My sister and her boyfriend adopted a cat about 3 years ago, but she has left the cat in my and my mother’s care for three years. She has her own apartment, but she took in two dogs instead of this cat. She pays the medical bills, but we house, feed, and change his kitty litter. Does she have legal custody of him because she pays his bills, and at any time can she take him from us because of this?
There is no simple answer to your question. People who believe their animal is being wrongfully withheld can sue to try to get the animal returned. If litigated, the court will consider the evidence presented regarding this “shared” cat and determine who gets to keep him. A court could decide that the cat has been boarded and ownership has not been transferred since payments have been made for veterinary care. Alternatively (and perhaps even more likely) the court could decide that after three years the cat should be deemed gifted or abandoned. Worth noting is that in a few New York pet custody cases the courts have considered the interests of the animal, not solely property rights. For example, in the case of Raymond v. Lachmann, the court stated: “Cognizant of the cherished status accorded to pets in our society, the strong emotions engendered by disputes of this nature, and the limited ability of the courts to resolve them satisfactorily,.. we think it best for all concerned that, given his limited life expectancy, Lovey, who is now almost ten years old, remain where he has lived, prospered, loved and been loved for the past four years.” Clearly, the court considered the cat’s best interests and decided it was best to leave the cat where he had been living for four years. I hope that your family can work out a pet custody arrangement that considers the best interests of the cat.
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