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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 we get our cat back from cat sitter?
Q:

A little over a year ago we had a family friend take care of my two cats because we moved and couldn't have them where we were living. All we asked was to care for them for a year or so and not to let them outside.  We have finally established a home where we could have our cats. My fiance' contacted our "friend" this evening to see if we could get our cats to find out that 1 of the 2 had passed away because he allowed them outside and then to be told that the other cat is theirs now because it is a part of their family and we didn't come to see them. My fiance' told me he was in regualar contact in regards to our cats. Unfortunately tonight it was brought to my attention that he has not been in contact with our cat sitter. I am beyond hurt as is our 4 year old son, in regards to not getting our cat back.  What can I do?

A:

Perhaps consider going to an animal shelter and adopting a cat. When a person leaves a cat with a friend for over a year and has not paid for the cat’s care during this time, has not visited the cat or even contacted the cat sitter, an argument (a good one in my opinion) can be made that the cat was either given away or abandoned.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I take my ex-boyfriend to court for money I paid for dog?
Q:

Hello, in March 2012, I bought my dog for $500, which I have the receipt, I also have the vet bills. Then I got another dog, me & my ex boyfriend broke up so I moved out & took one dog with me due to the fact I can't keep both dogs in my grandma's house. My ex and I decided that (the dog) will stay with him until I was able to get her. I recently found out he registered her under his name without telling me. Well my question is can I take him to court to pay me the money I paid for the dog? I would love to get her back but I know she's happy with him so I don't want to take her away from him.

A:

Lawsuits are brought all of the time. Some have merit and some do not, so the issue is not whether one can sue but whether there is a likelihood of success if one does sue. Consider that the recipient of a dog could argue that the dog was a gift and, therefore, he/she should not be responsible for reimbursing the gift giver for the cost of the dog. Also consider that one can countersue for the expenses incurred in caring for the dog (food, veterinary services, boarding, grooming, toys, etc).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My friend won't return dog that we agreed he would care for temporarily.
Q:

I have a notarized written agreement with a friend to take care of my dog temporarily. And now the friend broke the agreement and won't give me back my dog. I went to legal services. But they said they can't help me. I'm lost and confused and dont know what to do from here. Can you please help me?

A:

One can commence a civil lawsuit for the return of an animal who is being wrongfully withheld. When an individual cannot afford an attorney, he/she can bring the lawsuit pro se (without an attorney). State laws differ but lawsuits for the return of property (or an animal) are often referred to as “replevin” actions, which essentially means actions for the return of property that is being wrongfully detained. The lawsuit can be based on a breach of contract. Court clerks are sometimes very helpful to pro se litigants. Also, the police may intervene if they believe an animal theft law has been violated.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Vet gave me wrong dog to be cremated.
Q:

Hi, I am contacting you about helping me find someone who can help me with my situation. I recently had to put my pet to sleep who was like a family member to us. She was old and very sick. I put her to sleep on November 4, 2014. I asked the clinic to hold the dogs body so I can take her to pet heaven for cremation because I could not afford their cremation costs and my family was putting money together to help me cremate. They said they would hold the body. I called again the next day to make sure they had her and that I would probabley pick her up on Monday. They said they had her and that that was fine. I called Monday to pick her up and they told me she was accidently picked up by the guy who picks up the bodys but not to worry because they called him and he pulled over his truck to make sure that they had her and he did. They said he couldn't turn around and come back because he was far but that they would bring her back next Monday. Next Monday comes and they call me to tell me they have her back. My husband goes today (Tuesday) to pick her up and she gives him a body in a bag. I asked my husband to please check the body to make sure it is my dog. When he gets to pet heaven they help him open the bag to find a golden retriever. My dog was a white boxer mix. I was so upset. He called the clinic and they said they were sorry but they lost her and then had the audacity to ask him to bring back that dog. My husband refused and left the dog at pet heaven. They never even offered anything to make up for their mistake. They purposely tried to deceive me with another body, thinking I wouldn't check. Please help me I have now lost my pet who was a family member to me and I will never get her back or have a place to go visit her. Thanks.

A:

Sadly, I have heard of similar incidents and have discussed this issue in this column where I said: There was a similar case in NY many years ago. Arrangements were made for a veterinary hospital to transfer the dog’s remains to an organization that maintains a pet cemetery. The dog’s guardian planned a funeral for her dog but upon opening the casket at the funeral, she found the remains of a dead cat. The court, in awarding the plaintiff monetary compensation for her loss, held that the plaintiff  “did suffer shock, mental anguish and despondency due to the wrongful destruction and loss of the dog’s body. She had an elaborate funeral scheduled and planned to visit the grave in the years to come. She was deprived of this right.” Complaints against veterinarians can also be made with the state's veterinary licensing board (State of Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is my dog considered a legal family member?
Q:

Is a dog considered a family member in all states in a divorce to have shared custody?
Please advise.

A:

Hopefully, pet “parents” consider their animals to be family members. But animals are generally considered to be property in divorce and other legal matters.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I need a special tag for my dog to appease condominium board?
Q:

I adopted a dog, a Chihuahua mix, Rabies tag, all other vaccination up-dated, very calm and never barks. Some people started to complain about dogs inside the condominium. I'm a 74 years old lady and I need a dog for company. I have a letter from my doctor saying: "She failed initial therapy but now is responding with a change in regimen. This may affect her mood and mental status at times, leave her stressed, tired, or insomnia and depression. She also has anxiety. It improved with help with Pet Therapy".  I already sent this letter to the Board of Director Building. Need I a tag to put on my dog and how to acquire it?

A:

Special tags are not legally required for emotional support animals.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Relative gave me their dog, now wants it back.
Q:

Hello I recently got a dog from a relative who said she couldn't keep the dog. I came to see the dog and took it the same day. I have bought her items and had her for three days before recieving a call she wanted her back. I told her no and she called the cops. The cops told me I could keep the dog because of texts and pictures of the dog showing she was given to me. They also told me to keep them in case she takes me to court. But will the court except these as proof? What else could help me. I love my dog too much to return her. I also don't know what story the relative told police and I was never given a police report.

A:

I suggest you hire an attorney to represent you if a lawsuit is commenced for the return of the dog. Courts will consider the circumstances under which one got possession of an animal, such as whether the animal was given as a gift or for temporary boarding, sold, or stolen.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Cared for neighbors neglected Pug, now they won't let me see him.
Q:

I left my previous address 2 months ago, for the past 2 years there lived a pug/english bull dog mix next door. When I first got there he seemed friendly and I started caring for the dog, I would take him inside my house and he slept there for those 2 years I lived there due to the fact that they would leave him out in the rain or cold weather. They stopped caring for him. I would be the one feeding him and payed for his medicine when sick once, but I gave her the money and never had a receipt under my name. Now I rented another place, the dog got depressed. So I asked her to lend him to me for 2 days out of the week, but she refused. She says the dog is still sad. What do I do??? I love that dog and I know he loves me. She even said it herself he wants to be with me, but she says shes the owner and he has to live by her rules and accomodations and now they locked the dog up so I wont see him, not even through the fence.


A:

Sometimes when an animal’s “owner” is not devoted to the animal, he/she will sell the animal. Have you considered offering to purchase the dog? I suggest that when people purchase an animal there be a written agreement making it clear that the seller has no further rights to the animal (unless the parties want other terms).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can shelter/rescue insist on a home visit?
Q:

I adopted a puppy in May of 2014. I live in WV, but I adopted the dog while in NC for the summer. I fulfilled my contract exactly as required (all vaccines on time, spay on time, kept in the house except on a leash, etc...). Once the last item (the spay) was completed in August 2014, I asked if they could send me some sort of written confirmation that I had fulfilled my contractual obligations. They said nobody ever asked for that, but that they would. I've waited and waited, inquired a few more times since then, trying to be nice, but explaining that I really wanted to have that written documentation. Finally a few days ago in November 2014, I was much more pushy and explained that I had been waiting for 3 months with no paperwork, and that I really didn't understand why it was an issue for me to receive it. The first response was that I, unlike other adopters, had never provided pictures for their marketing materials. I explained that I didn't really want to be used for marketing purposes. The representative then got rather angry with me, saying that my contract required me to submit whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. I double-checked my contract and I'm only required to allow them to check up on the dog in person; nothing else (pictures, phone calls, etc...). I pointed that out, at which time she said "Well then I guess I will personally be making a visit to OUR dog". I feel that this threat was a direct result of my being unwilling to submit to being used in their marketing, and nothing to do with the dog at all. They had expressed absolutely no concern about her since I adopted her. I certainly do not trust these people at this point and fear they might fabricate a story of neglect. Can they insist on a home visit? What happens if I refuse? I can certainly document the health and well-being of the dog, but can they make my life miserable? I don't even want them in my house at this point.

A:

It is fairly common for animal adoption agreements to have a home-check provision. If one does not comply with contract terms, a lawsuit may be commenced. I suggest you consult with an attorney who can review your agreement. Generally, animal shelters/rescue groups do not issue letters indicating that an adopter has fulfilled contractual obligations. Oftentimes, contractual obligations, such as home visits and animal care, are ongoing.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Nephew looking for legal pro bono advice in animal welfare field.
Q:

My nephew has just passed the New York bar. He needs to do pro bono and knows how near and dear the homeless pet issue is for our Family. I have done "rescue" my entire life - now 24/7 for 6 years. I am working on lobbying and legislation in Florida. This could turn out to be a gig that goes on for a lifetime for my nephew! He is working full time after graduating from NYU and St John's, passed the bar and did his undergrad at University of Florida. Please consider speaking with him or give us a referral. Thanks for all you do for the animals!

A:

Congratulations to your nephew! I suggest that he join one or more bar associations that have animal law committees. Some committee members do very worthwhile pro bono work for animals. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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