We have had a former neighbor's dog in our care for three months. We only agreed to five days. He refuses to come get her and has made no effort to assist in her care. Can we keep her, or find a good home for her legally? He has been informed he needs to get her and failed to do so on multiple occasions.
The rights of individuals in an animal boarding situation are not always clear unless there is a written boarding agreement or the parties involved do not dispute the terms of a verbal agreement (but when a dispute arises, the parties generally don’t agree). Laws relating to animal abandonment may also help to clarify rights. Ideally a person who no longer wants his/her animal would sign a surrender agreement. These agreements, which are often utilized at shelters when people relinquish their animals, typically provide that the person surrendering his/her animal is the sole owner of such animal and is permanently surrendering all of his/her ownership and possessory rights to the animal. These agreements also often state that such person shall have no further right, claim, or title to the animal and that the shelter shall have the right to determine the disposition to be made of the animal. A similar agreement can be used between individuals, including the name of the “owner,” the name of the person to whom the “owner” is relinquishing the animal, and a description of the animal. These situations get more complicated when an “owner” is unwilling to sign a surrender agreement. People who believe their animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue (replevin action) and the courts, based on the evidence presented, can then determine whether the animal was abandoned or given away. Courts will consider the original agreement, whether it was breached, if payment for boarding was made, length of time the animal was left, etc. While the police are sometimes contacted regarding pet theft, they do not typically get involved in situations involving the voluntary transfer of animals for boarding. It is helpful to have on hand evidence of veterinary care, food purchases, etc. for the animal.
North Carolina has a law regarding abandonment of animals left at a veterinarian. While not specifically applicable to animals left with individuals, courts may (but I cannot say for sure) determine that an animal was abandoned if the provisions of the law were followed (including, for example, written notice to the “owner”). For your reference, the North Carolina law relating to abandonment of animals left for boarding, etc. with a veterinarian states as follows:
(a) Any animal placed in the custody of a licensed veterinarian for treatment, boarding or other care, which shall be unclaimed by its owner or his agent for a period of more than 10 days after written notice by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, to the owner or his agent at his last known address, shall be deemed to be abandoned and may be turned over to the nearest humane society, or dog pound or disposed of as such custodian may deem proper.
(b) The giving of notice to the owner, or the agent of the owner, of such animal by the licensed veterinarian, as provided in subsection (a) of this section, shall relieve the licensed veterinarian and any custodian to whom such animal may be given of any further liability for disposal.
(c) For the purpose of this Article the term "abandoned" shall mean to forsake entirely, or to neglect or refuse to provide or perform the legal obligations for care and support of an animal by its owner, or his agent. Such abandonment shall constitute the relinquishment of all rights and claims by the owner to such animal.
There is also a North Carolina criminal law that states: “Any person being the owner or possessor, or having charge or custody of an animal, who willfully and without justifiable excuse abandons animal is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.”
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