The information provided refers primarily to New York laws and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice. Do not rely or act upon any information below without seeking the advice of an attorney in your state regarding the facts of your specific situation.
Generally, it is legal in New York for an animal left for treatment, board, or care to be withheld pending payment, as long as the animal is being provided with necessary care (such care must be provided even if the bill has not been paid). However, there is a mechanism under NY law (Agriculture and Markets Law, sections 331 and 332) for animals left for boarding, treatment, or care at a veterinary hospital, boarding facility, or elsewhere, to be deemed abandoned. Once the animal is deemed abandoned, the facility or person with whom the animal was left can release the animal to a humane society, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, or pound. However, prior to doing so, the law requires that very specific notices to the animal’s “parent” be given. If the notices are given and the animal’s “parent” responds in the time period provided in the law (and letter), the animal may not be withheld from his/her “parent” even if the “parent” does not pay the bill. The kennel, veterinarian, or other person with whom the animal was left for care may still have a claim against the animal’s “parent” for the services rendered, but the animal cannot be held “hostage” pending payment.
People should also keep in mind that not everyone who is subject to the law is aware of the law or follows it. Therefore, it is very important for people to pick up their animals on time and to inquire about costs before leaving an animal in the care of another person or facility. Individuals should also review the boarding and/or treatment agreements that they sign.
The NYC Bar Association published an informative brochure on this topic: www2.nycbar.org/Publications/rex-home.htm