 6 and moments later he got sick, and then died 4 hours later. Then I read that Pro Heart was taken off the market at one time and put back on with a warning lable. It also said it should not be given with other meds. What can I do?

A:

I am so sorry to hear about your dog. Without a necropsy it may be difficult to know for sure what caused your dog’s death. Overdoses of any of the shots can be considered along with giving them at the same time. The NYS Education Department, Office of the Professions, accepts complaints against veterinarians (800-442-8106, www.op.nysed.gov---where one can click ‘consumer’ and then ‘complaint form’). This agency has the authority to revoke, suspend, and fine a veterinarian. One can also sue a veterinarian for monetary damages (money) although it can be difficult to prove malpractice without an expert witness (such as another veterinarian) who is willing to testify that the veterinarian acted incompetently. Lawsuits are also brought against manufacturers of products.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Vet killed my dog with a bad injection.
Q:

I took my 1-year and 10 month old dog to his vet for his shots that he gets all the time and has no side effect with them. So this day they decied to give him a shot called Pro Heart 6. They never asked me about it, they never told me the side effects, and they never told me to sign anything about that shot. I always gave him the pill. So they gave my dog his regular shots and the Pro Heart 6 and moments later he got sick, and then died 4 hours later. Then I read that Pro Heart was taken off the market at one time and put back on with a warning lable. It also said it should not be given with other meds. What can I do?

A:

I am so sorry to hear about your dog. Without a necropsy it may be difficult to know for sure what caused your dog’s death. Overdoses of any of the shots can be considered along with giving them at the same time. The NYS Education Department, Office of the Professions, accepts complaints against veterinarians (800-442-8106, www.op.nysed.gov---where one can click ‘consumer’ and then ‘complaint form’). This agency has the authority to revoke, suspend, and fine a veterinarian. One can also sue a veterinarian for monetary damages (money) although it can be difficult to prove malpractice without an expert witness (such as another veterinarian) who is willing to testify that the veterinarian acted incompetently. Lawsuits are also brought against manufacturers of products.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What rights do I have if a breeder decided to keep dog promised to us?
Q:

My girlfriend and I were planning on getting two pug puppies. We have been keeping in good contact with the owners, they have been sending us updates. They told us today that they got attached to one of the two and will not be giving us her. My girlfriend is extremely upset about it. It is from a family, so I am not sure if we have any rights to the dog. Advice?

A:

There are so many homeless animals just waiting to be adopted. Visit your local animal shelter or contact a rescue organization. It is unclear from your question whether you already have a valid contract for the purchase of the dogs. If a valid contract exists, one can sue to enforce the contract. Such lawsuits can be time consuming and costly and there is no guarantee of success.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it a crime to not return a foster dog to a rescue?
Q:

Is it a crime to not return a foster dog to a rescue? I have no written contract with the rescue and have not received any support for the dog in over 30 days. The rescue now wants the dog back but I don't want to return the dog. They refuse to let me pay the adoption fees for the dog.

A:

Fostering, rather than adopting, generally refers to a temporary arrangement. ‘Ownership’ of the animal is usually not transferred to the foster ‘parent.’ However, when there is no written agreement between parties regarding whether the arrangement is for fostering or adopting, there is less clarity, particularly if the parties have a different understanding of the terms of the agreement. It could constitute theft to refuse to return an animal that one does not ‘own’ to the animal’s rightful ‘owner.’ The police often do not get involved unless the theft is apparent (for example, a dog is stolen from a yard or pet store), but these situations are considered by the police on a case by case basis. A rescue organization can also commence a lawsuit (civil action)  for the return of an animal it believes is being wrongfully withheld.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I give away my dog if I have a contract with a breeder?
Q:

Let's say I purchased an animal under contract. A month goes by and I realize I can't fully take care of the animal like it deserves. I wouldnt want to give it back to the breeder, but my friend says he would like to take the animal and care for it.
Now what terms in a contract would make me not be able to give my animal away to my friend?
Would my contract I signed, get put forth towards the 'New owner' or does he have full rights without a breeder all in his business with my contract with the breeder?

A:

One should carefully review the terms of animal adoption and sales contracts before signing them. These contracts usually state the rights and remedies of the parties. Some of these contracts contain provisions which require an adopter or purchaser to either return an animal he/she no longer wishes to keep or to get permission from the breeder or adoption agency before re-homing the animal. Lawsuits may be brought for breaches of a contract.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Vet treated my kitten, and gave me back a full grown cat!
Q:

I recently took my baby 9 month old cat to the vet. They told me that he had to get surgery done because he had something stuck in his stomach. I kept calling the vet to see if I could at least go see my baby but they would not let me. A few days later when I finally got the ok to pick up my kitty, the vet returned me a full grown cat! This cat roaming my house tonight is not my baby. This cat is huge, heavy, and has a different butt color and fur. I want to know what can I legally do besides file a complaint? He also smells a lot like urine and meows differently. I want my money and baby back!

A:

If you have not already done so, I suggest you contact your veterinarian and let him/her know that the cat that he/she gave you is not your cat. One could often prove the identity of a cat through photographs, records from another veterinarian, adoption or sales receipt that would show age, etc. If one believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld, one can sue for the return of the animal. If one believes fraud or theft is involved, one can ask the police to intervene. Complaints can be made with the veterinary licensing board (In Illinois, it is the Illinois Veterinary Licensing and Disciplinary Board, www.idfpr.com/Admin/Complaints.asp),  and private veterinary associations.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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