Kristina Bergsten

Friday Night Fights: “Tails” from the Pet Custody Crypt

Throughout Colorado, I get a lot of calls about pet custody and ownership at The Animal Law Firm – but not all calls are from unmarried couples who broke up. A lot of calls come from neighbors, friends, or former roommates who had a schism in their relationship and the dog owner “lost” the dog to the former neighbor, friend, or roommate.

The neighbor situation looks something like this: Neighbor A has a medical issue and asks Neighbor B to watch A’s dog. Neighbor A either isn’t clear, or takes a long time to get the dog back, and Neighbor B believes A abandoned the dog, or A gave the dog to B. Eventually, a lawsuit follows.

The roommate situation looks something like this: Roommates X and Y live together. Roommate X gets a dog, either with the idea that Roommate Y is a co-owner or not. Either way, X and Y jointly share responsibility for the care of the dog because they share a home. Roommate X and Y eventually decide to live separately, either amicably or because of a fight, and there is a subsequent lawsuit over the dog.

The friend situation looks something like this: Friend M has a dog and Friend N offers (or is asked) to watch M’s dog. Friend M leaves dog with N and time passes and it’s not really clear when M is going to pick up the dog, there are delays, life happens, etc. and N gets tired of being [what he/she perceives to be] a “free ride.” Feelings are hurt and N doesn’t want to give the dog back to M, or gives the dog away to a third party.

Regardless of these various situations, GET YOUR AGREEMENT IN WRITING! If you don’t want to hire an attorney, write out the terms of everyone’s expectations in an email. Text message is *fine*, but it’s not as clear and it’s not as easy to “print-to-PDF” for presentation in Court.

The things you want to put in writing:

-The dog’s name and a brief description (gender, breed, age);

-The dog owner’s name and identification as the dog owner;

-The dog sitter’s name and identification as the dog sitter;

-The duration of the sit, especially the end date;

-The location of the sit;

-Whether or not compensation will be paid, how much, what method payment will be

made; and when;

-Who is responsible for food and veterinary care, how food will be provided and

when, and how veterinary emergencies will be handled and where;

-A statement about how any changes to the agreement must be offered at least 48

(can be any time frame the parties agree on) hours in advance and agreements to

changes must be in writing.

-Both parties must either print and sign the agreement and exchange signed copies,

OR, at the very least, both parties must reply to the email in the same thread indicating

their agreement to the contract.

Obviously this will not cover every possible scenario and situation and is by no means comprehensive; nor does this post create an attorney-client relationship between The Animal Law Firm and you, the reader; this is offered only as general guidance.

That said, this skeleton outline of a potential contract will help provide basic protection for you and your pet and, hopefully, prevent future lawsuits!

Call our Colorado animal lawyers at The Animal Law Firm at 303-623-4000 in Denver, Aurora, Boulder, and surrounding areas.

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