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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 Boarding Inquiries:


Is it against the law to lock a dog in a garage?
Q:

Is it against the law to lock a dog in a garage ?

A:

Ohio’s animal cruelty law provides, in part, that it is unlawful to “Deprive the companion animal of necessary sustenance, confine the companion animal without supplying it during the confinement with sufficient quantities of good, wholesome food and water, or impound or confine the companion animal without affording it, during the impoundment or confinement, with access to shelter from heat, cold, wind, rain, snow, or excessive direct sunlight, if it can reasonably be expected that the companion animal would become sick or suffer in any other way as a result of or due to the deprivation, confinement, or impoundment or confinement in any of those specified manners.” The law also provides that it is unlawful to neglect a companion animal or to commit any act which causes unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering. Law enforcement officers would need to assess the particular situation in each instance to determine whether the cruelty laws are being violated.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Dog was given away without me knowing it, how can I get him back?
Q:

I had trouble finding a dog sitter, so I contacted the lady that gave me my dog to watch him till school is over. The next day she texted me saying that my dog and their dog were having troubles getting along and she asked if its too much trouble for me to find someone, she will give him away. I told her to "wait on that and let try to convince my parents and I will tell you if its okay for you to give him away."  Then my dog was given away without me knowing it. Am I still able to get my dog back from the other family?

A:

Individuals can bring a lawsuit for the return of an animal that they believe is being wrongfully withheld. When a pet “parent” is advised that a boarding situation is not working out, he/she should act swiftly to retrieve their animals and take them to board elsewhere or take them home if that is feasible. There is a law in Minnesota (and several other states too) which provides a mechanism for animals left for boarding to be deemed abandoned. These laws vary. For example, Minnesota’s abandoned animal law applies to animals left with a veterinarian, boarding facility, or commercial facility pursuant to a written agreement. Some states’ laws are only applicable to veterinarians while New York’s law, for example, is much broader and applies to any person with whom an animal is left for treatment, board, or care. It is difficult to predict how a court will decide most pet custody cases. Courts will review the evidence to determine whether the pet “parent” gave away or abandoned the animal and whether the person boarding the animal acted in accordance with the law. These cases get more complicated when the person being sued no longer has the animal. I suggest you consult with an attorney in your area regarding next steps. 

 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I hold my neighbor accountable for the injury of my dog?
Q:

My neighbor agreed to dog sit my 5 month old puppy in his yard while I ran my errands. 20 minutes later I get a call stating my pup climbed under his fence got out and hit my a car. Thankfully he is alive but the damage to his leg is pretty severe and it will be long road to recovery and very pricey. My question is do I have any legal right to hold him accountable since I trusted him to fill his obligations in caring for my furson.

A:

I hope your puppy is doing better. The general rule is that when a person leaves his/her animal in someone else’s care (such as a dog sitter, groomer, dog walker, etc.), the person/entity with whom the animal was left has the duty to exercise reasonable care so that the animal is returned in the condition in which the animal was left. However, when a bailment is just for the benefit of the bailor (person who leaves the animal for care), the duty of care of the bailee (person with whom the animal is left) is typically less. These situations arise, for example, when the bailee is not getting compensated in any way and is simply doing a favor for the bailor.  In “gratuitous” bailment situations, the bailor may need to show that the bailee was grossly negligent or did not exercise even minimal care in order for the court to award compensation. 


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do we have case against dogsitter who gave our dog away?
Q:

Me and my fiance hit hard times and asked the person we got our dog from to hold him for 6 months until we got on our feet. The person agreed then they gave the dog to someone else and won't return our calls or speak to us. Do we have enough for a case? We have proof it was only a hold situation through texts and also never consented her giving the dog to someone else.

A:

It is difficult to predict how a given court will decide a pet custody case. There is a mechanism under New York law for animals left for boarding to be deemed abandoned. The law (Agriculture and Markets Law, Article 25-B) provides that an animal left for boarding is deemed abandoned when the animal is not removed after notice to remove the animal within 10 days after the scheduled pick-up date is given by registered letter. If no specific pick-up date was scheduled, the animal can be deemed abandoned if not retrieved within 20 days after notice to retrieve the animal is given by registered letter. Nevertheless, it is still possible that courts could find that an animal’s “owner” either abandoned or gave the animal away depending on the facts and circumstances. These cases can get complex, particularly when the person sued no longer has possession of the animal. It is preferable to have attorney representation. Before proceeding it is important that people consider what is in the best interests of the animal. Six plus months is a long time.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Pet sitting service will not give back my dog.
Q:

I have a service dog (registered) Perseus, who has separation anxiety (we are always together, I have severe anxiety as well). I had some issues at my restaurant that required me to leave him home for a few hours, he barked too much so I had to call a friend whom we used a pet sitting service with too watch him. We agreed that I'd pay him back, but there was not much income coming in while my place was being renovated. Well this turned into longer than expected, and the days are simply going on and on getting simply too much to pay for. They will not give him back and I don't have my service dog with me. I am more than willing to start a payment plan, any advice?



A:


A person who believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue for the return of the animal. Interestingly, several years ago the Office of the Texas Attorney General responded to a similar question, not involving a pet sitter, but a veterinarian. The question presented was, “Whether a veterinarian may refuse to return an animal if its owner is unable or unwilling to pay for the veterinary medical services rendered…” The Attorney General concluded that the animal may not be withheld under these circumstances (although noted that its decision might be different if the veterinarian complied with notice requirements in a law pertaining to veterinarians' responsibilities towards abandoned animals and the animal’s owner failed to retrieve the animal). The Attorney General also discussed the issue of abandonment and found that there was no abandonment in a situation where the owner “makes a good faith effort to arrange with the veterinarian to make installment payments and otherwise insists that he wants the animal returned.” While the Attorney General’s opinion does not pertain to pet sitters, a court might find it to be persuasive. All that said, it would probably be more cost effective in the long run to pay the pet sitter sooner rather than later as compared to filing a lawsuit. The financial obligation will not go away (and will likely increase over time) even if the court orders the return of the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

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.