Foreclosing on Liens Involving Animals

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The OVMA office receives calls about the abandonment of animals, and many others regarding animals that have been brought to a veterinary clinic for services, but, subsequently, payment is not rendered and the owner does not pick up the animal and/or cannot be contacted.

Before choosing how to proceed, please read the important differences between animal abandonment and a possessory chattel lien to determine which course of action is appropriate.

Animal abandonment

A person who relinquishes his or her responsibility for an animal, including horses, without providing for continued care of that animal, commits a Class B misdemeanor in Oregon.

Example

A technician found a client’s pet when she arrived for work at the clinic. The animal had been left in a container outside the clinic in the early morning. The technician asked if they could find the pet a new home.

Under Oregon law, the owner of the pet abandoned the animal. The owner left it at the clinic without discussing the issue with the veterinarian and without ensuring that the animal would be taken care of.

It is no defense for the owner that he or she abandoned the animal at the practice or if she had left the pet outside a humane shelter. The bottom line is that owners of animals, including equines, are required by law to make reasonable arrangements for the continued care of the animal.

We recommend that when your practice comes across a true case of abandonment that you contact your local animal control agency or humane shelter and place the animal with them. You could also contact law enforcement to report the abandonment.

Possessory chattel lien

In all 50 states, animals are classifed as property. When an animal is brought to a veterinary practice and services are agreed upon between the owner and the veterinarian, a lien is attached.

Example

A client left an animal with a clinic for boarding services. After the agreed-upon boarding period had ended, the client did not return to pick up his animal, nor to pay for services. The clinic attempted to contact the owner, but was unsuccessful.

According to Oregon law, you may retain an animal until you have received payment for the service or when an owner doesn’t want to pay the bill or doesn’t return to pick up the animal.

In either case, you can foreclose on the lien. After following the necessary steps (see below) to foreclose on the lien, you obtain ownership of the animal and can legally rehome it.

Foreclosing on a lien involving a domestic animal

Changes in law created by House Bill 3111-A (Unretrieved Animal Law), sponsored by the OVMA, have taken effect and are included in the steps listed below. You now have two options:

Option 1

This option allows the practice to send the client to collections or retain the right to try to recover the unpaid fees through the court system. The required steps for foreclosure on a possessory chattel lien are:

  1. The practice must retain the domestic animal for a minimum of 5 days before starting the foreclosure process. (This is shortened from 15 days under the old law.)
  2. The practice must notify the client of the foreclosure sale by a registered or certified mail to the owner’s last known address.
  3. The practice must give notice of the foreclosure sale by posting notice of it in a public place at or near the front door of the county courthouse.
  4. The notice must include a description of the animal, the name of the owner (or reputed owner), the amount due on the lien, the time and place of the sale, and the name of the person foreclosing on the lien -- in this case, the name of the practice.
  5. Once the owner has been notified by certified letter, the practice must retain the animal for another 30 days before it completes the foreclosure process. This means keeping the animal up to 35 days before it can be rehomed.

Option 2

This option may better for the patient and more reasonable for the clinic. If you choose this option, you waive your right to seek collection of any unpaid fees from the owner through the courts.

  1. The practice sends a certified letter to the owner, notifying them that the animal will be removed from the premises (the practice) if the owner does not retrieve the animal within four days after receipt of the letter.
  2. The practice would not have to meet the posting requirements detailed in Option 1. However, according to Legislative Counsel, you also could not seek recovery on any unpaid fees through the courts.
  3. After the fourth day after the owner has signed the certified letter receipt or refused to accept the letter, the practice may:
  • Place the animal with a rescue group or animal shelter.
  • Adopt out the animal.
  • Or, as a last resort, humanely euthanize the animal.

This timeline is equivalent to procedures followed by animal control agencies and humane shelters that serve stray animals.

Published: December 15, 2009;    Updated: January 3, 2012

Filed Under: Practice Management, Animal Welfare, Regulatory, Practice Ownership

Author: Oregon Veterinary Medical Association

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