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Can I keep a dog I found?

Q:

4 days ago my wife found a dog running by the woods next to her mother's home. The dog had no collar or tag. The next day the alleged owner of the dog contacted my wife's mother saying that they know we have the dog and has called the local dog warden. My concern in returning the dog is that I am not sure if this is the actual owner and that the dog has obviously been abused. What are my options in keeping the animal?

A:

If an animal is not at a shelter, the law is not that clear regarding when an ‘owner’ might lose rights. Redemption laws exist throughout the country which basically state that dogs (sometimes cats too) at a shelter must be held for a specific amount of time before the shelter can adopt out or euthanize the animal. The purpose of these laws is to give ‘owners’ of lost animals the opportunity to reclaim their pets.

If a finder of an animal makes reasonable and timely efforts to find the ‘owner’ of the animal and cares for the animal for an extended period of time, some courts have extinguished the rights of the original ‘owner.’ However, the Katrina cases have shown that courts are not likely to extinguish ‘ownership’ rights of original ‘owners’ all that readily if the original ‘owner’ wants the animal returned and made concerted efforts to find the animal. In some states, it is larceny to keep an animal that one does not ‘own’ without contacting animal control or law enforcement authorities within a specified amount of time. Even without a specific law, it would be wise for finders to make a found animal report with local authorities. Doing so gives the animal the opportunity to be reunited with his/her family, could further the rights of the finder if the original ‘owner’ makes a claim much later, and may be helpful to avoid pet theft charges.

In pet custody cases, a few courts have considered evidence about animal abuse but it is important to remember that sometimes animals who are lost are in poor condition because they have been wandering the streets for days or longer or have health issues that have not been addressed since the animal was lost. If one is concerned that an animal has been abused, one should contact local law enforcement authorities, including societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals that have the authority to enforce animal cruelty laws.

One can require reasonable proof of ownership before returning an animal. Animal shelters require proof as well to make sure that the animal is being returned to his/her rightful ‘owner.’ This can include such things as veterinary records and photos. Also, since microchips cannot be seen without a scan, I suggest that found animals be scanned to see if the animal is microchipped. Shelters and veterinarians often have scanners. Worth noting too is that sometimes people are willing to sell or give away an animal to a finder who wants to keep the animal.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

 

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