When is pet rescue really theft?

Clifton Benjamin is suing a New York animal shelter for stealing his dog and giving it to another person. Benjamin seeks a million dollars in damages, according to most news sources.


What happened?


It appears that Benjamin lost his dog in the Fall of last year and the shelter held the Belgian Malinois, named Eto, for about three weeks. According to his lawsuit, Benjamin made several attempts to repossess Eto and provided photos of himself with the dog.


On their part, the Town of Islip says that Benjamin did not provide paperwork that proved he was the dog owner, the microchip number he provided did not match the one on Eto’s chip, and that there were multiple people claiming ownership of the dog, who is the same breed that brought down a known ISIS leader.


The language used by Benjamin’s team is troubling. His lawyer refers to Eto as “chattel,” a term that was used for wives back in the middle ages when both dogs and women were the legal property of men, not their loving companions. Benjamin also founds it outrageous that the shelter neutered Eto, making it impossible to breed him and sell expensive puppies.


Bad news coverage


There are many holes in the news coverage of this story. Did Benjamin not provide veterinary records or a rabies certificate? Did the shelter advertise the lost dog in the newspaper? The shelter claims that Benjamin had already transferred ownership of Eto to a third party. We need to know more about that.


Many animal lovers have rescued and adopted dogs and cats, so it behooves us to consider when a dog has been forfeited and when a dog has been stolen.


A dog has been stolen if …


  • He has been removed from the owner’s private property without the owner’s consent.
  • The owner has presented proof of ownership, such as rabies vaccination documents or a receipt of purchase or adoption, and the dog has not been returned to the owner.
  • The owner has a microchip certificate that matches the animal’s chip, and the dog has not been returned to the owner.
  • If the shelter holding the dog has not made a reasonable effort to locate the dog’s owner. In most cases, the shelter must, at minimum, publish a notice in the local newspaper stating that a dog has been found and describing the dog.
  • If multiple people claim ownership of the dog, the shelter must make a reasonable effort to determine which claim has the most convincing evidence. Unless the animal has been abused, the shelter should give benefit of the doubt to someone who can document ownership.


A dog has been forfeited and may be given in adoption to another owner if …


  • The dog shows signs of abuse or abandonment, especially poor nutrition, parasites, damaged paws, scars, or injuries.Someone claims to own the dog, but cannot show a record of veterinary care, minimally vaccinations or proof of purchase or adoption.
  • No one claims the dog within a week of the dog’s first day in the shelter. 



Pictured above is a Belgian Malinois who was trained to serve in the U.S. Air Force 673rd Security Forces Squadron. Photo courtesy of Justin Connaher.

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