Q: We have been dog-sitting for more than 3 months for someone who moved out of state. Do we have ownership of it now?
The owners said they will get him back after 2 months but it is approaching the 4th month. We are paying all the medical bills, including all of the shots, parasite medicine, flea medicine, and physical check ups. They lied and said he was registered in the county if he goes missing and had all his shots, but our bill came up to $300 because he didn't receive anything. Furthermore, the owner said they don't take him to the vet because it is too expensive. In addition, the owners disclosed to their close friend that they are abusive toward the dog because they did not potty train him. Overall, my family spent approximately $700-800 paying for medical bills, food, training pads, and treats. A few days ago, he got lost (but is now found) and the owner's girlfriend wants him back, but she has never asked or checked up on him at all until we were publicly looking for him. We firmly believe if he goes back, he may face neglect and abuse in their home like how he did before.
A: No, you don't have ownership of it, and evidence of the owner's poor care of the dog doesn't make you an owner. If the dog has been abandoned, you should notify the owner in writing that you will either assume ownership of it, or surrender it to Animal Control if not picked up by a specified date.
You do have a lien on the dog for the value the veterinary expenses you have paid to date, plus the additional daily kenneling fees beyond the term that you originally agreed to keep the dog. I would argue that your lien, entitling you to possession until paid, arises from Civil Code section 3051, which provides:
"Every person who, while lawfully in possession of an article of personal property, renders any service to the owner thereof, by labor or skill, employed for the protection, improvement, safekeeping, or carriage thereof, has a special lien thereon, dependent on possession, for the compensation, if any, which is due to him from the owner for such service. . . . "
You should not have to surrender possession of the dog to the owner until the lien is paid in full.
If you don't want to give notice to the owner to pick it up because of the mistreatment issues, you should surrender it to Animal Control. You can then apply to Animal Control to adopt the dog through legal means.
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