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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

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 Inquiries:


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
Dogs got out during storm and pound won't let me get them.
Q:

I had two dogs. An American bully and English bulldog. A storm occurred and the my dogs got free and were picked up by the city. I went to reclaim my dogs two hours after they were picked up and the shelter told me I had 2 options. Pay $250 to get a breeders license or pay $150 dollars and get them out with a chip and spayed/neutered. Since I didn't agree with this and told them I was seeking legal action they told if so they could no longer have contact with me, and within 3-5 business days my dogs would be available for adoption regardless of how I felt because they picked up the dogs and if I didn't pick one of the two options they would belong to the city. What can I do?

A:

Impound�fees are common and vary depending on the municipality. It is generally safer to pay the fee and sue for the overpayment later. Otherwise, regardless of who is right or wrong on the law the animals may be gone.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I bring a civil suit against ex who gave away my cats?
Q:

How do I go about bringing a civil suit on my separated spouse for giving my 2 prized cats away without my permission.� I have paperwork they are mine.� I would like a contingency lawyer to do this now, not during the divorce.

A:

It will likely be difficult to get an attorney to handle such a case on a contingency basis unless the cats have a very high monetary value, it can be proven that the cats are yours, and the case is brought for money (not for the return of the cats). A case for the return of cats can be brought if that is the relief sought (but don�t expect a contingency arrangement�most attorneys want to get paid in money, not �a share� of a cat). Alternatively, one can sue for money in Small Claims Court even without an attorney (these courts tend to be user friendly). According to Missouri Small Claims Court rules, the maximum amount one can sue for is $5000 and the court does not handle cases for the return of property. Since rules change from time to time, check with the clerk of the court.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I get my therapy dog back from ex?
Q:

I recently sent my dog back to an ex of mine and now he refuses to give her back. She is my certified therapy dog and I spent a year of training with her. What is making this difficult is only his name is on the adoption papers. What should I do, if there is anything??

A:

An individual who believes that his/her animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get the animal returned. While adoption records are one indication of �ownership,� court would consider what transpired after adoption, including, for example, whether the dog was subsequently given away, sold, or abandoned, who has been the dog�s primary caretaker, and who has paid for the dog�s needs (food, veterinary care, etc.). Courts would also consider the circumstances behind why a person who is claiming �ownership� of an animal and further claiming that the animal is a therapy dog would send this same animal back to an ex.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
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
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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.