I Have an Animal but I Don’t Want to Keep It

This usually happens 1) when you buy / adopt an animal 2) if an animal is abandoned with you

  • I just purchased a puppy/kitten from a Pet Store, and it got sick/died. Can I do anything about it?

Yes, you are protected under the Florida “Pet Lemon Law” (Florida Statute 829.28) IF you follow all the requirements strictly as required in the Statute. This law spells out the remedies available to you, and also covers “congenital defects” (things that may not be immediately visible, but conditions the animal was born with).

Both of these scenarios are related to the animal being unfit for sale at the time of purchase. I have had many situations where the Pet Store changes their warranty to make it different from the Statute. You may go along with this, but they must CLEARLY say that you are waiving your statutory rights.

  • I just purchased a puppy/kitten privately, and it got sick / died / isn’t suitable. Can I do anything about that?

Yes, but not so easily. If it is a Pet Store, you will have a contract and a bill of sale. If it is a private sale, you should insist upon them. This will help avoid people developing temporary amnesia, and a dispute about who said (or didn’t say) what. It is also a good idea to have the animal you are going to purchase checked by your veterinarian. The suitability issue is a difficult one (although if clearly vicious, may not be so difficult), and may depend more on your relationship with the breeder. Like everything else, there are nice ones, and not so nice ones.

  • I just bought a horse, and it isn’t as they said it was. Can I do anything about it?

Yes, but there is a reason there are so many jokes about horse-traders. First of all, despite the common practice of a handshake in the horse business, GET A CONTRACT (you can always blame it on your attorney!) Secondly, despite what the seller may say, GET A PRE-PURCHASE EXAMINATION done by your choice of Veterinarian, and have him pull (but not necessarily run) a blood test. Unbelievable as it may be, the horse may be tranquilized or have pain-killers in its body.

Now you are protected under contract law, and also in Florida under Florida Statute 535.16 regarding deceptive trade practices including the disclosure of known medical conditions.

On a practical note, however, you have to be prepared to enforce your rights, or otherwise let the “bad guy” get away with it.

  • I just adopted a dog from an animal shelter / rescue society, and he bit someone – are they liable?

Usually not, unless they knew about the dog being vicious, and didn’t tell you. In most cases their adoption contracts are so watertight that they will have no liability.

  • This animal just showed up in my yard / paddock. Now what can I do?

First check and see if there is any indication of ownership – it might just be lost. Most vets / shelters will scan dogs for a microchip either free or at minimal charge. There may be a rabies tag. Some horses have tattoos. There may be “lost dog / cat” signs around. If there is an owner out there, they may just be looking – so file a police report.

It is also a good idea to alert local veterinarians, shelters, and rescue societies.

If nothing happens within a reasonable period of time, you can do what you might not want to do – turn the animal in for euthanasia at the local shelter, but keep a record of what you have done.

Alternatively, of course, you can be the person the animal “adopted” and proceed as if it is yours. Hopefully the original owner will not surface in the future and cause a problem.

You have my animal, and I want it back!

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.

#1I 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.