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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:


Can previous owner take dog back?
Q:

I adopted 2 dogs 12/29 from a fb post that owner needs help and giving her 2 dogs away. Contacted her and I can take both to take care & love them. Going through grieving with my prev dog who passed Oct. Met them same night, she gave the dogs away, and I took them home. On 12/31 previous owner called taking back the dogs. What can I do? I am very distressed about this, I love the dogs.

A:

Generally when a person gives away his/her dogs, such person has no further rights to those animals, unless there was an agreement stating otherwise. Regrets do not equal rights.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Help give my dog his life back.
Q:

The City of Gurdon dog shelter has had my senior dog for months and won't give him back due to heart worms we had no idea about, but we take him to the vet when needed every time. The dog catcher of my town has had it out for my family and animals for years and would take our dogs and put them up for adoption knowing they are ours and have collars on. Now he has my family's dog of 15 years and says we have to pay about 600 dollars to get him back but we can't afford that and he's stuck in a small shelter scared! We're all he knows and loves and he doesn't have much time left but we can't figure out a way to get him bak home :( please help me and my family we love "Toby" so so much.

A:

I suggest that you try to borrow the money or quickly try to find a pro bono attorney (who will handle a case for free). Even if one can prove that an animal is being wrongfully withheld, the attorney�s fees and court costs could easily exceed $600. Also, these cases could take time.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Previous owners took dog back without refunding money.
Q:

So me, my partner, and brother-in-law went to pick an american bull dog up. Me and my partner paid £80 for her, and the following day they were asking for her back. My partner didnt have the chance to message back as he had to work, whilst my partner was in work they had gone to my brother-in-laws after contacting him about the dog to pick her up. We didn't tell my brother-in-law about paying for her as they were having financial struggles and really wanted a dog for his partner and their children. The previous owners had picked the dog up and not paid the money back. What can I do about this as my brother-in-law is devastated. Really, I would like her back.

A:

I suggest you consult with an attorney in your country. People who believe that their animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get the animal back. People can also sue for money if that is their preference.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can we put dogs up for adoption if there is joint ownership with ex?
Q:

I have a question about custody, however it's a bit different than the typical inquiries. My boyfriend adopted dogs with his ex girlfriend. His ex refuses to leave us alone and uses the dogs to continue to be connected. She'll say she's going to come pick the dogs up and keep them but never follows through. She's been told repeatedly that he cannot keep the dogs but refused to sign paperwork surrendering them and refuses to take them herself. Unfortunately, she's a bit crazy and we cannot continue to handle this in the relationship. The dogs are suffering as well. What process does he need to go through (certified letters etc) where he can be able to put the dogs up for adoption? Currently rescues will not take the dogs due to her having part ownership of them. Would there be a process that we can take on as she refuses to be responsive?

A:

Yes, this is a not a typical inquiry. Most custody related questions involve people who both want the same animal. It is certainly a shame that your boyfriend�s dogs are suffering. After all, your boyfriend did adopt the dogs and should be providing the dogs with humane care, even if the co-owner is not doing her part. Hopefully this situation can be worked out amicably but, if not, I suggest that your boyfriend consider retaining an attorney in his state who may be able to commence a legal proceeding for a declaratory judgment (asking the court to declare the rights of the parties). In the meantime, provide the dogs with a loving home. Failure to do so not only is inhumane but may also violate animal cruelty/neglect laws. Good luck!


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Who is responsible for cat bite after cat was given away?
Q:

I gave away a kitten with the areement I would take her back. Within a few hours she had bitten them. The police say I am responsible. How can this be true? at the time of the bite she was their cat.

A:

It is unclear why the police would be involved as this does not appear to be a criminal matter. Generally, a person who gives away his/her animal is not responsible for an animal bite that occurs after the adoption. However, if a person knows that an animal has a biting history (not including teething which is common with kittens and puppies) and fails to disclose it or lies about it to the adopter, a court might hold otherwise.


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.