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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:

Gave a deposit but dog is sick
Q:

I gave this lady Doberman breeder a deposit of $220.00 she wrote me the day before I was to pick up the dog and give her the rest of the money and told me the dog had ringworm so I asked for my $220.00 back she said she would return my deposit but now she won't return my money what do I do? please help!

A:

For starters, you might consider adopting a homeless animal from a shelter or rescue group! Small Claims Court is a user friendly and inexpensive way to attempt to resolve disputes that cannot be settled in a more amicable way.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Store contract to buy a puppy
Q:

I bought a puppy from a store and signed a contract stating the puppy was not sick, when in fact the puppy was sick and the store has paid vet bills but I signed a contract that is false. Am I still obligated to pay the 3rd party finance company that has no idea the dog was even sick?

A:

Maryland and many other states have laws which provide remedies to individuals who purchase a sick dog from a pet store (some states’ laws apply to cats too). In Maryland,  purchasers have specific remedies if within 14 days after the sale date a licensed veterinarian (who examined the dog within 7 days after the sale date) states in writing that the dog suffers from or died from an illness which adversely affects the dog’s health or if within 180 days from the sale date a licensed veterinarian states in writing that the dog possesses or died from a hereditary condition that required hospitalization or a non-elective surgical procedure. The remedies include retaining the dog and being reimbursed by the pet store for veterinary fees, not exceeding the dog’s purchase price, returning the dog for another dog of comparable value, or returning the dog for a full refund of the purchase price. Consumers also have rights under general sales laws, such as the Uniform Commercial Code, which do not have the same time specifications contained in the pet sale laws. If a consumer cannot resolve a pet sale fee dispute with the seller, he/she can file a complaint with the Maryland Attorney General (which also has the full text of the law online). Sometimes these issues are litigated in courts, including Small Claims Court. When finance companies are involved, I suggest discussing the issue with the finance company as they have various policies on challenging charges.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Pug at work
Q:

I have been bringing my Pug (fully trained) to work on my two 17 hour shifts for a little over a year. Just today, they say the policy is changing and in 20 days I can no longer bring her to work.  I cant leave her at home for 17 hours nor do I no anyone here to stay or let her out. Is this right?

A:

Normally an employer can have a no-pets policy. However, no-pets policies are not applicable to service animals accompanying a person with a disability. Service animals are not considered pets under the law. Service animals include animals trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. Federal and state laws require most employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. For further information regarding employment discrimination, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Arizona Attorney General Civil Rights Division, and/or an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Unlawful?
Q:

My dog got out of my fence. A neighbor found him and handed him over to a woman that volunteers in a shelter. The woman was contacted that we were on our way over to get the dog.  She ran to the police station.  We then went to the police station.  She started demanding proof of ownership.  We had pics on our phone of him etc.  She refused to turn the dog over. The police got involved and told her she cant keep property that doesn't belong to her.  She argued with the police but eventually turned him over to us.  She then wrote me nasty emails saying that the police were wrong.  She didn't even have my dog for more than 24 hours.  She berated me and accused me of potentially using him in a pit bull fighting ring. 
Any type of motion I can file?

A:

It is not unusual for a shelter volunteer or employee to request proof of “ownership” before returning a dog. Also, at times shelter employees/volunteers and other individuals express concern about an animal based on the animal’s condition and/or conversations with individuals who have observed the  animal's care. I think you should be thankful that your dog was found and returned to you. I suggest that you properly secure your fence.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can we keep roommates cats if we feel they will be mistreated in new home?
Q:

Our roommates have 2 cats that she doesn't take care of very well. She is moving in with her brother soon who has threatened harm to the animals before. Do we have any grounds to keep them if we know they are going to a home where they will be neglected and possibly abused?

A:

A person generally does not have the legal right to take another person’s animal based on speculation that the animal will not get proper care. These situations can sometimes be resolved through discussions with the animal’s “owner” and offering to adopt/buy the animal. If one suspects animal abuse or neglect, local law enforcement authorities should be contacted. Animal abuse and neglect are illegal in every state. In many jurisdictions, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA) and animal control officers in addition to the police/sheriff have authority to investigate animal abuse/neglect complaints.
 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How long is too long to leave a dog in a kennel?
Q:

I work at a kenneling facility and am wondering the length a dog can stay in one before its considered bad. We have a dog that's been here for 8 months and her owner is in major debt with our boss (close to $2000). He hasn't brought her any food in about 4 months and only comes to visit/pay a bit once every couple of weeks. She has spent her second birthday with us and on just recently received her updated vaccinations. We are all very concerned with the situation, its not one a dog should be put through.

A:

Sometimes there are provisions in an animal boarding agreement which state when an animal will be deemed abandoned. Several states, including Wisconsin, have laws that provide a mechanism for un-retrieved animals at certain facilities to be deemed abandoned although some of these laws only reference veterinary facilities (including the Wisconsin law at section173.13). How long an animal should stay at a boarding facility before it is “bad” depends on many factors, including, of course, the care the animal is getting at the boarding facility. When pet “parents” don’t have the money to pay for the entire boarding bill, the animals sometimes get caught in the middle and are held hostage, a practice not permissible in some states. In New York, for example, if the abandonment letters are sent to the animal’s “owner” and such “owner” responds in the time allowed under the law and stated in the letter, the boarding facility must return the animal to the “owner” even if the “owner” does not pay. The facility retains a claim against the “owner” for money due. At times, an animal’s “owner” who has no place to take the animal is willing to allow a boarding facility to re-home the animal. Any such agreement should be in writing. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your state who can also review any local laws that may address this issue.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Someone is accusing my dogs of killing their cat.
Q:

My dogs ran away one day and someone accused them of killing their cat. The dogs were reported but I don't believe that my dogs killed the cat. This is in LA, is there anyway that my dogs might be put down if they are categorized as a "dangerous animal?". They have never bitten any humans but they have trust issues so they bark at everyone that comes to our house at first. (this is why i'm afraid if animal control comes they will think my babies are aggressive.)

A:

California and other states have dangerous dog laws and they vary. California’s law (as many other state laws) also permits municipalities to pass their own dangerous dog laws as long as they are at least as stringent as the state law. Sometimes these laws apply only to dog attacks against humans and sometimes against animals too. California’s law pertaining to potentially dangerous dogs includes dog attacks on other animals (so local laws in California would too). The “owner” of a dog declared potentially dangerous may have to adhere to certain conditions to keep the dog, including, for example, obedience training and secure confinement when outdoors, such as in a fenced yard, and muzzled when in public. “Owners” of dogs accused of being potentially dangerous (or vicious) are entitled to a hearing and appeals. I suggest that you consult with an attorney in your locality who can review your local law and advise you on next steps. I also strongly suggest that your dogs be supervised carefully so they do not run away again.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back from a welfare animal center?
Q:

I surrendered my dog 3 days ago to the welfare animal center and i went back to claim him back but they are denied me all my rights. This dog is a pure breed german shepherd with all legal documentation and i just wanted to him back . They denied me that right and they said that first they will contact service and police agencies because this is a bright dog and then if no one takes him they might post him online for adoption and if I qualify they will consider my application of adoption.
Please I need help and I need to check if there is anything I can do to have him back.

A:

The shelter may have “denied” you your “rights” because you probably have no rights to the dog anymore. The decision to surrender an animal should not be taken lightly. It is important to understand that unless there is an agreement giving the person relinquishing an animal a certain amount of time to change his/her mind, such person usually has no further rights to the animal he/she surrendered. Also important to understand is that shelters try to find humane forever homes for the animals in their care so re-adopting an animal to a person who already surrendered the animal doesn’t happen routinely (although depending on the circumstances, some shelters may be amenable to returning an animal).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do we have to return puppy left at our home for several weeks?
Q:

My daughter had a friend stay with us overnight and this girl had a puppy with her. Turns out this girl had been turned in by her mother as a runaway and she had stolen her mothers car from Colorado and came to Nebraska. She was taken into police custody and I was left taking care of this puppy. I have not heard from anyone to ask about this puppy and it has been almost two weeks. My family has grown to really love this puppy and we want to keep her. Do we have to give her back if they were to suddenly ask after this many days have gone by with no contact, I have already paid for shots at the vet and consider her abandoned and now mine. I can't give her back when I feel they really don't care enough about her or they wouldn't have waited so long to get in touch with me.

A:

Pet “ownership” rights are very much dependent on the facts of each situation. Questions of abandonment are common along with whether an animal was given away or sold. These situations even come up when an animal has an ID, such as a microchip that a new “owner” either did not know about or failed to re-register. When individuals cannot reach an agreement about an animal’s “ownership,” lawsuits are occasionally commenced to resolve the issue. Sometimes to get closure more quickly, these disputes are resolved by one individual agreeing to purchase the animal. These agreements should be in writing. Courts have considered the best interests of the animal but are more likely to consider property rights ---in other words --- who is the animal’s “owner,” which is something that is decided based on the facts of each situation. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Does my ex have right to visitation of my dog?
Q:

I bought my dog while my ex was living with me. However, I pay the vet bills, the food, and the dog is registered in my name as well as living with me full time. He is now claiming that he owns the dog since he has paid some of the food bills previously, has taken the dog to vet sometimes, and visits the dog periodically. Would that suffice for him to have visitation rights or any ownership of the dog?  Please advise.

A:

When individuals cannot reach an understanding regarding an animal’s “ownership,” lawsuits are sometimes commenced. The purchaser of the animal can have an advantage in such a lawsuit but other factors are considered as well since subsequent to purchase, animals may be given away, sold, abandoned, etc. Courts are likely to consider under whose name the dog is registered, who has been the dog’s primary caretaker, and who has paid for most of the dog’s expenses. Best interests of the animal may be considered but generally not as much as these other factors.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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