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Pet Legal Questions & Answers

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Elinor D. Molbegott, is an attorney who maintains a law practice devoted to animal law. Elinor donates her time to answer questions North Shore Animal League America supporters who would like to learn more about animal law.
Elinor wil field as many questions as she can and they will be posted here on this site. Due to the volume of questions received, not all questions are answered. However, many individuals have similar questions. You may find helpful information in the categories listed below.

Featured Question

Other, Housing:

Q:

I hired a realtor to find me an apartment that accepted dogs. The listing on the computer says that the building indeed accepted dogs. The day I went to sign the lease the lease claimed that dogs were not allowed. I was still advised by the realtor to sign the lease and did so out of desperation, we were homeless. There are dogs on every floor of my building and some just as big as my dog if not bigger. I've lived here 6 months now and the landlord sent me a notarized letter from the courts to get rid of the dog or face eviction. I got the dog registered as an emotional support dog online and read online if I keep a dog openly and notoriously and the landlord or his employee know about the dog and don't decide to take legal actions within 3 months then the rule is not enforced and they waive the right for me to keep him. Is this true? How should I proceed?

Read Full Answer...
A:

NYC pet law provides that that if a tenant keeps a pet or pets openly with the knowledge of the landlord (owner) or owner's agent, and the owner does not commence a legal proceeding within 3 months to enforce a no-pet lease provision, the no-pet lease provision is waived for that pet(s). (NYC Administrative Code, § 27-2009.1). Sometimes after tenants (or their attorneys) remind landlords of this law, the landlord will not proceed any further (but sometimes landlords commence legal actions anyway---although they do not always win!). Westchester has a similar law. There are also laws that protect people with emotional support or service animals. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), if a person has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity and the animal works, provides assistance, or performs services for such person, or provides emotional support that "alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person's existing disability," the housing provider must make an exception to a "no-pets" rule or policy. It is often helpful for tenants to get a letter from their health care provider that makes it very clear that the animal is medically necessary. According to HUD rules, housing providers should evaluate requests for assistance animals as follows:

(I) Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability - i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?

(2) Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person's existing disability?

People who believe that they are being discriminated against for having emotional support or service animals can file a complaint with HUD (www.hud.gov/complaints/housediscrim.cfm, 1-800-669-9777).

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Most Recent Animal Control/Impoundment Inquiries:


Beloved dog killed by neighbor dog.
Q:

My dog was killed by a neighbors dog in my fenced in backyard when the neighbors dog pushed through a section of fence and entered my yard. We sat eating quietly when we saw the dog approach and grab my dog by the throat. He snapped his windpipe. The owner was alerted by another neighbor and called him home. My dog was treated for a week through surgery and medical intervention but he didn't survive. They paid the vet bills but kept the dog; a Staffordshhire terrier pit breed. We wonder what if any recourse we have to provide for our safety.

A:

My sincere condolences for the loss of your dog. This goes almost without saying but I suggest you have the fence secured to prohibit access by your neighbor�s dog. People may contact the animal control officer or police in their municipality to commence a dangerous dog proceeding. Under New York State law, if a dog is declared dangerous, the judge must order spaying/neutering and microchipping and may order an evaluation by a behaviorist, secure confinement for a period of time, restraining the dog on a leash when in public by an adult of at least 21 years of age, muzzling when the dog is on public premises, and maintenance of a liability insurance policy. The judge may order euthanasia or permanent confinement for harm caused by the dog to other animals only under limited circumstances: �the dog, without justification, caused serious physical injury or death to a companion animal, farm animal or domestic animal, and has, in the past two years, caused unjustified physical injury or death to a companion or farm animal as evidenced by a "dangerous dog" finding pursuant to the provisions of this section.� Many localities have their own dangerous dog laws (including, for example, New York City) so people should check with their localities for more information. Local laws must be at least as stringent as the state law and may not be specific as to breed. Therefore, local laws in NY may not ban particular breeds.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can Rescue organization take dog I adopted back if I try to find it a new home?
Q:

Hello a rescue org came to my house and took back a dog I adopted because they found out I was trying to find a home for him (because he had anxiety and my other dog was making it worse). They came last night with a police officer so I thought I had no choice but to give him to her. But, is the dog legally mine still? They dramatically pulled him out of the house in front of my children and we are all very upset. I still have the paperwork. I want him back now as we were only going to rehome him if we found the right family. Do I have any legal recourse?

A:

I suggest you read your adoption agreement. Adoption agreements sometimes contain provisions requiring adopters to return animals they no longer wish to keep to the shelter or rescue. In this way, the shelter or rescue can screen new potential adopters using their own standards (which may be higher than standards used by an adopter looking to re-home the animal). People who believe their animals are being wrongfully withheld can sue (replevin action) to try to get the animals returned.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Help give my dog his life back.
Q:

The City of Gurdon dog shelter has had my senior dog for months and won't give him back due to heart worms we had no idea about, but we take him to the vet when needed every time. The dog catcher of my town has had it out for my family and animals for years and would take our dogs and put them up for adoption knowing they are ours and have collars on. Now he has my family's dog of 15 years and says we have to pay about 600 dollars to get him back but we can't afford that and he's stuck in a small shelter scared! We're all he knows and loves and he doesn't have much time left but we can't figure out a way to get him bak home :( please help me and my family we love "Toby" so so much.

A:

I suggest that you try to borrow the money or quickly try to find a pro bono attorney (who will handle a case for free). Even if one can prove that an animal is being wrongfully withheld, the attorney�s fees and court costs could easily exceed $600. Also, these cases could take time.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can SPCA take my cat without a warrant?
Q:

The SPCA took my cat away from me and I didnt see a warrent, or wasn't given a warrent. She snatched her right of my boyfriends hands without my permisson. She told me I have 5 days to pay her and I can get my cat back. Can I press charges and how can I get my cat back for something that was illegally done.

A:

SPCA officers typically do not seize animals unless they have reason to believe the animals are being neglected or otherwise mistreated. Search warrants are sometimes needed in order to legally seize an animal. Animals who are seized due to alleged abuse/neglect are not generally returned unless the defendant is found not guilty of the charges, a plea deal is reached, or the inhumane situation is rectified (for example, better shelter for an animal is provided). Persons charged with cruelty to animals should have legal representation. Animal control officers usually have the authority to seize animals running on public property. Also, individuals who find animals will often take the animals to local shelters. In these circumstances, shelters/animal control must hold the animals for a specified number of days (the number of days varies throughout the country) to give the animals� �owners� an opportunity to redeem their animals (after which time the animals may generally be placed for adoption or euthanized). An animal�s �owner� can redeem his/her animal upon payment of an impoundment fee (the amount is often specified in the law and also varies throughout the country). Because the life of an animal could be at stake, even if someone believes that his/her animal was illegally seized, it is generally wise to pay the impoundment fee, redeem the animal within the time specified in the law, and then focus on attempting to press charges (if one has grounds for taking this action).< /p>
Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

Three dogs taken away after one fought stray on property.
Q:

All three of our dogs were taken because one of our dogs got into a fight with a stray dog who came into our yard. Now all three may be killed as a result. I don't knwo what to do. Please, we need help.

A:

I suggest that you immediately contact an attorney in your state who can intervene on behalf of you and your dogs. People whose dogs are seized under dangerous dog laws are entitled to a hearing. Also, dangerous dog laws do not generally provide for a �death penalty� for dogs who have bitten another animal, particularly for a first offense and in the dogs� yard. If, however, dogs are seized based on a violation of California�s animal fighting laws the dogs shall be ordered forfeited upon conviction of the arrested person. California�s animal fighting law states, in part: Any person who does any of the following is guilty of a felony�(1) Owns, possesses, keeps, or trains any dog, with the intent that the dog shall be engaged in an exhibition of fighting with another dog.(2) For amusement or gain, causes any dog to fight with another dog, or causes any dogs to injure each other.(3) Permits any act in violation of paragraph (1) or (2) to be done on any premises under his or her charge or control, or aids or abets that act.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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PLEASE NOTE: 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.


Reminder...

      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.