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You were gifted a doggie by a friend or family member sometime back.
After months of hanging out with the pet, you have an unbreakable bond.
Now, the owner wants their dog back. Surely, after all those months of being with the dog, he cannot just be ripped from you.
You should have some legal rights to hold on to the pet even if you are not the original owner.
If you are unlucky enough to be caught in this situation, it can be heartbreaking and frustrating to lose your pet.
Is there something you can do to keep the pet? Can the previous owners claim the dog back? Does the law have any provisions for this?
Gifts According To the Law
There are many ways in which dogs end up in the hands of other owners other than their original parents.
For one, someone may decide to rehome their pets when they can no longer take care of them. An example is making a move to an apartment that doesn’t accept pets.
The pet’s behavior can also drive the original owner up the wall to the point of giving the dog to someone else.
Others just decide to gift people their dogs because they cannot afford the bills associated with pet ownership. And the reasons go on and on.
Whatever the reason, the law treats gifts as just that – gifts.
When someone walks up to you and gives you a dog without any promises, the animal essentially belongs to you. This is according to Animal League America.
Once you hand over the ownership of your pooch to another person, you have given the legal rights away.
You have no right to walk back to them and ask for the poor animal back. That’s wonderful news for you!
Please keep in mind that this law holds up only if the dog was a true gift and nothing more.
If you made a contract or agreement of sorts, things can get a bit complicated. For instance, if the previous owner asked you to take care of the doggie for a while and return it later, the law may rule in their favor.
Avvo.com, a law website, also states that once a dog is given as a gift, it ceases to belong to the previous owner.
Even if they take you to court, you have an upper hand if you can prove that the animal was gifted to you without conditions.
Related Post: How to Get Your Dog Back From An Ex
But… Things Can Get Messy
Pet custody battles aren’t straightforward for the most part. Issues arise all the time.
A good example is a case where you cannot prove that a pet was given to you a gift.
The previous owner may head to court and claim that they had said they would come back for the kitty.
In other instances, the previous owner may make a strong case claiming that they want the animal because you stole it. They may also tell the court that the dog is mistreated in your care.
In these instances, a judge in court will be forced to make decisions based on evidence, not hearsay. How? You may ask… Well, we will tackle this in the next section.
How Does The Law View Dogs?
This might come as a shock to you but pets are classified under the ‘property’ section in the legal sense.
As in the example of a divorce or a breakup, dogs will be treated in court as no more than a mug or a car.
That means the judge decides on what happens to your dog just as they would the house.
Proof of ownership speaks louder in this case. Don’t expect them to make their judgments based on what’s best for the animal as is the case with children.
So, when a case of a dog caught between two owners is involved, the proof of ownership or ‘Indicia of Ownership’ law takes effect.
Courts are all about seeing documentation that shows who is the rightful owner of the dog and who isn’t.
If you have current and ongoing proof of ownership, you stand a better chance of keeping the dog.
Note that the judge is mostly keen on current documents more than original ones.
That means that even if you have proof of past ownership, you may not win the case in court.
Some of the documents deemed admissible in court include the following;
- Microchip and ID tags: Owned pets should have a chip detailing up-to-date information. Similarly, the contact information on the pet’s collar should have the contact details of the current owner. If you can prove these two, you are way ahead of your opponent.
- City/County License: Should be updated every year. If you have had the pet for more than a year, you should prove it by owning a city/county license for them.
- Vet and Grooming Receipts: Keep all recent receipts for all your vet visits, grooming appointments, and other relevant dog service receipts.
- Adoption Or Purchase Contracts: In case you have these, present them in court.
- Pet Registration Paperwork: AKC documents reflect ownership. If you don’t have the physical papers, contact the registry sites to provide proof.
When someone gifts you a dog in the presence of other people, it can help your case if the people can testify in court.
They can tell the judge and the court that they were present when the exchange was taking place.
Of course, the witnesses have to show up in person and can be cross-examined if need be. Letters are not permissible as pieces of evidence.
So when it comes down to it, the party with the strongest case wins the battle and gets to keep the dog.
If the previous owner has most of the records of the dog, they might just convince the court that they deserve to have their pet back.
Thankfully, if you can prove that you were given the pet for free and have been taking good care of it, you will have the upper hand.
Related Post: How to Prove Ownership of a Dog
What Does This Mean For You?
Assuming that you were recently gifted a dog and you are afraid that the owner will come back for it, now is the time to prepare for any eventuality.
The previous owner can legally claim the pet if they can build a strong case against you.
To be safe, don’t take things to chance. Do the following:
- Ask For The Dog’s Original Records: If you are friends with the previous owner, now is the time to ask for all the records of the dog. If they gave you the pet in good faith, they should have no problem handing out their documentation. Ask for the registry certificates, adoption/purchase contracts, and any other relevant documents. Let them write that they have handed the documents to you per their own will.
- Update the dog’s microchip and ID tags: If the dog’s identity documents are still in the name of the original owner, update them as soon as possible. It may cost you a little but the cost is worth it in the end.
- Get The Annual City Or County Licenses: If you have had the dog for more than a year, get the necessary licenses in your name.
- Keep All Current Receipts: Do not toss any vet bills, grooming receipts, and other current paperwork showing you are taking good care of the doggie.
So, if someone gives you a dog, can they legally take it back? The short answer is YES, it is possible for someone to legally claim their pet back after giving it to you.
If they have enough proof to convince the court that the dog belongs to them, you may not have much luck then.
Lucky for you, going that route is expensive and frustrating for the previous owner. Most people often decide to give up the case altogether.
Still, it is a great idea to cushion yourself in case things take a turn for the worst.
Sable M. is a canine chef, professional pet blogger, and proud owner of two male dogs. I have been an animal lover all my life, with dogs holding a special place in my heart. Initially, I created this blog to share recipes, tips, and any relevant information on healthy homemade dog treats. But because of my unrelenting passion to make a difference in the world of dogs, I have expanded the blog’s scope to include the best information and recommendations about everything dog lovers need to know about their canine friends’ health and wellbeing. My mission now is to find the most helpful content on anything related to dogs and share it with fellow hardworking hound lovers. While everything I share is in line with the latest evidence-based veterinarian health guidelines, nothing should be construed as veterinary advice. Please contact your vet in all matters regarding your Fido’s health.