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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:

I lost my cat almost seven months ago when he got out during the night and never came home. I've been looking for him ever since and now I think I've found him on the animal shelter website. At least I think it's him. When I went there apparently he was in a hoard house with 70 different cats. I asked to see him but the lady refused. She didn't even give me a chance to talk. She said it was impossible to be my cat for the fact that she apparently has all the records. Now I'm no genius but I'm pretty sure that most hoarders don't keep a well organized house to know which cat is which. Let alone how many one has, in fact I'm pretty sure that they don't neuter or spayed them either, right? So my main question is this, isn't it against the law to refuse to let someone look at the animal they think is theirs? Because I'm really sure that the cat they have is mine for these reasons. The picture looks exactly like him, the age is almost close, but I know it's hard to determine the age of an animal, I know from personal experience, the time they got him was a month and 16 days after he disappeared, July 14 2016, he's natured, which I don't see a hoarder doing that's why most kittens are deformed,he has his claws, because I refuse to get them declawed, and he is also a male. What do you think?

Read Full Answer...
A:

I suggest you retain an attorney in your area who may be able to intervene on your behalf. People are not required to allow individuals claiming to be looking for their lost pets in their home. If there is probable cause to believe that one�s cat is being unlawfully withheld, it is possible that a search warrant could be issued. People who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can also commence a civil lawsuit (replevin action) to try to get the animal returned. However, laws generally provide that animals in a shelter must be held for a specified amount of time to give their �owners� an opportunity to redeem them. After the impoundment period is over, �owners� generally lose rights to their animals (although there have been exceptions in extenuating situations). It is unclear if a shelter transferred the cat to this person after the impoundment period or if a person surrendered the cat to her or the cat was acquired some other way. People who suspect that animals are being neglected or otherwise mistreated should also contact the police and local humane organizations/SPCAs.

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Most Recent Inquiries:


My lost cat may be in shelter, but they won't let me look.
Q:

I lost my cat almost seven months ago when he got out during the night and never came home. I've been looking for him ever since and now I think I've found him on the animal shelter website. At least I think it's him. When I went there apparently he was in a hoard house with 70 different cats. I asked to see him but the lady refused. She didn't even give me a chance to talk. She said it was impossible to be my cat for the fact that she apparently has all the records. Now I'm no genius but I'm pretty sure that most hoarders don't keep a well organized house to know which cat is which. Let alone how many one has, in fact I'm pretty sure that they don't neuter or spayed them either, right? So my main question is this, isn't it against the law to refuse to let someone look at the animal they think is theirs? Because I'm really sure that the cat they have is mine for these reasons. The picture looks exactly like him, the age is almost close, but I know it's hard to determine the age of an animal, I know from personal experience, the time they got him was a month and 16 days after he disappeared, July 14 2016, he's natured, which I don't see a hoarder doing that's why most kittens are deformed,he has his claws, because I refuse to get them declawed, and he is also a male. What do you think?

A:

I suggest you retain an attorney in your area who may be able to intervene on your behalf. People are not required to allow individuals claiming to be looking for their lost pets in their home. If there is probable cause to believe that one�s cat is being unlawfully withheld, it is possible that a search warrant could be issued. People who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can also commence a civil lawsuit (replevin action) to try to get the animal returned. However, laws generally provide that animals in a shelter must be held for a specified amount of time to give their �owners� an opportunity to redeem them. After the impoundment period is over, �owners� generally lose rights to their animals (although there have been exceptions in extenuating situations). It is unclear if a shelter transferred the cat to this person after the impoundment period or if a person surrendered the cat to her or the cat was acquired some other way. People who suspect that animals are being neglected or otherwise mistreated should also contact the police and local humane organizations/SPCAs.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I help neighbor's neglected dog?
Q:

My neighbor built a nice enclosure in her back yard and stuck a lab in there for four years. He barked until he lost his will. I noticed he was malnourished and did not have fresh water or clean space. I turned her into AC who did check on the dog until he put some weight on. Then it happened again with the same intervention and outcome. She will not relinquish the dog. Sometimes she yanks him out and literally throws him into a kennel and closes the garage door. How can I help him?!?!

A:

Try also contacting your local SPCA and humane society and ask that they investigate. Photos can sometimes help to show abuse and neglect. Animal cruelty laws state that animals must be provided with necessary food, water, care and shelter. People who violate these laws may be arrested and the animals may be seized and forfeited (depending on the circumstances). While these laws provide a certain level of protection, they do not generally set specific standards of care so much is left to the discretion of the officers to determine whether a violation has occurred. When the law enforcement route does not work, it is worth noting that sometimes people will eventually agree to sell their animals if the price is right.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can breeder take my dog back after I've been caring for it?
Q:

My boyfriend and I were given a dog for free by the breeder who is MY BOYFRIENDS friend. The breeder, my boyfriend, and everybody else who knows us has said multiple times how well I take care of her and that I really seem like the primary caregiver. I am even the one she is registered to when receiving her pedigree. My boyfriend broke up with me while I was in the hospital two weeks ago. he said many times I should still have her. I have been taking care of her alone again ever since I got out. I am slowly getting better and she is still very well taken care of! Now the breeder has decided she wants to take the dog back. She reasons because of my health and because she intended the dog to be for my boyfriend, but I think she is just afraid if I am the sole caregiver we will lose touch and she will not be able to breed her. My dog is blind in one eye so that's another whole issue. My question is: does she have the right or should I fight this?

A:

Generally when a person (breeder or anyone else) gives his/her animal away, such person has no further rights to that animal, unless there is an agreement stating otherwise. If a person believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld, such person can sue to try to get the animal returned (although as noted above, once an animal is given away it can be difficult to get a court to order the animal to be returned).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can 501c3 Rescue sue adopter who sold adopted dog to 3rd party?
Q:

Hi! Our 501c3 rescue adopted out a dog. Adopters signed a contract that states should they not be able to keep him he is to be returned to our rescue. They sold him to a third party thus breeching our contract. Animal Control and police won't confiscate the dog despite him being microchipped to us. Can we sue adopter and third party and get our dog back?

A:

Animal rescue groups can sue to try to reclaim animals based on a breach of an adoption agreement. Whether a court will order an animal returned is another story as these cases get more complicated after an animal has been re-homed (in large part since the new adopter never signed the agreement with the rescue). Sometimes these situations can be resolved more amicably if the rescue and adopter work together (for example, the adopter provides veterinary records, etc. to demonstrate that the animal is being cared for in a humane manner which may allay the concerns of the rescue).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get cat back from my mom?
Q:

My mom has a cat that is under my name. But because I was sick for a little bit she has had it over a month . Am I allowed to get the cat back without the court? W hat are the steps?

A:

One�s right to remove a cat from the cat�s present location depends on the situation. There are issues of theft and trespassing that could arise in certain circumstances particularly when the parties have a different view about an animal�s �ownership.� A microchip registration is one indication of �ownership� but does not always prove �ownership.� If litigated, courts will consider the totality of the evidence presented, such as what transpired after the microchip registration (for example, was the animal sold, given away, abandoned, or boarded). I hope that you and your mother can work out the cat�s custody arrangement in an amicable way that considers the cat�s best interests.


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.