I want to hear from YOU!

I have a question for you, my readers.  I’ve been tossing around this idea for a weekly post but I’m just not sure how well it would be received, so I decided what better way to find out than to ask you?

How would you feel about a weekly “take action!” type of post?

Buddy, a rescued houd mix, deep in thought.

Every week I would try my best to find items of interest around the country that my THPL readers may want to help make a difference on. What sort of items you ask? Things like proposed BSL, or tax dollar funded shelters that are not fulfilling their purpose of taking care of the dogs that come in their doors.  Along with posting the details of what is going on, I will also post contact information for the people involved so that you loyal followers can help make sure that our community’s voice is heard and maybe we can together make a difference.

So, what do you guys think? Is this something that you would be interested in and would be willing to take five minutes out of your day (maybe Tuesdays?  “Take Action Tuesdays!” has a nice ring) to write and try to make life better for some of our four-legged friends? Please comment below (or email me at morganrivera518(at)gmail(dot)com if you would like it to be private) if you would like to see and get involved with this weekly feature.  And please, if you think it would be too dull, or sad, or anything less than a great idea, I want to know that, too!  Don’t worry about hurting my feelings, just be honest.  The last thing I want to do is alienate anyone.  Thank you in advance for your opinions and honesty!

{Legal Issue} Restraining Dogs in Cars

I am going to NY this weekend and currently suffering from some yucky cold that I can’t kick, so when my hubby called and woke me up at almost 10 o’clock last night to tell me he had lost his cars keys I was less than thrilled, to say the least.  He was at an NBA game downtown and needed me to bring him the spare set.  I decided that if I had to drag my butt out of bed, I might as well bring the dogs along and make it an adventure.  So I folded down the seats, rolled the windows down (but not too far because Buddy has been known to jump out so he can go introduce himself to strangers) and off we went.

Getting downtown was no problem, nor was finding Rich….but getting back?  For whatever reason I took the wrong exit and we ended up going waaay out of the way.  And then a police officer pulled up behind me…and stayed there.  I suffer from the delusion that      I’m always going to get caught when there is a police officer around.  For what?  Who knows.  But my mind was racing.  Was he running my plates?  Was he looking at my “My Pit Bull is Family” bumper sticker and getting ready to pull me over and shoot Maggie?  (I have read one too many sad storied about pit bulls being shot and yes, I’m a “worst-caser”, plus I was sick and tired!)  Could he see the dogs in the back and was getting ready to pull me over for that?  It seems like I remember hearing that they are going to start requiring dogs to be restrained, but I can’t quite remember….then the officer turned and I was safe.  But my mind kept going.  Had I in fact been breaking a law by having the three of them loose in the back of my SUV?  Turns out, Rich had already researched this and I completely forgot to read (and obviously post) what he had learned!  Let’s all find out together:

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There is currently a push for legislation in states to prohibit driving a car with a dog unrestrained in it. The push stems from a fear of dogs causing accidents by interfering with the driver’s use of the steering wheel or pedals, or distracting the driver or from the added damage that can occur when in an accident, that the dog can become a “missile” further injuring itself and/or the occupants of the car. I know in our household traveling with the dogs in the car has lead to more than one red light being run to avoid having to slam on the brakes and making them go flying.

There are seven states that restrict letting dogs or other animals ride in the back of a pick up truck or otherwise open air vehicles. Though many of these statutes can be complied with by putting the dog in a crate in the bed of the truck, or by cross tethering the animal to the truck.

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There are only a few states that currently have any law on the books that can be used to ticket someone that drives with an unrestrained dog inside the car. New Jersey is one such state and a fine of up to $1,000 for someone improperly transporting an animal.  At this time, Florida does not have a specific law on the books for this.

Other states prohibit driving with a pet in your lap. Hawaii has an explicit law prohibiting this conduct and Arizona, Maine and Connecticut can use their distracted driving laws to ticket drivers for this conduct.

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“What do you think? Tell mom! She loves to hear your input!”

What do you think? Is driving with a dog unrestrained in the passenger compartment of the car inherently dangerous, should there be a law against it, or would this just be more needless regulation? Don’t just tell us! In a previous post we linked to this Library of Congress website that allows you to contact your local state legislator. Write them and tell them what you think about potential legislation and then share your thoughts here with us.

{Legal Issue} Unattended Dogs in Vehicles

It’s been (ahem, cough-cough) over two months since our last Legal Post.  I know, we are slackin’!  Despite the fact that summer is winding down for most of the country, it’s still blazin’ hot here in Florida and today’s post is one that, truly, warrants attention at any time of the year.  One of our awesome readers asked whether there are laws surrounding dogs left unattended in vehicles and whether there is anything in the works to enforce this.  Here’s what Rich uncovered:

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This is a great question and I was surprised at what I found when I looked into it. While there is no national law regarding this, there are currently (only!) fourteen states that have laws prohibiting leaving dogs unattended in cars under certain conditions. These states are Arizona, California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia.

All of these statutes prohibit leaving an animal (all cover at least cats and dogs, and some cover a much broader range) unattended in a car when it is a danger to the animal’s health. The crime is classified as a misdemeanor and the statutes provide for punishments ranging from fines between $50 and $2000 and imprisonment for up to one year.  California’s statute is the most comprehensive (go CA!) as it provides for certain conditions that constitute a danger to the animals health: extreme temperatures, lack of ventilation, or not providing water/food. Many of the other states cover the same conditions, but do not provide that failure to provide food or water is a dangerous condition.  For us Floridians, extreme heat is obviously the most common danger.

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Don’t forget, Maggie is still (I know, it’s been going on forever) in a contest to win a spot in a wonderful calendar. Click here to vote for her, pretty please!

In addition to the states listed above, there are municipal ordinances in other states that prohibit leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle. There is at least one instance of a state prosecuting someone leaving an unattended dog in a car under a Cruelty to Animals law. That case was Lopez v. State, and the state of Texas prosecuted a man for leaving his dog in a car parked in front of a theater where he was watching a movie. After being convicted he appealed the case and the appeals court agreed that this constituted cruelty to animals.  Basically, this means that just because a state doesn’t have a law specifically prohibiting leaving an animal in a car, doesn’t mean that they can’t and won’t prosecute people that do this.

As far as whether there is anything in the works to enact more of these laws many state legislatures, including Florida, are currently adjourned. So while it is unlikely whether there is anything in the works in these states, it is a perfect time to contact your local state legislator and tell them that this is an important issue that you would like to see addressed.  http://thomas.loc.gov/home/state-legislatures.html This is a page maintained by the library of congress with links to every state legislature’s website, where you can find contact information for your particular state representative or senator, or whatever they call them in Nebraska (stupid unicameral system).

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Now, all of that aside, if you see a dog (or cat, or hamster, or turtle, or whatever) locked in a hot car, the best thing to do is act!  It can take as little as 15 minutes for a dog to die of heat stroke, so obviously time is of the essence in these situations.  Jot down the car’s information (color, make, model, license plate number) and go in to the nearest store(s) and have the owner paged.  Go back to the car and wait.  Best case scenario?  The owner immediately comes out to their car, thanks you for your concern, and listens while you explain how dangerous what they did was, they then swear to never do it again, and decide to donate $1 million to your local rescue of choice.  Since that’s not exactly a likely outcome I would suggest also calling animal control while you wait.  If they don’t act fast and you feel the situation is dangerous enough (the dog is exhibiting signs of heat stroke) I would then suggest calling 911.  Yup, do it.  They will probably call animal control and cause them to either speed up or you might get lucky and a nearby officer would hear the call and respond.  Whatever you do, don’t leave the dog until he is safe.

Well, until next time folks!

A Happy Coincidence!

First a little disclaimer: this post is written by Rich, not Morgan, so apologies up front to anyone that clicked here expecting her (I’ll see if I can get her to post some extra pictures of the dogs to make up for it!).

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Earlier I had the pleasure of writing on the options available to someone preparing to take care of a pet in case anything untimely should happen. You can imagine my surprise when I was taking the Florida Bar Exam at the end of July and saw an essay question asking in part what options were available to someone that wanted to provide for her pregnant Labrador in case anything should happen to her. That seems like serendipity to me! Also in the essay the woman was more concerned with providing for her Labrador and her puppies than for her son (a sentiment that I’m afraid I might also share if faced with the same decision, after all a dog can’t support itself!  We all know I would never own a dog that was capable of getting pregnant, unless Morgan brought home one that already was, but you see the point is in caring for the dogs’ needs first and foremost.)

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What’s even more exciting about the appearance of this question on the exam is that generally states put topics on the bar that they want new attorneys to be versed in. Maybe this is an indication of more pet-friendly legislation in Florida in the coming years. In any event at least the more than three thousand people taking the exam last month either knew how to set up a trust for the care of a pet, or are kicking themselves for not knowing.

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What do you think? Is this a sign of things to come in Florida, and possibly nationwide? What pet related legislation would you like to see? Tell us in the comments below!

{Legal Issue} Pet Care After Your Death

Eeeek.  Now there’s an unpleasant thought.  Oh, you hadn’t ever thought about it before?  Well buck up cowboy because you know what?  Shit happens.  Car accidents, heart attacks, plane crashes.  People die every day that weren’t planning on it.  And guess what, if you aren’t prepared, it could very well be your beloved pet that ends up sitting in a cold shelter, alone, confused, and in mourning.

IMG_1678 About a year ago a woman contacted one of the rescues that I volunteer with and asked for help finding a home for her dog.  Her mother had passed away and no one in the family  wanted the dog.  It had already been living in boarding at a vet’s office for almost a month before she contacted us.  I got in touch with her and told her we would begin working immediately to find a foster home.  She called me later that day and told me the dog had passed away.  They suspected heart failure.  I believe it was a broken heart.  And this happens every. single. day. because people assume surely someone will care for their pet if they pass away unexpectedly, rather than taking the time to put a plan in place.  Here’s Rich with some advice on how best to prepare for the worst:

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Today’s legal topic is one that I actually came across in law school; and not in a specialized animal law class, nor in my pro bono work with the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, but actually in a class that many law students take in Florida: Gratuitous Transfers aka Wills, Trusts, & Estates. Today we’re talking about a bit morose, but necessary topic: providing for your pets in the event you die or become incapacitated before they do.

Many of us have friends that we know would take care of our animals for us if something untimely were to happen. While this may work in the short term, depending on the needs of your pet, it can become quite a hardship for someone to take on over the long term. Additionally, in the case of death a pet may become the subject of a property dispute among your friend and a family member that has always loved the dog, or worse one that may think that it can be sold for a profit.

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A way to get around the possible property dispute is to include your dog in the property left by your will. Doing this ensures that there is a record of your wishes as to who is to take care of your dog at your passing. In the case of incapacity, a living will can include the same provisions and direct who is to take care of your dog. In the case of a will, there still exists the problem that just because you leave your dog with someone doesn’t ensure that they will continue to have the funds to take care of the dog for the life of the pet. Property from a will is distributed all at once, and what’s more is that it can take a long time, a year or more, before the probate process is completed.

The most complete way to make sure that your pet is taken care of is to establish a pet trust. Traditionally pet trusts used to fail because the pet was set up as the beneficiary. Courts would not enforce the trust because the beneficiary, the pet, could not sue the trustee in case that the trust was not being administered in the way that it is meant to be. However now all states in the US recognize pet trusts. Now, instead of making your pet the beneficiary, the creator of the trust designates the new keeper of the pet as the beneficiary of the trust. The next step is to make sure that you have a trust instrument drafted that details all of the care that your pet will need, and provides for other care and maintenance as the pet may require. The trust instrument can even instruct which vet the pet is to be taken to for the rest of its life.

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Now in addition to naming the caretaker of the pet, i.e. the beneficiary of the trust, you will also have to name someone to administer the trust, this is the trustee. The trustee is charged with making sure that the letter and spirit of the trust instrument is followed, and that the beneficiary is taking care of your pet the way that you would want. The trustee disburses funds for the upkeep of the pet as they become due. This can be a personal friend, associate, or you can use a trust company to administer the trust. The last thing that you need to do is fund the trust. This can be done by depositing the money to fund the trust in an account with a bank or trust company just for this purpose, you can direct that funds be taken out of another account in your will at probate to fund the trust, or you can even name the trust as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

One last thing to consider is what you want done with the balance of the trust fund at the time when your pet passes on. You can designate that the balance go anywhere, so you can leave it for the caretaker of the trust as a “thank you” for caring for your pet after you are no longer able to, or you can pass it to another person just like a gift under your will, or you can designate that it pass along to a charity of your choice.

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   In addition to everything Rich just proposed, there is something I would like to add: sit down and write out all of your dogs routines, favorite treats, allergies, quirks, and anything else that can’t be solved with just having money set aside.  I actually stumbled across a book that you could buy and fill in with every single detail imaginable about your pet so that if you did pass away untimely, the book could be given to the designated caregiver.  For the life of me I can’t remember the name of it or find it now but I will keep searching and share it if I do.  But think about it: no one knows your pet like you do and if you were to pass away he will already be a mess so the least you can do is make sure the future caregiver has all the tools necessary to make the transition as smooth as possible.  I know this was a rather long and morose post today, but I think it is so important, and not something to be ignored because it is unpleasant.  Now, go kiss your pet put a smile back on your face!

{Legal Issue} Ownership Rights of a Stray Dog

Boy, it’s been a long time since we did a “Legal” post, hasn’t it?  Whoops!  My BBF (Best Blogging Friend) from And Foster Makes Five posed a great question:  What if the previous owner of a dog tries to reclaim it after you have adopted it?  Yikes!  Now there’s a scary thought.

AFM5 is a fellow “foster failure” (more like winner!) and I know the question stems from the fact that her super duper incredibly adorable pittie, Georgia, was once a stray, just like my Moo.  How terrifying to think of the blood, sweat, tears, and most of all, love we have put into our dogs, just to have their previous piece of shit owners reclaim them later?  Thankfully, I think this is something that will never happen to either of us but for some it could be a very real possibility.  Here’s Rich to give us the 411:

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Traditionally, the policy goal that drives the law in regard to lost property is to reunite the original owner, who holds legal title to the property, with the property itself. However, this is one area where the law does not strictly adhere to the precept that animals are strictly property, and have no additional rights or personal attachment than a bicycle. This is not to say that the motives behind treating pets differently in this area are benevolent, it’s probably the case that many of the differences were motivated by cutting off the original owner’s rights so that the state can dispose of strays in a shorter period of time and no longer be responsible for them.

The rights of an owner of a stray dog that is brought to a shelter generally terminate after a statutory period that is set by the either the state or local government. For those of you that have volunteered at shelters, you know this as the mandatory waiting period. This period allows the original owner to come forward to claim their lost dog before the shelter disposes of the dog, either by adoption or otherwise. Generally, if you adopt a dog from an animal shelter, the original owner’s title terminates and the shelter is able to pass along a valid title of ownership of the pet, as long as it adheres to the mandatory waiting period. This is based upon the fact that the shelter is an obvious place for the owner to look for his lost dog, so there is a presumption that the dog is abandoned if it can stay in the shelter for a period of time unclaimed. Note: there is one case that I am aware of where the court held that the original owner’s rights do not terminate after the waiting period ended. The Alabama appeals court held that where the waiting period expires, but the dog has not been euthanized then the owner still has his ownership rights. However in this case the dog had not been adopted out and that may affect the outcome of a subsequent case in the state.

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It gets a little murkier when someone finds a lost dog, and instead of subjecting it to the cold floor of the shelter, instead takes the dog home and decides to make it a part of the family. If the original owner shows up and wants his dog back, then there can be a potential issue. If the owner of the dog brought an action for return of the dog, then a court would likely look at two things. First whether the original owner demonstrated an intent to abandon the dog, and second whether the person who found the dog has manifested an intent to take ownership.

As to the first question, it would matter how long the dog had been lost, and the circumstances of it straying. Here there may be actual statutes in the jurisdiction as to how long an item has to be missing before a presumption is raised that it is abandoned. The court would look to see what steps the original owner had taken in order to find the dog. One other thing of note, if the court found that the owner intended to abandon the dog, and then changed his mind, then it is likely that the abandonment will stick.

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As to the second issue, whether the finder wanted to take ownership of the dog, the court would look to see what steps the finder had taken to care and maintain the dog. The court would look at whether the finder had taken the dog to the vet, gotten the dog vaccinated and bought the dog personal items such as a collar and home items (bowl, toys, dogbed). One other relevant consideration is whether the finder has acted in good faith and hidden his possession of the dog.

Again, these are just generalities and may be different due to differing statutes in other jurisdictions. As always, if you have an actual controversy you should consult an attorney that practices in your area and find out what your rights and responsibilities are.

IMG_3169So, it sounds like for the most part, we would be safe in the event a former owner ever tried to reclaim our beloved dog.  Phew!  I was in a rush this morning so I threw in some pictures from the honeymoon.  Hope the pretty beach helps brighten your Monday!

{Legal Issue} BSL Around the World

It’s been a hot minute since we did the last Legal Issue post so I figured it was time to get back to business!  This topic is one that likely hits home with at least a few of us: BSL.  A reader asked what International Laws look like and if BSL exists in other places.

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 You all remember the Lennox case, right?  In short, Lennox was removed from his home in Ireland after officials determined he was a “pit bull type dog”.  His family fought legal battles for two years, all while he was deteriorating in horrible conditions, along with support from people literally all across the world to save him–he had done nothing wrong.  You might remember seeing pictures of pit bull type dogs with the words “I Am Lennox” –this was done as a show of support.  Ultimately the family lost and Lennox was euthanized.  Up until this point, I can honestly say that I hadn’t really paid any attention to international BSL issues, but this case brought it jarringly to my attention.

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Obviously this is a huge topic that could literally fill books, so I asked Rich to kind of give us a condensed version of his research.  Without further ado, here are some “fun” facts about International Laws surrounding BSL:

You may think that our country’s unfair view on certain breeds is so far from the norm that it wouldn’t be duplicated in other countries. While this is a nice thought, the United States is far from being the only country that allows breed specific legislation to be passed by its constituent states. In fact some other countries have gone so far to enact federal BSL that touches every border of the country, and it’s not just pit bulls that are affected by these laws.

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For example, the United Kingdom has a law that prohibits four types of dogs entirely from the country. These are the Pit Bull, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Fila Brasiliero breeds. The good news is that the area of Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom, is not affected by this ban. But the bad news is that Northern Ireland has enacted its own ban that includes these dogs (this is where the Lennox situation occurred). In addition to outright banning these breeds the UK law encourages voluntary microchipping of dogs and imposes severe penalties on owners of dogs that attack people (including prison time up to two years).

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Australia is another country that has a ban on these breeds. Additionally they also include the Perro de Presa Canario. For those that don’t know about these breeds that are banned, for the most part they look like Pit Bulls and Mastiffs, large dogs with defined muscles. Although the Tosa does not look like either type, it is apparently nicknamed the Japanese Fighting Dog. In Australia the importation of these breeds is banned, and any dog that was “grandfathered” in by being there prior to enactment of the ban, is required to be neutered, thus Australia is attempting to let the breed die out (completely die out!) in the country.

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Finally, a little closer to home the island nation of Puerto Rico has enacted a similar ban on these types of dogs (although it doesn’t appear that Tosas are included), banning the importation, sale, and breeding of these dogs. When this law was enacted it gave owners eight months to register the dogs that they already owned to “grandfather” them in. Additionally it looks like the legislators there saw the trouble that Miami-Dade had in court defending their ban on “pit bulls” as being too vague, and the Puerto Rican law defines Pit Bulls to include specific breeds, and cross breeds between them and other breeds. Also it gives a physical description of what the banned dogs look like.

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Unfortunately this is just a sampling of the breed specific legislation throughout the world, and there’s no end in sight. Venezuela has passed a law that will outlaw American Staffordshire Terrier and American Pit Bulls in 2014. This law was passed in 2010 and the delay in going into effect is probably due to the fact that it is an outright ban and there will be no “grandfathering” in.

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Rather depressing, isn’t it?  So what can we do?  First and foremost we can use our own dogs to show what great family members these “pit bulls” and other breeds really are; we can walk the walk.  We can also take the time to sign petitions against bans; we can ask our friends to sign these petitions as well.  We can write letters to legislators and intelligently and politely make a case for our family members.  We can get involved! 

The photos from this post are from the Pittie Party.  It was a wonderful event and if you are in the Tallahassee area and looking for helping throwing a charitable event you should seriously consider checking out my friends at Hire Wire Charitable Even Planning.  They rock; more pictures to come!  And a couple of the dogs featured in this post are available for adoption, so if you are in the market and one catches your eye, please get in touch with me!