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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 get puppy from a litter between ex-girlfriend's dog and mine?
Q:

My dog and my ex girlfriends dog had puppies, and now she won't give me one puppy that I should deserve the right to. What do you recommend for me to do?

A:

Unless there is a written agreement granting the �owner� of a male dog rights to a puppy, it is likely to be a difficult case to win. Perhaps the female dog had other suitors? I recommend that you get your dog neutered and that you suggest to your ex that her dog be spayed. There is an overpopulation of dogs and cats. Spaying and neutering help to curb this problem. Spaying and neutering also provide health benefits to animals. < /p>
Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

Woman will not return my puppy.
Q:

This lady found my puppy, took her to the shelter and then took her home. I contacted her several times. At first she said she didnt have her, she left her at the shelter. I went to the shelter numerous times my puppy isnt there. The shelter said she has her. Now the lady isn't responding or answering to any of my calls or texts or emails. What should my next step be?

A:

An individual who believes that his or her animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue for the return of the animal (known as a replevin action). Shelters are generally required by law to hold animals for a specified number of days (the number differs throughout the country) before making an animal available for adoption or euthanizing the animal. It is important to act quickly in these situations. Consult with an attorney in your area.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can I sue SPCA who witheld cancer diagnosis?
Q:

I adopted Layla and asked about the lump on her neck. They said it was benign but after taking her to a vet they said it should be biopsied. After several attempts to follow up it was admitted that they had the biopsy already done and it was cancerous. Their internal systems failed to relay that info to the shelter. They are willing to do some of the treatment themselves but have also put us in the position of having to pay thousands of dollars. Should I sue them so they can fully treat layla? It has been a tremendous burden to our family emotionally, time wise and financially- and we all love the dog.

A:

I hope Layla is doing better. The rights and responsibilities of adopters and shelters/rescues are usually delineated in an adoption agreement so it is important to carefully review that document before commencing what could be a costly and unproductive lawsuit (although Small Claims courts are an inexpensive and user friendly venue for relatively small monetary disputes). Often adoption agreements state that the adoption agency will not be responsible for future veterinary expenses although when possible shelters/rescues�will help with veterinary care for pre-existing conditions. I hope�that Layla gets the veterinary care that she needs.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Pet sitter neglectedmy dog.
Q:

I had a friend whom I paid to watch my9 year old basset hound for a period of 3 months. I gave him a list of instructions in regards to cleaning his ears, clipping his nails, and other maintenance. The sitter sent me photos weekly of my dog and how he was doing, In the agreed contract him and I signed regarding his care, there was an agreement that if given 24 hour notice, I could pick my dog up and spend time with him or chicken him. This deal was met for the first month. After the first month, he then refused to allow me to see him, and stopped sending updates. He also contacted me once to say he could no longer watch him, and that I had 24 hours to pick him up, or he would put my dog in a shelter. I immediately moved and found a new home that allowed pets, and picked up my dog, two days after he notified me he would be breaking our contract. Upon picking my dog up, I noticed his tail was broken, something that was not told to me. It has healed weird and there is no pain. I took him to the vet and they said his ears were not cleaned, leaving him with a horrible yeast infection in them. Because he didn't clip his nails in two months, my dogs toes were slanted and it caused him great pain to walk. I am upset that he failed to meet our contract agreement, neglected his needs, refused to allow me to see him, threatened to put him in a shelter if I couldn't take him in 24 hours or agree to give him rights to my dog. I had to call the police to escort me to pick my dog up. The day after, i took him to the vet. Can I get payment from him of the vet bills for the neglect during the time he watched him, or sue him for animal neglect? I am so heartbroken about the situation and don't know my rights. Since the return of my dog, I have not been in contact with the sitter. Any info would be appreciated.

A:

I hope your dog is doing much better. A person can sue for breach of contract and monetary damages resulting from such breach. Well-drafted contracts clearly specify the rights and responsibilities of the parties, including rights if the contract is breached, so it is important to carefully review the contract. Persons who board animals are responsible for providing humane care. Small Claims courts are a relatively easy and inexpensive venue to try to resolve small monetary disputes.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott
Can SPCA take my cat without a warrant?
Q:

The SPCA took my cat away from me and I didnt see a warrent, or wasn't given a warrent. She snatched her right of my boyfriends hands without my permisson. She told me I have 5 days to pay her and I can get my cat back. Can I press charges and how can I get my cat back for something that was illegally done.

A:

SPCA officers typically do not seize animals unless they have reason to believe the animals are being neglected or otherwise mistreated. Search warrants are sometimes needed in order to legally seize an animal. Animals who are seized due to alleged abuse/neglect are not generally returned unless the defendant is found not guilty of the charges, a plea deal is reached, or the inhumane situation is rectified (for example, better shelter for an animal is provided). Persons charged with cruelty to animals should have legal representation. Animal control officers usually have the authority to seize animals running on public property. Also, individuals who find animals will often take the animals to local shelters. In these circumstances, shelters/animal control must hold the animals for a specified number of days (the number of days varies throughout the country) to give the animals� �owners� an opportunity to redeem their animals (after which time the animals may generally be placed for adoption or euthanized). An animal�s �owner� can redeem his/her animal upon payment of an impoundment fee (the amount is often specified in the law and also varies throughout the country). Because the life of an animal could be at stake, even if someone believes that his/her animal was illegally seized, it is generally wise to pay the impoundment fee, redeem the animal within the time specified in the law, and then focus on attempting to press charges (if one has grounds for taking this action).< /p>
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.