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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 from North Shore Animal League America supporters who would like to learn more about animal law.
Elinor will 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

Custody:

Q:

One of our volunteers is fostering one of our Rescue's dogs. She has failed to respond to the 20 approved applicants interested in this dog. She finally responded to us that she is no longer interested in working with our Rescue organization. We asked her if she will chose an adopter from the many applicants, or adopt this dog herself and she will not respond. We have been covering all this dog's medical bills, and the dog has been listed on Petfinder under our name for months. As a registered charity devoted to saving dogs, we prefer not to spend money on lawyers. What are our options? This is NYS - will the police help? It's essentially theft, is it not?

Read Full Answer...
A:

The police will typically not get involved in pet fostering and pet custody disputes. New York's animal stealing law (section 366 of the Agriculture and Markets Law) covers situations such as enticing or seizing animals out of their homes or enclosures or from a person. When the police will not intervene, people can commence a civil action for the return of an animal they believe is being wrongfully withheld. Although it is preferable to have attorney representation in these cases, it is not required. Court clerks are sometimes very helpful. Of course, in order to prove that a person is wrongfully withholding an animal, a written agreement specifying the rights and obligations of the parties would be useful. Often when there is only a verbal agreement, the disputing parties have different versions of the agreement.

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Most Recent Inquiries:


Former foster refuses to return dog to Rescue.
Q:

One of our volunteers is fostering one of our Rescue's dogs. She has failed to respond to the 20 approved applicants interested in this dog. She finally responded to us that she is no longer interested in working with our Rescue organization. We asked her if she will chose an adopter from the many applicants, or adopt this dog herself and she will not respond. We have been covering all this dog's medical bills, and the dog has been listed on Petfinder under our name for months. As a registered charity devoted to saving dogs, we prefer not to spend money on lawyers. What are our options? This is NYS - will the police help? It's essentially theft, is it not?

A:

The police will typically not get involved in pet fostering and pet custody disputes. New York's animal stealing law (section 366 of the Agriculture and Markets Law) covers situations such as enticing or seizing animals out of their homes or enclosures or from a person. When the police will not intervene, people can commence a civil action for the return of an animal they believe is being wrongfully withheld. Although it is preferable to have attorney representation in these cases, it is not required. Court clerks are sometimes very helpful. Of course, in order to prove that a person is wrongfully withholding an animal, a written agreement specifying the rights and obligations of the parties would be useful. Often when there is only a verbal agreement, the disputing parties have different versions of the agreement.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
My ex wants to have shared custody of my dog.
Q:

I rescued my dog from a home that couldn't care for him. His microchip and vet records are all in my name. I just broke up with my boyfriend and now he wants to take me to court for custody. I do not have adoption papers as there was no fee, I simply brought him home. Does he have any ground? He has paid a vet bill here and there. He says he wants to see my dog on a schedule like a child, and if I dont agree and let him he will take me to court. Any advice? This is really stressing me out as he is only 4 and I cannot maintain communication with an ex for the next 8 years over my dog.

A:

Generally when roommates split, each can leave with possessions that they bought (although complications can arise with “shared” animals and when one person alleges that the animal was a gift). A person who believes he/she has “ownership” rights to an animal can sue to try to get the animal returned or “visitation” (although some courts have said they would not order pet visitation or enforce a pet visitation agreement). For example, one NY court stated, “The extension of an award of possession of a dog to include visitation or joint custody—components of child custody designed to keep both parents firmly involved in the child's life—would only serve as an invitation for endless post-divorce litigation, keeping the parties needlessly tied to one another and to the court...” Sometimes in pet custody cases, courts have also considered the best interests of the animals. Good luck!


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get replacement AKC papers?
Q:

Cousin give me a pair of AKC boxers, however he said he can't find the papers for the dogs. How can I get those AKC papers?

A:

Contact AKC. There is a procedure for replacement paperwork. Next time consider adopting a homeless animal from a shelter/rescue.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Whose cat is it?
Q:

This girl couldn't take care of her cat due to the fact the apartments do not allow cats. She gave me her cat and she dropped him off at my house. I decided to rename him and she got upset. She threatened to take him away since she has all his paperwork and the microchip information. She does not have a place qualified to take care of him.

A:

Generally when a person gives away or sells his/her animal, such person has no further rights to that animal. Having the agreement in writing can help to avoid future conflicts regarding the animal�s �ownership.� Microchip, license, and other registration and veterinary records should be changed when �ownership� changes. Even if they are not changed, an animal�s microchip and license registration and other indicia of �ownership� do not always prove �ownership,� particularly when there is evidence that subsequent to registering the animal�s microchip or license, the animal was sold, given away, or abandoned.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
What can be done for abandoned dog?
Q:

My cousin has been caring for a dog for 11 months without any financial compensations or reply to texts from the owners. The vet will not treat dog without documentation from owner. What can be done? Is this a case of abandonment?

A:

First, try another veterinarian. People who board animals are responsible for providing the animals with humane treatment and can be prosecuted for neglecting animals in their care. It would be up to a court to definitively decide whether under the facts and circumstances the �owner� abandoned an animal. Sometimes this issue is addressed in the boarding agreement and sometimes by law (some states in addition to criminal animal abandonment laws have laws requiring veterinarians or others who board animals to give written notice to an �owner� that the animal will be deemed abandoned within a certain number of days). Hawaii�s criminal animal abandonment law states: �It shall be unlawful for the owner of any animal or any person in possession of an animal that belongs to another person to leave the animal without the intention of returning to it. Any person who violates this section shall be guilty of a petty misdemeanor.�


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.