Written by attorney Lisa Ann Laurene Lerch

Abandoned Animals and Responsibilities

My boarder left his horse on my property and has not paid his bill. What are my responsibilities to the animal and how can I get it off my property? This is a great question. Once you accept an animal into your facility, you become responsible for the care and well-being of the animal regardless of whether your board bill is paid. California CC ?1834 establishes that a boarding facility, (large or small, professional or hobby) has a legal duty to provide the animal with necessary and prompt veterinary care, nutrition and shelter and treat them kindly. Any boarding facility failing to do these things may be liable for civil damages. Unfortunately, this means it costs the boarding facility money if the horse owner fails to uphold his/her end of the agreement. A boarding facility has a few options to help reduce the financial strain. The first and easiest way to handle the problem is to have the horse owner waive their ownership rights and release the horse to the facility. Always do this in writing to avoid further issues down the road. Once the facility owner actually owns the horse he/she can either sell it or find it a new owner (hopefully one that will pay for it). If this option is not feasible, for example, due to the owner's failure to be reached, then the boarding facility can seek to enforce its livestock lien. As this is a possessory lien the facility must continue to "hold" and care for the animal until such time as a court order can be obtained to sell the animal. The process for this is more thoroughly discussed in my previous article "My boarder left the horse and a huge bill!!!! How do I get paid?". If the horse is of little value, the lien option may be unappealing as the expense in maintaining the horse and costs involved are often greater than the money realized from selling the horse. If the horse has little monetary value, the boarding facility may finally choose to relinquish their lien rights and deem the horse abandoned. This will not get the board bill paid, but sometimes getting the horse off the property is the most cost effective solution. In order to comply with California's abandonment law, the boarding facility must first post California CC ?1834.5 in a conspicuous place warning each border of the provisions of this code section. California CC ?1834.5 states in pertinent part that if the owner of an animal does not pick the animal up within fourteen (14) calendar days after the day the animal was due to be picked up the animal shall be deemed abandoned. To protect itself from further legal problems, the boarding facility should send written notice by certified letter to horse owner at his/her last known address demanding the horse be removed from the property by a clearly stated date. The notice should further advise that failure to remove the horse will result in the horse being deemed abandoned and euthanized. The owner then has fourteen (14) calendar days to reclaim his/her horse. If, within these fourteen (14) days, the horse owner cannot be reached and/or does not respond, the horse is then deemed abandoned. Once the horse can legally be determined abandoned, the boarding facility must try for a period of at least ten (10) days to find a new owner for the animal. If the animal cannot be placed with a new owner during this time period, the boarding facility may have the horse humanely destroyed. Prior to proceeding under the abandonment statute, boarding facilities should also notify their local animal control to ensure they are in compliance with all local ordinances. Remember, animal abandonment can also result in criminal charges against the horse owner and the local animal control would help make those determinations. As a form of notice, boarding facilities may opt to include a provision in the boarding agreement reciting California CC ?1834.5 and have the boarder initial by the paragraph. This done in connection with the posting on the premises ensures the boarding facility has adequately notified horse owners of this potential outcome animal abandonment.

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