This is known, in legal terms, as an action in Replevin.
Animals are considered property, and if another person has them illegally, you can get it back. Considering the nature of the property (a living animal), there are legal devices in place to resolve such matters promptly.
Common scenarios which arise are:
- 1)animals caught in the middle of a divorce, live-in relationship,
- 2)animals which go for breeding, treatment, or safe-keeping, and don’t come back,
- 3)animals lost or adopted out, but subsequently found by original owner, and
- 4)animals sold and paid for, but not given to buyer.
#1– I am breaking up–who gets the dog?
Irreparable breakdown of a romantic relationship. Ideally, the parties should work it out themselves. This usually works until there is a pet involved. Then, if fighting, it comes down to a property dispute – who owned it, who paid vet. bills, who paid other expenses, who took care of animal for most part – etc. Some courts are veering towards “best interest of the pet,” especially if the matter is part of a divorce in family court, and may be a factor also.
#2- I gave my dog to ______ for a temporary period of time and now they won’t give him/her back.
Get a written (and legal) contract. “Don’t worry about it, we will take care of everything” would be fine if everyone kept their word, but it is always amazing to me how two different parties remember a conversation so differently , or how one party suddenly gets amnesia. Get it in writing! For breeding, common terms are a fee and/or “pick of the litter.” Make quite clear whether there is any limitation on the registration / sale / location of any animals produced. Find out who goes where. If a person is too sick, and wants someone else to take care of animals, make sure agreement is in writing when he/she can get them back. Vets / boarding facilities, assuming they have an interest (as in unpaid bill), do have the right to keep your animal until paid.
#3- We just got a new pet, and now the original owner wants it back.
Just like buying something in a pawn shop, property is presumed to have passed legally, and original owner has limited rights, The intermediate party does not have any liability, presuming he did not know the person had it illegally. Most formal adoption agencies have airtight contracts which absolve them of any liability once the animal is adopted. Then it falls to the original owner to prove that they have a right to the animal. Courts will consider a very specific I.D., and what was involved both before and after his “loss,” from the original owner, and how the new owner acquired it.
#4- I paid for it, now I want it.
NEVER waive your rights under the Florida Pet Lemon Law. It is not great for purchasers, but not bad, and if the seller wants to waive it, don’t do it. This seems to be more of a problem with horses. In any case, this is usually a breach of contract issue (you did get the agreement in writing, yes?). So, if the person materially breached the contract, you will win.
How do I do it?
In addition to a breach of contract claim, if applicable, you also have the right to get your stuff back (replevin). The claim must be submitted in a certain form, and certain assertions made, but the important ones are a specific description of the animal, and why you have a right to possess it..
The procedure varies somewhat depending on where you are, but usually there is a fairly quick hearing (within a month, which is recognized as being “quick” within the legal system) to make an initial finding of who is entitled to what. There may, (or may not, depending on where you file) be a final hearing on the matter some months down the road). There may (or may not, depending on where you file) be a requirement to post bond.
Can I do it myself?
Like everything else in the legal system, you can always do anything yourself (representing pro se is the Latin for “on behalf of yourself.”) However, it is a tedious process, requires precision, and also requires a Court appearance. If the other side is represented by an attorney, it may be like bringing a knife to a gunfight, If you mess it up, you can’t go again.
Next month the reverse, you have a dog/cat/horse, and you want to give it back.