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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, Animal Control/Impoundment:

Q:

My brother in law found a dog who was abandoned. He located owner, and told him she no longer wanted the dog. Can animal control come take the dog after he has already become attached, and has given her a safe and loving home with his other dog who has also become attached? Animal control claims the dog belongs to the humane society.

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A:

Some animal adoption agreements provide that if the adopter no longer wishes to keep the animal, the adopter must return the animal to the humane society that adopted out the animal. Despite these provisions, typically the humane society or animal control officer would not have the right to simply remove the animal from the third party (person who the adopter gave the animal to or otherwise allowed to keep the animal). Often, new adopters can work out an arrangement for transfer of name with the humane society. If the humane society is not satisfied with such an arrangement, it has the option to sue (but often does not unless there is genuine concern that the animal is being neglected or abused in the new home). I suggest that your brother-in-law consult with an attorney in his area who, hopefully, can resolve this situation in the animal's best interests.

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Most Recent Inquiries:


Does abandoned dog belong to Humane Society?
Q:

My brother in law found a dog who was abandoned. He located owner, and told him she no longer wanted the dog. Can animal control come take the dog after he has already become attached, and has given her a safe and loving home with his other dog who has also become attached? Animal control claims the dog belongs to the humane society.

A:

Some animal adoption agreements provide that if the adopter no longer wishes to keep the animal, the adopter must return the animal to the humane society that adopted out the animal. Despite these provisions, typically the humane society or animal control officer would not have the right to simply remove the animal from the third party (person who the adopter gave the animal to or otherwise allowed to keep the animal). Often, new adopters can work out an arrangement for transfer of name with the humane society. If the humane society is not satisfied with such an arrangement, it has the option to sue (but often does not unless there is genuine concern that the animal is being neglected or abused in the new home). I suggest that your brother-in-law consult with an attorney in his area who, hopefully, can resolve this situation in the animal's best interests.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Do I have to take dog back?
Q:

Hello, I had to give my Dog away because I could no longer take care of the dog or afford the care for the dog. A very nice family came over and loved the dog and they accepted the dog and said they enjoyed him. Now 2 1/2 weeks later they want to give the dog back. They say because he bit their neighbor. I do not believe that as the dog has never bit anyone before unless they were really messing with him. Do I have to take the dog back as I cannot afford to. Thanks.

A:

Generally a person who gives his/her animal away has no further legal rights or obligations with respect to the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Is it animal abuse if the dog spends it's life in a kennel?
Q:

I work at a kennel, and there are several dogs there that we have from a rescue. We are not allowed to play with these dogs, walk them or anything. They stay in the kennels inside or outside. That's it. If the dog has no chance to be adopted out, and lives its life in a kennel forever, is it animal abuse? It seems like it to me.

A:

Maryland’s animal abuse/neglect law provides, among other things, that a person who has “charge or custody of an animal” may not “unnecessarily fail to provide the animal with nutritious food in sufficient quantity, necessary veterinary care, proper drink, air space, shelter, or protection from the weather.” Sometimes the failure to provide a good life for an animal does not fall within the scope of the animal cruelty laws. When animal neglect/abuse is suspected, local law enforcement authorities should be contacted. Some rescues take animals who would otherwise be euthanized and place them in kennels while they try to find good homes for the animals. Have you considered speaking with a representative from the rescue group to find out what their plans are for these dogs?


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I sue the people I gave my dog to for abandoning him?
Q:

Can I sue the people I gave my dog to for abandoning him ? Yesterday night I got a call from a lady miles away from where I live saying they found my dog. The new owners abandoned him and when I called to ask if he has escaped they lied and said the dog was with them. The day I gave my dog to the new owners I gave them a lot of stuff so that he would be well taken care of.

A:

Animal abandonment is against the law. Animal abandonment complaints should be made to the police, SPCA, and any other entities in the state with authority to enforce animal abuse laws. Generally a person who gave away his/her animal has no further claim to the animal and would likely not be entitled to any compensation if the animal were subsequently abandoned or mistreated.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
As the primary caretaker, can my ex sell our Yorkie without consent?
Q:

My now ex boyfriend bought me a yorkie terrier as a gift. He put himself as the owner just so that he can take her to shows and get money. He put me down as co-owner. Now we are going through a break up and he wants to take her away from me because he knows that I will be devastated. I feed her, bathe her, trained her, I do everything for her. I want to know since I am co-owner of the dog and the primary caretaker, do I have any rights? can he just take her and sell her without my consent?

A:

When animals’ co-owners split and cannot agree on custody of their shared animals, sometimes these cases are litigated and the courts have to decide who gets to keep the animals. Since these cases get much more complicated if the animals have already been given away, I suggest you consult with an attorney in your state who can advise you on next steps to try to prevent the sale or other disposition of the dog and to try to get possession of the dog, if you currently don’t have possession.


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.