If you find a lost dog, you are expected to do certain things by law before you have the right to claim the dog as yours to keep.
To satisfy state and local government laws that the animal is legally yours, you need to show:
- You have made every attempt to find the owner.
- A ‘holding period’ of between 3-10 with days has passed.
Only after this can you then claim the dog as yours.
Please note that the holding period is triggered by the dog being impounded by a local or state authority.
It varies depending on the state as to what the holding period is required. The majority of the states including Alabama, California, and Connecticut require 7 days holding period, but Hawaii only requires a mere 48 hours, while North Carolina has a holding period of 72 hours!
Some states such as Kentucky, Minnesota, New York, and Utah allow five days for holding a lost dog, and a few other states such as Ohio and Kansas and only require 3 holding days. It pays to ring your local authority and check what the law is for your state.
Many dogs are lost each year due to one reason or another and are often found by well-meaning strangers who are kind enough to take the dog in. It is very hard not to become emotionally attached to a dog that you have found.
- But do not assume just because you found them, that you can keep them. You must make a genuine attempt to find the original owner. Under state law, a dog is the personal property of the owner. The holding period is designed to give the owners a reasonable amount of time to find their lost pet.
- A dog may panic due to loud noise or be lured away chasing a bird or a rabbit and lose track of its owners. It can be heartbreaking for the owner when they cannot find their treasured dog. Do not assume the owner was a ‘bad’ owner which gives you the right to claim the animal.
In all fairness to the owner, and by law, you must make a genuine attempt to find the owner(s) of the dog.
5 Things to Do When you Find a Stray Dog.
If the dog is lucky enough to be wearing a collar and tags with the owner’s current information, it is as simple as ringing the owner, and the dog and owner can be reunited.
- But if there is no ID, then you are obligated to take them to your local shelter, even if you want to keep them. This is just so that you can ask the staff to scan the dog in case they have been microchipped. They will also note that the dog has been found for any would-be owners who are looking.
- Make sure you file a ‘Found Dog’ report at the shelter, which shows your intention to find the dog owner. (Remember you must try to find the owner; you cannot just keep the dog as they are considered ‘property’ of the owner). The shelter is often the first place missing dog owners check in case their dog has been handed in.
- Check the dog carefully for any injuries, flea infestations, or other parasite infections if you are going to take them home.
- If you have had to take the dog to the vet for treatment, ensure you keep all the receipts of these costs. This is because the owner will be required to reimburse you for these when or if they turn up.
- Be careful when taking the dog home as you do not know what sort of dog it is. They may not like cats, or perhaps they do not like young children. Control the access the dog has to the home and other family members until you get to know them.
The holding period is designed to allow all parties, both the owner and the finder of the lost dog, to sort out the ownership or any costs regarding care and return to the owner.
The holding period is triggered by the dog being impounded by a local or state authority. Some states mandate that the owner should be notified that their dog is at the pound or shelter awaiting collection.
The holding period does not kick in until a statutory notice has been delivered to the owner or their last known address.
Showing Your Intention to Find the Owner of the Dog.
Before you get too smitten with the dog, get busy and make some effort to find the owner.
You are only setting yourself (and your kids who are pleading to keep the dog) up for heartbreak if you do not do what is best and try to find the owner.
Imagine the frantic owner searching in vain for the pup! In all fairness, try to find the owner. If nothing comes of it, then after the holding period, you can keep the dog with a clear conscience.
So what can you do to find the owner?
- Take photos of the found dog and make a ‘found’ flyer that you can post around the area where you discovered the dog.
- Run a ‘found dog’ ad in your local area newspaper. Often the lost and found ads are free, so compose an advert to see whether the owner is a local.
- Get the dog checked by the shelter or a vet to see whether they have been microchipped.
- Social media is a great way to advertise a found dog in your area. Add a photo and give a brief description to catch the owner’s attention. People love to help and will ask all their friends if they have lost a dog.
- Put a found notice up in the local veterinary clinics.
- Check the radio for free timeslots about a lost pet. Some channels will do a once-a-day time slot for lost and found pets.
- Put a found notice on the public notice boards in the supermarket and other shopping centers.
Write down everything that you do and keep it as a record should the owner show up many months down the track.
Keeping a record of what you did to find the owner will show your clear intention to find the dog’s owner, should it be questioned later.
What Happens after the Holding Time Expires
If the dog is being held in the local shelter, and you have put your name down to adopt the dog, you will get a call and be informed that the dog can now be considered yours.
It can be a hard week while you wait to see whether you can adopt that dog you have fallen head over heels for.
You can visit the dog daily to get them familiar with you, and if all goes well for you, the day when the decision to rehome will soon arrive.
The shelter is obliged to reunite stray pets with their loved ones. So they will try to find the owner via the following:
- They will check lost ads or post a found advert in newspapers or online.
- Check the database to try and find a match for a lost pet.
- Engage in social media, posting photos and information.
After the holding period has passed and no one has come to claim the dog, it can be advertised for sale.
You then have the legal right to adopt the dog and take them home.
Owner Turns Up After Adoption – What Happens Next
It is rare, but the owner can turn up sometime after you have adopted the dog. This can be a complicated situation and requires serious consideration.
- Perhaps the owner did not post a missing advert.
- They may not have known about checking the shelters for found dogs.
- The animal shelter may not have held onto the dog long enough for the family to find them.
- Or maybe the shelter staff did not monitor the lost pets ads closely enough.
This can be a very emotional time.
It may help to discover how the dog became lost in the first place when you are considering ownership. Was it due to lack of care and neglect of the dog, or was it one of those freak accidents where the dog got a fright and took off?
If you adopted the dog through the shelter, and the staff adhered to local laws regarding hold times, you will have a legal claim to the dog.
- It can come down to a legal ownership challenge in a court of law. Technically after the holding time is over, and you have a contract with the shelter, you are now the owner.
- A well-touted case in point was Morgan v. Kropua, where the court decided in favor of the finder of the dog, as they had made all reasonable efforts to locate the original owner. The courts noted that the original owner was a year later in locating the dog, and the timeframe was long enough to justify ownership to the finder.
- To safeguard yourself when adopting a found dog, record all your efforts to find the owners, keep copies of your found notices that you posted around the neighborhood. Keep copies of all veterinary expenses and costs of food.
It will be your actions and the ability to prove them by keeping records of what you did, that will be your defense that you deserve the ownership of the found dog.
The Happy Ever After Scenario
We all love a happy ever after story.
Hearing that a lost dog was found, taken in, and given a second chance at having their forever home comes into this category.
A dog is a pack animal, they need to belong to a family – a group of people they can relate to as their pack members.
Sometimes a dog is lost via an innocent misadventure, but many times a lost dog has been taken out to the forests and heartlessly abandoned.
Imagine that dogs feeling of loss when their owner never returns, the heartbreak of being abandoned.
Then to be found by some kind person, whooffers you a new home – how cool would that be!
For a dog, it is their happy ever after – it is their second chance to belong,you will have one devoted dog on your hands and a best friend for life.
Writer: Jean Brewer