No matter how much we love our pets, there’s always the chance they will run into a legal situation. Attorney David Aylor took time to answer questions from our readers in this edition of Ask a Lawyer.
QUESTION: I had everything lined up for a trip to Croatia, including a pet sitter for my "special needs" cat. My sitter has always watched my cat and is usually reliable. My cat takes several medications and needs someone who has met her and knows how to give insulin shots. At the last minute, my sitter canceled, meaning I lost my entire vacation ($3500). Can I sue my cat sitter?
--Teri, Wadmalaw Island
DAVID AYLOR: Teri, I’m so sorry you missed your vacation. Hopefully you can reschedule it and still enjoy yourself. While I agree it was completely inexcusable for your cat sitter to drop out last minute I think it would be difficult to sue her for the value of the missed vacation. Potentially you could attempt to take her to small claims court based on the breach of the “contract” for her to cat sit and show that the damages incurred from the breach was the lost trip. However, a judge could determine that loss was not a direct result of the cat sitter’s failure to perform. For example, you may be questioned on not having a backup plan ready for a pet sitter.
QUESTION: A year ago, me and my wife were hiking and found a stray dog near Awendaw. Now the owner has somehow tracked us down and wants the dog back. Do we legally have to give him up?
--Mel, Mt. Pleasant
DAVID AYLOR: Mel, that’s a tough one. Potentially you could wind up in some expensive court proceedings if you and the original owner weren’t able to come to an agreement. Your argument would be that the owner abandoned the dog. The owner could try and defend themselves if the dog was only missing for a short period of time and escaped from his care in what would be considered normal actions taken by dogs and not due to neglect or abuse at the hands of the owner. I think if you were forced to give up the dog, he may have to pay you a reasonable fee for your expenses and time spent caring for the dog.
QUESTION: I recently bought a puppy at a pet store and it became very sick a week after I had her. The store said it was not a shelter dog, but from a breeder. Are they liable for treatment of my puppy or am I entitled to a refund and what will happen to the puppy if I take her back?
DAVID AYLOR: Heartsick, that’s so unfortunate that the puppy became ill soon after you bought her. Whether or not they will refund you for the puppy or at minimum pay for the medical expenses will depend on what type of agreement was in place with the store at time of purchase. Essentially if it was “as is,” then, unfortunately, I don’t see any potential recovery for you. However, if a guaranty or warranty was expressly communicated in writing or orally, then I believe you can recoup your loss. As to what will happens to the puppy if you do return it; I would hope they would treat the illness until she was back to full health. Hope this helps!