Service Dog Adopted Out of Animal Care Without Notice to Owner:

This was originally posted on the SGR Blog.

Would Court Intervene/Assist Recovery on Emergency Basis?

Denise McCurrie suffered from anxiety and depression and lived on disability payments. On April 16, 2021, she experienced a medical emergency at her residence, requiring the services of an ambulance. Two Emergency Medical Technicians and two police officers arrived at her home. McCurrie was transferred by ambulance to a hospital, and the police officers took her dog Roscoe to the New York City Animal Care Center. She alleged that she made the police officers aware that Roscoe was an emotional support animal.

A few days later, McCurrie contacted the police and inquired as to Roscoe’s whereabouts. She was informed that Roscoe was given to ACC, which she contacted to inquire about her dog. She was informed by ACC that Roscoe was given to a shelter, but ACC would not provide the name of the shelter to her.  Subsequently, an individual applied for and adopted Roscoe from the shelter. McCurrie diligently sought to recover Roscoe, and brought suit upon obtaining counsel.

McCurrie made an application to the Court by order to show cause for emergency relief to obtain the name of the shelter in order to substitute the name of the proper party as a defendant, as well as to attempt to obtain the ultimate relief of finding Roscoe. She argued that ACC violated Agriculture and Markets Law Section 117 by failing to hold Roscoe for the prescribed amount of time for either an identified or an unidentified dog, prior to placing him with a third-party animal rescue which ultimately offered him for adoption. And pointed out that ACC’s records showed that ACC was on notice that Roscoe was an identified dog and knew the address of the dog’s owner. According to McCurrie, ACC made no effort to contact either her or the police prior to transferring Roscoe to the shelter.  And contended that, based on ACC’s violation of the AML, which resulted in serious emotional harm to her, a disabled person, ACC must turn over the name of the shelter.

ACC opposed the application,  arguing that McCurrie’s order to show cause did not present an emergency and that the order to show cause was duplicative of the complaint. The Court rejected those arguments. The order to show cause presented an emergency. McCurrie sought to recover information about her medically necessary emotional support animal. Although ACC asserted that Roscoe was in poor health at the time of McCurrie’s hospitalization, an allegation of poor health did not allow for an impermissible seizure without due process or negate the exigent nature of Roscoe’s return. Moreover, the order to show cause was not duplicative of the complaint, because it sought the specified information of the name of  the shelter, not the ultimate relief of the return of Roscoe. ACC acknowledged that it was no longer in possession of Roscoe and that Roscoe had been adopted.

ACC also argued that it held Roscoe for the mandatory amount of time pursuant to AML prior to adoption and that providing the information requested ran contrary to public policy. ACC’s Chief Executive, Officer Risa Weinstock, attested that, “it is ACC’s policy not to disclose the identity of individual adopters and partner rescue organizations in order to ensure and support the secure rescue of at-risk animals, promote the adoption of animals from rescue shelters, and to otherwise ensure that adoptive placements are not put in jeopardy.”

The  Court concluded that specific facts of this case mandated disclosure of the name of the shelter. And no statute or other authority dictated that such information should not or shall not be provided as a matter of permissible disclosure. In this case, an emotional support animal apparently was permanently removed from the possession of a disabled individual without any attempts on the part of ACC to learn the identity of the owner or notify her of her pet’s location.

Despite McCurrie’s many documented attempts, ACC also failed to provide information as to the process by which she could attempt to retrieve Roscoe. McCurrie made numerous attempts to retrieve Roscoe. And, as conceded by ACC, she attempted to locate Roscoe while she was still in the hospital.

The Court directed that McCurrie be provided the information requested as to the shelter where ACC sent Roscoe.

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