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Week Three:
September 14, 1998 - September 18, 1998

Legal Considerations in Rescue

Day One - Part One

Subject: CLASS: Legal Considerations in Rescue - Introduction
Date: Wed. 9-16
From: Helena Epstein - hhe@UCS.NET

Good Morning.

As facilitator for this segment of classes in Dog-Rescue I hope to encourage an interesting discussion about the law and rescue in the hope that questions, if not answered, will be revealed and that each of us will be motivated to seek out further information to protect ourselves, our canine charges, our rescue workers, volunteers and clients. HOWEVER, NOTHING I, NOR ANY OTHER PARTICIPANT HERE, SAY WILL BE IN THE NATURE OF LEGAL OPINION OR ADVICE AND NOTHING REPORTED HERE SHOULD BE CONSTRUED AS SUCH. I also do not presume to take the role of teacher to this group. My understanding is that I, as a facilitator, am charged with simply keeping the conversation relevant and hopefully lively.

I have been involved in breed specific rescue (Airedale Terrier) for approximately eight and one-half years. When I first became aware of rescue, I was very lucky in that there was an active breed rescue functioning at the national level and that a few of my new "Airedale" friends were active locally in rescue work. I had the benefit of inheriting a system including written materials and an extensive networking system that was and is invaluable.

Of the several areas of discussion that crop up with regularity on the dog rescue list, that of "INCORPORATION" is probably the most frequent. Several sub-topics of discussion may be distinguished including, but not limited to:

  1. Why Incorporate?;
  2. How to form a Corporation;
  3. The purpose of the rescue corporation, and
  4. How a rescue corporation conducts proper activities.

A few preliminary comments concerning this first suggested topic of discussion. The most obvious reason to consider incorporation would be, IMO, an attempt to limit individual liability. That is, to shield individual members from personal liability for acts performed on behalf of the corporate entity. When a group of people form a corporation under the laws of their State they in essence are creating a new entity which is the corporation. The corporation can, among other things sue and be sued. Typically, not-for-profit corporations such as are formed by rescues do not have large assets (the treasury). When an injured person sues such an empty-pocket entity they will also want to sue individuals who often have personal assets to satisfy any subsequent judgments. When the corporation and its directors and members behave responsibly, and its members follow the laws governing corporation behavior, the members hope that, if they are sued, that they will not be found personally liable by a court of law and possibly required to pay damages (money) from their personal assets.

In past I have seen list members use the words "can't be sued". That is not the case for either the individual or the corporation. Any person believing themselves aggrieved may institute a lawsuit. Whether or not that lawsuit will be successful or either dismissed at some stage of the litigation; settled with an agreement between the parties or litigated to a decision, a judgment by a court of law, is an event that will require some legal response and defense from the corporation and/or individual respondent in such a civil proceeding.

The specific laws governing incorporation are creations of the individual states and each rescue must look to its own State law for guidance on its requirements. There are similarities which we may discuss in general such as the need for documents of incorporation including i.e. Constitution and by-laws; Board of Directors, etc.; acts performed on behalf of the corporation and acts beyond its scope; dealings with the public, etc.

My personal advice is to educate yourselves through your contacts with other rescues and shelters; dog trainers; veterinarians; etc.; carefully craft and constantly supervise your own organizations; consult and establish a relationship with an attorney local to you for help in setting up your rescue organization and for legal guidance in, at least, its initial stages of operation.

Having said what is probably both too little and too much I would like to open the discussion regarding incorporation. It is not necessary to limit any discussion to any of the sub-topics I suggested, these are only suggestions and the topic is anything you all wish to make of it. Keep in mind this is not a lecture, that we are here sharing information and knowledge and participation is a goal.

Also, any suggestions for future discussion this week are welcomed by me hhe@ucs.net



Subject: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 12:21:12 -0400
From: "Janyne M. Kizer" - jmkizer@PAGESZ.NET

What are the legal issues regarding strays? For example, if someone calls that they found a stray lab, we ask them to place a found ad for five days before we do anything. What *should* we be doing?

jmkizer@bigfoot.com http://www.bigfoot.com/~jmkizer Lab Rescue of North Carolina, Inc. http://www.bigfoot.com/~labrescue

Subject: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 09:36:41 -0700
From: "Muhlbauer, Cinnamon" - Cinnamon.Muhlbauer@METROKC.GOV

This is a good question. Several summers ago a stray appeared on our back porch. She was a large mixed breed -- larger than our landlord permits so we were unable to keep her permanently. We placed an ad in the paper and checked with the local animal control, but of course, no owner came to claim her. After 2 weeks, our landlord reminded us that she was "too big" and we reluctantly called the local no kill shelters. The policy stated to us was per their agreement with animal control, they accept no animal from anyone but the legal owner -- however, if you had the dog for 30 days, you were then considered legal owner. We managed to hold onto Chili for exactly 30 days and then got her a place in a no kill where she was adopted quite quickly. Things worked out that time, but now that I am more active in rescue, I often wonder what my options would be if this happened again.


Subject: Re: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 09:57:48 +0000
From: Pam Bishop - dobra@pe.net

Every community can be different. It can vary from city to city. So your best bet is to contact your local animal control or city hall and ask what the dog laws are in your community.

If the shelter is an animal control shelter owned by the city or county, then the dog laws will dicate the length of time the dog must be kept before it can be adopted. If it's a private Humane Society they can set their own time limits, as long as they are at least the length of time the law says. (They can keep them longer).

Basically, you must keep a stray for whatever the legal limit in your community says and make an attempt to find the owner (ads, etc). But do ask just to be sure.

We have a sitution in L.A. where a woman was out of town and a friend was dog sitting. The dog got away. The sitter called the shelter and asked if they had a Shih Tzu. They said no. They didn't tell her that they'd picked up a "Llasa" (their mistake in identifying the dog). However the sitter did not go down to the shelter to check. After the alloted time the dog was adopted. Then the owner came back.....it's her 8 yr old beloved pet. She contacts the shelter and they contact the new owner. The new owner won't release the dog. :-{{ The dog had no I.D. on it when picked up...owners fault. The shelter didn't tell the sitter to come down to the shelter and mistook the breed.....shelters fault. The sitter did't go to the shelter to look even though she didn't realize that she should have....her fault. And the "new" owner's even though they know the real owner was not at fault and has lost her dog of 8 years, will not return it.

This story was on the TV last night. It will be interesting to see what the out come is. The shelter's stand is that the dog was abandoned and that they could adopt it after that time. Legally they are correct. Morally the new owners, IMHO are wrong.

What say you?

Fox Terrier Rescue

Subject: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 10:40:14 -0700
From: "Muhlbauer, Cinnamon" - Cinnamon.Muhlbauer@METROKC.GOV

This is such a sad situation.

  1. As my dogs are house dogs and have no tags on for indoors, I can't comment on the owner's decision for her dog to be untagged.

  2. *If* the sitter took off the tags, then the sitter holds a much larger share of the blame.

  3. The shelter staff should realize by now that they don't know -- nor should the public expect them to know -- all dog breeds by sight. Ideally, when the shelter received a call about a small furry breed of dog (from the sitter or anyone), the policy should be to advise the caller to come down and view the animals. This might be inconvenient for some people but I believe most of us would be camped out there hoping to retrieve our pet.

  4. The new owners, acted in good faith, however, now that they know this dog was not abandoned, they should relinquish to the "true owner".

Just my opinion, too.


Subject: Re: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 13:48:27 -0400
From: Tallanwood - malamute@MAIL.BANCOM.NET

I think that yes, legally the new owners own the dog...but morally-- not. However, the importance in this story lies more in teaching people how to search for lost animals.

Not to be specific as to breed, but to describe, generally the dog's looks; not to say "seal" colour when "black and white" would be more readily understood, and so on. There have been many cases in which dogs have not been identified because people made the assumption that the other party was "speaking the same language".

Sorry for straying (no pun intended) off topic!


Subject: Re: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 11:34:15 -0700
From: sanya - sanya@LIPS.COM

In addition to placing found ads in local papers, you might suggest that the "finder" call all surrounding pounds and place a found notice in the log book. Most pounds have lost & found log books, so it's a good idea to look through the lost books, too. If the finder has time to hang "found" posters, these can be effective in reuniting dog and family. Have the dog scanned by the pound or a veterinarian for possible microchip. By doing all or some of these things, I'd say a decent attempt was made to find the pet's family.

BTW, in California, the pound is required, by law, to hold impounded animals for 72 hours before euthanizing or making available for adoption. If the animal is wearing a tag (even if it only has the pet's name on it), they hold the pet for 10 days (in San Bernardino County). There is legislation on the governor's desk that will require the pound to hold strays for a minimum of 4 business days which must include a weekday evening or weekend day.

Rescue Individual - mostly terriers

Subject: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 14:47:49 -0400
From: Susan Feingold - feingold@MINDSPRING.COM

I worked at a humane society lost & found office for about 1 1/2 years. At least half of the dogs reported lost were "house dogs" that had run out of the house when the door accidentally got left open, a child let the dog out, a storm blew the door open or when a worker/maid/dog sitter/real estate person accidentally let the dog run out of the house. I can't stress it strongly enough - after working in lost/found I think all dogs should wear a collar (not a choke) with a visible ID tag 24 hours a day. Nationally, I've read that fewer than 10% of dogs without ID ever get back home. Most of the shelters around here do not scan for chips and when the general public sees a dog without a collar/ID tag they often won't get involved because they think it is a "stray" and not someones beloved pet. If they see a tag, they call the owner right away.

As far as the legalities behind the length of time for holding a stray, it varies around here from county to county. Some animal shelters only hold their dogs for 3 days before euthanizing or putting it up for adoption - some for as much as 7 days. If we find a dog, we call all the shelter lost/found offices and place an ad in the largest newspaper for a week.

-Susan Feingold
Pet Orphan Rescue and Adoption
Sheltie Rescue

Subject: Re: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 15:29:31 -0400
From: hhe - hhe@UCS.NET

Some rescues include a question in their adoption application forms which reads something along the order of "What would you do if your dog was lost?". It is a way of educating owners and a good way to start the discussion of a dog being properly identified; not wearing choke collars when unattended but buckle collars with ID. One benefit of wearing a locally required dog license has already been mentioned by someone else here and is important to know. Municipal shelters often, if not always, are required to hold a dog coming to them bearing a license tag for a uniform period as prescribed by rule or statute. Unlicensed dogs will not have this protection and may be euthanized after very short holding periods, if any.


Subject: Re: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 11:59:04 -0700
From: Karen Mayer - rottlover@SYSPAC.COM

Pam Bishop wrote:
interesting to see what the out come is. The shelters stand is that the dog was abandoned and that they could adopt it after that time. Legally they are correct. Morally the new owners, IMHO are wrong. What say you?

Something similar happened to me years ago, but *I* was the new owner. I went to the humane society and adopted a pit bull. She was sent to the spay/neuter clinic and scheduled to have her surgery the following day or so. That morning, the humane society called me up and said that the previous owners had come to get their dog, and although legally the dog was mine, they wanted to ask me if they could please have her back.

What had happened was that the dog got loose, was picked up, and the people went and identified her. Then they asked when was the last date they could get her before she would be put down and they waited until then before they went to get her. They never thought that someone else might adopt her.

I was so angry at them for letting their dog stay at the shelter when they knew she was there. They had to pay the impound fee anyway, I guess they figured they'd get some "free" dogsitting out of it. I told the humane officer that I would let them have the dog under one condition: that he stress to them the fact that if they don't take better care of their dog, someone else will.

I'm *still* mad about that, and it was like 15 years ago! But I ended up adopting a wonderful sweet pit bull male whom I loved dearly. I agree that it's morally correct to return the dog to the previous owner, but I'd also like to qualify that with the statement 'as long as there is no evidence of abuse on the part of that owner.' If I'd thought the female pit had been abused, there would be no way I'd agree to let them have her back.

Karen Mayer - Mesa, AZ - rottlover@syspac.com
Be Someone's Hero Today
Save a life, make a friend
Phoenix Area Rottweiler Rescue

Subject: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 15:15:33 EDT
From: Wendy Cook - PeiRescue@AOL.COM

A very good friend of mine was pet-sitting for a long-time client. Everyday, she came to their house and everyday was met by a VERY unkempt Golden Retriever who followed her everywhere she went--including chasing her car when she left trying to catch up. This poor dog was skin and bones, had runny eyes, coat matted, etc. My friend works for a vet clinic so after a week of this (and asking the neighbors if they knew who owned the dog), she took it to work with her. This dog has badly infected ears, Heartworms, toe nails curled into pads of feet and parasites. Helen got this dog all fixed up and then was able to place it into a wonderful home. However, this story does not have a happy ending.

Helen did talk with all of the immediate neighbors, none of whom knew who the dog belonged to. She also notified her clients that she had this dog. She had the dog herself at the clinic for 30 days and the adoptive parents had had the dog for about 15 days when out of the blue, Helen gets a phone call from people claiming to own the dog. They had heard about the dog through a Neighborhood watch program. After many tears, Helen & the new adoptive home (who did offer to purchase the dog from the owners) gave the dog back to the owners...who proceeded to SUE Helen for "pain & anguish" of the loss of their dog. They also claimed that the medical care that the dog received was not necessary and that they were not responsible for the charges.

To make a long, drawn out story short, the lawsuit was dismissed and the owners were ordered to reimburse Helen for all medical care (she has yet to see a dime). However, the dog was hit by a car and killed instantly just two weeks later.

Wendy Cook
Chinese Shar-Pei Rescue of Nashville

Subject: Re: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 15:42:44 -0400
From: Elizabeth Sommers - ESOMMERS@COURTS.STATE.NY.US

Helen got this dog all fixed up and then was able to place it into a wonderful home. However, this story does not have a happy ending.

What a terribly tragic story. This is the kind of situation that I would really like to see someone take to court. Where the dog has been neglected, if not abused; there has been plenty of notice and time; and the rescuer/new home has expended a great deal of money and energy in bringing the dog up to health. It would be worth it to have "on the books" a judicial statement that the former owners have lost all ownership rights and would be obligated for medical costs if the new family agreed to return their dog.

The fact that these negligent, uncaring owners sued Helen, who had rescued it, is proof positive of Helene's earlier statement that "Any person believing themselves aggrieved may institute a lawsuit." As someone who works in the courts, let me assure you that people sue over things you wouldn't BELIEVE. Don't worry about being sued -- worry about being in a position so that you will win if you are sued!

Betsy Sommers

Subject: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 13:22:52 -0700
From: "Muhlbauer, Cinnamon" - Cinnamon.Muhlbauer@METROKC.GOV

Without exposing too much of our home life to public scrutiny I feel I need to clarify something.

  1. Our fence is padlocked, packages are left with the neighbors.

  2. We have 2 social gatherings at our home per year, that is the only time people are in our house.

  3. Repair people are only allowed in when we are present and the animals are safely confined to locked bedrooms.

  4. We have not been away from our furkids for longer than 48 hours in years, and only then, do we go when my sister comes to care for them.

  5. All our pets have collars and the proper tags/licenses. They don't wear them in the house because of my husband's fear one might be strangled if their foot, someone else's foot or some object becomes entangled in the collar (this happened to the dog, who made my formerly cat-only hubby, a dog person).

  6. Most of our dogs come from puppymills or other abusive situations, it is a tremendous chore to get them to even go outside the house (we go through a lot of newspapers), and some will not leave the yard to even take a walk with us. They have finally found a comfortable refuge and it seems they equate outdoors with the loss of their home.
For our peace of mind we decided to go with tattoos for our babies, and our vet is getting a recommendation for us. There is always the chance that something could happen to one of us and a stranger would gain entry, scaring the dogs into running, but for the most part, we are safe with the environment we have created.

Obviously, this can't work for homes with human children, lots of foot traffic or active dogs, in which case I would say microchipping/tattooing and a tag might be needed. LOL


Subject: CLASS: Legalities and Strays
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 14:10:51 -0600
From: Jude Fine - JFine@NOVATEL.CA

The story about the shih tzu was very sad and brings home the point that _personally_ visiting a shelter, at least every second day, is an absolute requirement if you have lost your dog. Depending on the size of the shelter, they may have anywhere from 10-100 incoming animals per day and it's easy to make a mistake on breed identification.

Our local Animal Services holds animals with ID for 7 days and animals without ID for 3 days. At the Humane Society, strays who are purebred or those animals with ID (tattoo, microchip) are held for 10 days. Strays who are not purebred and have no ID can be put into adoption after 4 days.

There has been more than one instance where a dog/cat was adopted to a new owner only to have the *real* owner show up, too late, for whatever reason (sometimes a very valid reason). I know in one instance the original owners sued and the dog/cat was returned to them. I guess it depends on whether you get a sympathetic judge.


Senior Canine Rescue Society
olddogs@telusplanet.net; olddoglady@writeme.com
"Hug an Old Dog Today"

Day One - Part Two

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