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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:


How can I track down adoption paperwork if shelter is no longer in business?
Q:

I am trying to recover the original adoption papers from the place I adopted my dog, but they are no longer in business. Is there somewhere they were required to file the documents, ie, the state, county ect? My signature is on the adoption papers and I need that document as proof of ownership, trying to prepare for court to get my best friend back, please help

A:

While there are laws throughout the country requiring certain animal shelters (such as government funded shelters) to maintain statistics on animals adopted, returned to �owners,� euthanized, or transferred to another shelter/rescue, etc., I am not aware of laws requiring animal adoption applications and agreements to be filed with a governmental agency (although municipal shelters may be subject to freedom of information laws [FOIL] and records can sometimes be accessed through a FOIL request).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
How can I get my dog back from Animal Control?
Q:

I recently moved and left my dog at my sisters house until we had everything moved and some unpacked. My fur baby is 10 yrs old and doesn't do well with confusion. Animal control was contacting regarding my sisters house and they had a warrant to take all animals on site including my dog. How do I get my dog back?

A:

Time is often of the essence in these situations. I suggest that you immediately contact animal control to try to retrieve your animal. If animal control will not return your dog immediately, consult with an attorney in your area now. Sometimes seized animals are held pending a court case but sometimes not depending on the circumstances and whether the alleged �owner� of the animals signed a written surrender. Also, sometimes animals may be deemed forfeited if after a seized animal hearing the animal's �owner� fails to comply with an order to make payment for the reasonable cost of caring for the seized animal pending the resolution of the case.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can neighbor fix my cat without my consent?
Q:

Can a neighbor take and get my cat (or dog) fixed without my consent, or even knowledge of it? What could I do if this happens?

A:

Most neighbors would not have such unfettered access to another neighbor�s animal. Also, sometimes �ownership� of an outdoor animal is not that clear. Letting one�s unspayed or unneutered dogs and cats outside without supervision exacerbates the already serious overpopulation of dogs and cats. Perhaps your neighbor wanted to avoid another litter. Individuals who believe that their animal was spayed or neutered without their authorization can sue for the difference (if any) of the animal�s monetary value as a result of the spaying/neutering (although most dogs and cats don�t have financially lucrative breeding potential and those that do are not typically outdoors unsupervised). Alternatively, be thankful that the spaying/neutering has been done.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Parents want to keep ex's dog until reimbursed boarding fees.
Q:

My parents have been taking care of my boyfriends dog while he has been out of town. He had agreed to pay for food, vet care etc. We have since broke up and the ex wants his dog back, but doesn't want to pay for his care. Do my parents have the right to keep the dog until they are reimbursed?

A:

Florida has a lien law that provides that persons feeding or caring for another person�s animals can have a lien for the care and maintenance of the animals. However, consider that as each day passes the money expended on care increases. It often can be more cost effective, particularly with dogs and cats, to return an animal and sue for the amount due. Also, unless there is a written boarding agreement which states the amount due, a court could find that the boarding was gratuitous (more so when the people know each other as in your situation).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Former roommate/landlord won't return my cat.
Q:

Former roommate/landlord (same person) kicked me out after physically attacking me twice. Police did nothing. I had to leave immediately without any of my personal belongings. This woman did agree to care for my 2 cats until I got resettled, then ceased all communication. I provided food & attempted to retrieve my kitties several times (emails & texts prove). Sheriff has been there twice but she refuses to say who has my kitties. What can I do? I love my girls Its killing me.

A:

Individuals who believe that their animals are being wrongfully withheld can sue for the return of their animals (known as a replevin action). These cases get more complicated when the person being sued no longer has the animals, but courts may order the release of the name of the person who does have the animals and that person may sometimes be brought in the case as an additional defendant.


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.