Can I Lose My Pet if I File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

Many of us own pets.  Cats, dogs, birds, snakes.  Some of us own even more exotic pets.  Although many of us associate a pet as one of the family, laws in most places around the country do not reflect the value we place on pets.  (I am speaking as an owner of a dog.)  Pets are largely and widely still treated as items of personal property, no different from your clothing, a car or a watch.  So the question is: Can I Lose My Pet if I File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

Do Any Bankruptcy Laws Mention Pets?   

       The laws that govern bankruptcy here in New York address the issue.  Under state law, a person who files for bankruptcy may exempt “domestic animals with the necessary food for those animals for one hundred twenty days, provided that the total value of such animals and food does not exceed one thousand one hundred fifty dollars.”  Under federal law, no specific exemption is provided for animals.  Rather, animals may be exempted if the debtor can fit it in: “[t]he debtor’s interest, not to exceed $550 in value in any particular item or $11,525 in aggregate value, in household furnishings, household goods, wearing apparel, appliances, books, ANIMALS . . .”, under 11 USC Sec. 522(d)(3) or (d)(5).

If I File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, What Would Happen to My Pet?

            What does this mean for someone filing for bankruptcy?  It means that a trustee may inquire as to any pets owned and, if so, what kind of pets.  Under the New York law, if a pet is more exotic and can command some money on the market (such as over $1,150.00), if not properly exempted, a trustee can request turnover of the pet and sell that animal.  (For instance, I own a pitbull.  The market value for a neutered pitbull is likely zero.  If, however, I owned a Pomeranian or an English Bulldog, which often cost over one thousand dollars to purchase, a trustee may want to take the dog and sell it.)  In the alternative, in bankruptcy, if you have property that cannot be fully exempted, you can negotiate with the trustee to pay the non-exempt equity in lieu of turning the property over.  In this case, if you owned a bird that you could not exempt that was worth $5,000.00, instead of turning the bird over to the trustee, you could negotiate with the trustee to pay the $5,000.00 (or some agreed to amount) instead of turning the bird over to the trustee to be sold.  As you might be able to tell, things can get much more complicated for people who own other kinds of animals, such as horses, which often serve both as pets and for commercial gain.


            Until the laws catch up with the values we place on our pets, they remain personal property.  In a bankruptcy case, be sure to disclose that you own a pet because if the pet is one that can be sold for a profit (and not appropriately exempted), a trustee may seek turnover of the pet to sell.  To speak with a lawyer, contact the Law Office of Richard Kistnen, (718) 738-2324, or email [email protected] .

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