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

UPDATED: Jan 25, 2011

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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


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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