Can you keep a pet you take care of if the owner won’t pay for food or vet bills?

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Can you keep a pet you take care of if the owner won’t pay for food or vet bills?

My friend A is house sitting for our friend D’s mom, C, with D there as well. C has a cat that she left there for D to take care of, but A ends up doing all the work. Besides buying cat food and litter, she has to feed her, water her, and clean the litter box. Now the cat is pregnant and may need a c-section. A is going to have to pay the bill. Legally, can A keep the cat when she moves out? (will be soon because A and D aren’t getting along).

Asked on January 25, 2011 under Criminal Law, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

No, no, no...sorry to be emphatic, but if A takes the cat, she will have committed theft. The cat is another's property and A has no right to it.

Unless there was some agreement that A will care for the cat--e.g. food, litter, medical care--A is under no legal obligation to do so, and if she choose to spend money and time on the cat, that is essentially a gift to the cat's owner; doing so does not give her any right to the cat. So, for example, A does not have to pay for a C-section, and if she does, that's her voluntary choice to spend the money on someone else' behalf. A could let either C or D pay for the medical care, or let the cat suffer the consequences; she may not want to do that, but again, that's her choice and does not give her any rights.

If there was an agreement to provide cat care, A may sue for any money owed her under it (e.g. for reimbursement or as wages), but that still doesn't give her the cat.


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