Prevent Lost Pets

How The Law Handles Lost Dogs and Cats

How The Law Handles Lost Dogs and Cats

No one ever believes their pet will go missing — but it happens. What occurs next can make the difference between hope and heartbreak.

Although pet parents consider their dog or cat a treasured member of the family, the law sees it differently: In most jurisdictions, animals are considered property and treated as such.

Knowing the rules governing pets in your state can help you to follow the best course of action to take if yours goes missing and is picked up by authorities. Obviously, a pet who has been microchipped and wears a collar tag stands the best chance of being identified and returned to its owner.

Although laws and regulations vary from state to state, even county to county, these are among the most common:

  1. Seizure: In most states, a loose dog or cat found without identification tags is considered abandoned property. He or she may be legally seized and impounded by local animal authorities and becomes property of the state.
  2. Other Reasons: Dogs may also be impounded in some states if considered an immediate threat to public safety or if harassing livestock or wildlife.
  3. Holding Times: When a dog is seized and brought to animal control, they may only have to hold him for a few days to be retrieved by his owner before euthanizing him. Fortunately, many rescue groups and no-kill shelters scan state-run shelters for adoptable dogs and try to save as many dogs and cats as they can.
  4. Contacting Owner: If your dog is wearing identification when found, the way the a state-run shelter will contact you varies. Often, you will receive a registered letter stating that you should pick up your dog within a specified time or he will be sold or destroyed. Not all states are required to notify owners and can destroy the animal without notification in under three days.
  5. Waiting Time: Depending on the state, animal authorities can impound an unlicensed dog for 48 hours or longer before allowing the owner to retrieve him.
  6. Fines: In some shelters, fines for reclaiming un-neutered/un-spayed dogs are higher than for fixed animals. And laws in some states allow an owner to reclaim an impounded animal for free if it has a microchip.
  7. Exceptions: Some states acknowledge that a loose dog might be a hunting dog that has wandered off from his pack and will give this dog special consideration.
  8. Uncontrollable Dogs: If your dog gets loose and animal control officers cannot seize him, some states give the officers the authority to destroy the animal on the spot. Officers in some places can be fined if they don’t comply with this law.
  9. Owner Liability: If a loose dog chases a person, the dog may be impounded and the owner may find himself the defendant in a lawsuit in some states.
  10. Finder Responsibility: When a private individual finds your lost pet, under the law in some states the finder must care for the pet humanely and try to find the pet’s owner within 48 hours.
  11. Abused Animals: If you witness an incident of animal abuse or neglect, notify the police. Individuals who maliciously harm or steal a pet face legal action.
  12. Stolen Pets: Under the law in several states, it is a felony to steal a pet or knowingly buy a stolen pet. If a police officer is reluctant to take down a complaint for the theft of a pet, remind him or her that pets are property under the law and that pet thieves are subject to the same penalties as other criminals who rob.

Knowing the laws in your state regarding the loss, theft and seizure of animals arms you with information you may need in order to protect and reclaim your pet.