Owner Surrenders and the Law
Quite a few of PoPo's rescues have been Owner surrenders, or pups that were abandoned at veterinary offices. So we reached out to Lauren Turner at L. Turner Law to give us some insights into how we in the rescue community can protect ourselves from legal issues arising from Owner surrenders. L. Turner Law has a focus in animal litigation and discounts legal services related to animal law, in addition to donating 10% of the law practices entire profit to POPO Pitbulls, Inc. She is able to be reached at https://lturnerlaw.com.
Rescues take on risk every day, engaging foster families and trainers to take on pups pulled from shelters or abandoned, with relatively unknown histories. So many things can go awry. One of the saddest cases that I have received referrals for TWICE in the last month are legal issues and lawsuits regarding the surrender of an animal to a rescue.
No normal pet owner wants to give up their animal; be it a home move, or a new baby or whatever the case, animals and pets are surrendered to rescues quite often. These emotional goodbyes can occasionally be accompanied by remorse, and the request for the return of the animal to the surrenderer. Here are a few pointers to consider from a rescue standpoint, as well as some recent examples.
First, make sure that you paper the file. Have owner surrender forms that serve as a contract, and that CLEARLY state that the animal is being knowingly surrendered to the ownership and care of the rescue and that the rescue is under no obligation to return the animal. As aforementioned, there are many reasons people surrender their pets, and sometimes these reasons are indeed in the animals best interest. While sometimes an owners request for the return of their animal should be considered, there are other times, such as in the case of addiction or domestic violence, in which the animal really is better off under the care of a rescue. A surrender form and contract that delineates the rights of the rescue, as well as the rights that the owner surrendering the animal is giving up, can make later lawsuits quick to dismiss.
Second, make sure that your surrender forms provide that the surrenderer has had the opportunity to review the form and discuss it with counsel, if desired. This lends itself to the mindset of the surrenderer and prevents later assertions that the surrenderer was under the influence or in the midst of a manic episode, etc. You would be shocked what people claim when they want a surrendered animal back.
Third, keep all communications with the surrenderer printed somewhere, be it by text or by email. Being able to later show a judge, mediator or other decision maker that the surrenderer fully considered the decision being made and understood the gravity and permanence of the situation prevents the all too common "Oh, I just gave the dog to the rescue for temporary boarding" or "Oh, I didn't mean to give the rescue my cat FOREVER". Actions such as bringing over veterinary records, toys, beds, food etc are all actions that lend themselves to the fact that that owner knew what they were doing and for what time frame when they surrendered their pet.
FINALLY, have a clause in your owner surrender form that awards the rescue the reimbursement of any attorneys fees or costs spent in litigating the legality of the surrender. Attorneys fees can rack up quickly and become expensive, even at discounted rates; no one has to tell a rescue owner that donations and monies collected by the rescue are for the animals and management of the rescue, not for spiteful litigation by remorseful, prior owners. Prevailing party attorneys fees should be paid to reimburse the rescue by the surrenderer, so that the hard earned donations that belong to the pets, go to those pets.
As an attorney,rescue owner and volunteer myself, I am always happy to lend a hand to rescues at risk of litigation and offer completely free consultations and 50% off legal fees to rescues. There are additional plans and options we at L.Turner Law make available to these important organizations, so please reach out.