Imagine having to take your pet into the veterinarian's office for an emergency, which is scary itself, but then realizing you really don't have the money to pay for it. Any pet parent would rush their animal right in, regardless of being able to pay, right? But could it cost you your pet? Regardless of how great we believe our needs are, we live in a capitalistic society, so bills need to be paid.

Is it possible for your vet to hold your fur baby until you pay your bill?

Photo by Karlo Tottoc on Unsplash
Photo by Karlo Tottoc on Unsplash

Pet parents consider their animals a part of their family, but unfortunately, they do not have the same exact rights as humans. Although New York State does have laws in place to protect animals, unlike some less-evolved states, they are still considered property in many cases.

According to the law in New York State, a vet can keep your pet

According to the New York State Veterinary Medical Society Board Counsel Barbara Ahern, Esq., the answer is YES:

A veterinarian who has rendered veterinary services to an animal, and has not been paid, can use provisions established in the Lien Law to establish a lien on the animal and then to sell the animal for payment of the debt owed.

The exact statute is a bit longer, but here's what New York Lien Law Sec. 183 says a vet has a legal right to a do in New York State, if you don't pay your bill,

Photo by Artem Makarov on Unsplash
Photo by Artem Makarov on Unsplash

Any veterinarian, duly licensed to practice under the laws of this state, who in connection with such practice renders professional services in the treatment of any dog, cat, or other domestic animal or boards any such animal in his premises, or a person keeping a livery stable, or boarding stable for animals, or pasturing or boarding one or more animals, or who in connection therewith keeps or stores any wagon, truck, cart, carriage, vehicle or harness, has a lien dependent upon the possession upon each dog, cat or other animal kept, pastured or boarded by him, and upon any wagon, truck, cart, carriage, vehicle or harness, of any kind or description, stored or kept provided an express or implied agreement is made with the owners thereof, whether such owner be a mortgagor remaining in possession or otherwise, for the sum due him for the professional service rendered, care, keeping, boarding or pasturing of the animal, or for the keeping or storing of any wagon, truck, cart, carriage, vehicle and harness, under the agreement, and may detain the dog, cat or other animal or wagon, truck, cart, carriage, vehicle and harness accordingly, until such sum is paid.

The law not only applies to vets, it also includes boarding kennels or daycares. According to The Association of the Bar of the City of New York Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals,

Under New York law, a veterinarian/boarding kennel has what is known as a possessory lien upon an animal for the cost of care. Thus, the veterinarian/boarding kennel may refuse to return an animal in its possession until the bill for care and treatment is paid.

If, after a certain period of time, you have still not paid the bill and the vet or kennel is in possession of your animal, they can place your animal under the care of the Center for Animal Care and Control, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or another humane society.

The bottom line is that your pet can be legally held by a vet until you pay the bill!

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