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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:


What did friends do with dog they adopted from us?
Q:

We needed a good home for our dog. Gave him to some friends who wanted him just to find out they got rid of him. We asked where he went out of concern and they refuse to tell us anything. We are hoping they didnt drop him off somewhere. What can we do? We are thinking the worst.

A:

Generally when a person gives his or her animal away, such person has no further rights to that animal (unless there was an agreement stating otherwise). That would include no further rights to find out where the animal was later re-homed.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get dog back from long-term pet sitter?
Q:

A friend agreed verbally to watch my dog while I was out of town for 4 months. Now that I've returned home she does not want to give me my dog back. Is there anything l can do?

A:

Individuals who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can commence a civil lawsuit to try to get the animals returned (replevin action). People can also contact the police (although the police may not get involved unless they believe a criminal law has been violated, such as pet theft).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Won't return lost dog.
Q:

My Yorkie went missing. I posted signs & rcvd a mess. from someone who said their brother found her & gave her to their Aunt. I'll admit my dogs hair was in dire need of grooming as well as her nails, but due to a new baby in the house, my out of state wedding & traveling for the holidays I did not have the time to get her rabies shot updated so we could get her to the groomer. The lady said they don't want to return the dog because of her condition when they found her. She is not malnourished, just in need of grooming. I have receipts to prove I paid well over $1000.00 for her. What can I do?

A:

People who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can commence a civil lawsuit for the return of their animals or sue for monetary damages (such as for the cost of the dog). People can also contact the police. Before trying to have the dog removed from her current home, consider whether you really have the time to provide the dog with the care she needs. First, the dog went missing which can indicate that the dog was not being adequately supervised. Second, the dog was �in dire need of grooming as well as her nails.� Grooming is not only for cosmetic purposes. Failure to groom certain breeds and to have nails clipped can cause health problems, pain, and discomfort. I hope the dog is doing well.< /p>
Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

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
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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.