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Statistics by American Humane Organization show that a staggering 10 million pets in the United States get lost annually.
A large majority of these end up in shelters where they are put up for adoption or euthanized.
The saddest part is that only 15% of dogs without microchips or ID tags are reunited with their previous owners according to the same report.
Dogs tend to wander a lot, especially those that haven’t been altered. They move miles away from home, marking territories and looking for partners to mate with. Sometimes they get lost or stolen in the process.
You may also lose a dog when you give it to someone hoping they’d return it but they never do. Perhaps it’s an ex, a parent, roommate, or babysitter.
When you want your sweet dog back, you should have it back. But what if they blatantly refuse to hand over the pet? What can you do?
What Does The Law Say?
Any Animal Law expert will tell you that some of the most frequent cases they receive involve people who can’t get their dogs back from others.
The most common are those between exes after a bitter separation or divorce. One party walks away with a dog without the consent of the other.
In other instances, parents refuse to give a dog to their kids when they leave home.
A roommate can also steal another person’s pet after they part ways and fail to return it.
No matter the circumstance, losing a pet in this fashion is very heartbreaking.
Pets are lovable creatures and moving on without them can be difficult – especially when you know that someone has the pet and won’t give them back.
When it comes to animals, the law is very disappointing. Pets, in most states, are treated as property just like everything else – the TV, car, a cup of coffee, books, you name it.
This alone makes it hard to get what you deserve when your animal is stolen or something.
Alaska and Illinois are the only states to pass a law asking courts to consider the interests of pets in custody battles.
Alaska did this in 2017 while Illinois followed suit in 2018. Hopefully, more states will take the same direction in the coming years.
When someone refuses to give back your dog, you can sue them by filing a small claims lawsuit.
The small claims court is essentially a public forum where citizens take their disputes.
Small claim suits are informal proceedings where litigants (people) can bring their cases.
What happens is that the plaintiff pays a fee to file the case. The defendant will then be served.
If the parties can reach an agreement before going to court, the case is closed.
Else, the court will give a hearing date, go through the evidence provided then allow a judge to make a verdict.
When someone has your dog, you can gather enough evidence to prove that you are the rightful owner of the dog.
You can then file a small claims suit and hope the judge will rule in your favor.
How To Get Your Dog Back From Someone
In case you ever find yourself having to go the extra mile to get back your doggie, take the following steps.
1. Inform The Police
Before you take the legal route, let the authorities know of what is going on.
Depending on your locality, the police may or may not decide to be involved in the case.
In case they do, they may issue a warning to the person who has your dog. The involvement of the police can intimidate the person into relinquishing the rights of the pet.
Don’t be too hopeful, though. Often, the authorities are reluctant to take up such cases terming them as civil.
Still, you should have a statement or something showing that you reported the matter to the police.
2. Gather the Evidence
If the police route doesn’t work, you have the option of the court.
Before you do anything, arm yourself with the local laws surrounding such matters.
Every state has its set of rules on pet battles. Nevertheless, all rely heavily on evidence.
You need to prove without a shadow of a doubt that the dog in question belongs to you.
Such a case can get complicated. For instance, if the person that has your dog has been caring for them for a long period of time, they may have a legal right to it.
This, they can prove by presenting recent vet bills, updated microchips and ID tags, and other pieces of evidence.
Even if they don’t claim to have the dog back, they may sue back for costs used to take care of the pup.
Before you head over to court, take some time to gather your evidence. You need registration certificates, pedigree documents, recent vet and medical bails, photos of you and the dog, microchips, Id tags, and county/state licenses.
If you have a witness who can testify that the dog belongs to you and that you had asked the person to give them back, prepare them to appear in court.
Related Post: How to Prove Ownership of a Dog
3. File A Small Claims Suit
Once you have your evidence, head over to your local court and ask for the small claims form.
It costs anywhere from $30 and $75. Fill out the form and submit it.
You will be given a court hearing date. This takes place from 30-70 days from the day of filing the suit.
During this period, the defendant can return the dog after which the case will be closed.
4. Show Up In Court
If the above step doesn’t yield results, you and the defendant will need to go to court for the hearing.
The judge will hear you out and analyze the evidence and give the verdict.
If the judge rules in your favor, the defendant will be asked by the court to give back the dog.
The case can go the other way too if the judge feels that the defendant is taking better care of the dog.
Be prepared for any eventuality.
What If Someone Is Looking After Your Dog and Won’t Give It Back
The fact that someone is caring for your doggie doesn’t make them the rightful owner.
They are basically thieves for holding on to what doesn’t belong to them.
You can follow the above steps to get the dog back. However, this case can become very complicated for you.
In the event that the person taking care of the dog has enough evidence that shows they deserve to be given the dog, your chances of winning the small claims suit are very low.
Besides registration and microchips, judges are keen on recent documents when deciding who deserves to own a dog.
This means that if the person you plan on suing can present strong documents, you may go home empty-handed.
Before you go the legal route, try and settle the matter out of court. If you are not successful, take a hard look at your evidence.
If you can afford it, enlist the help of an attorney to tell you whether your case will hold or not.
Additionally, think about the well-being of the dog. Ask yourself if taking the dog away will guarantee its well-being or not.
If leaving it with the current caretaker is in the pet’s best interest, consider doing just that.
Can I Steal My Dog Back?
When a person refuses to give your pet back, it is tempting to go over to their house and steal the animal back.
They say two wrongs don’t make a right. That applies here.
Stealing can get you in trouble more than you care to know. You may suffer the following:
- Theft or grand theft claim: The person with the dog can file for this and win if they have taken legal ownership of the dog.
- Burglary: If you break into someone’s home or property and take the dog.
Stealing a dog is a serious crime in certain states such as Virginia where it is termed Dognapping. The felony can earn you 10 years in jail.
The best thing would be to report the case to the police and follow the right procedure of getting it back.
Creating an inseparable bond with a dog takes time just like all other meaningful relationships in life.
To have someone refuse to give your dog back is very upsetting.
You may want to steal back the dog and jump all the hoops but doing that will do more harm than good.
Take a beat and call the police then take it up from there.
My Neighbor Killed My Dog-What Can I Do?
Sable McNeil 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.