When can you claim a stray as your own?
I'll attempt to address this legally, then morally. Then I'll share a few stories
Before we get started, good Samaritans (GS) should be reminded that whenever they see a loose pet, they should always assume lost, not abandoned or abused.
To be sure about the legal ramifications of keeping a found pet, good Samaritans should check the local and state ordinances, and consult with a lawyer. It might also be a good idea to place an inquiry at the local municipal shelter. But citizens should be aware that not all employees at the shelter will know the right answer.
Citizens can usually use an internet search engine to find their local ordinances or they can contact their local animal care and control facility
San Antonio's (SA) ordinances are located here. All the animal related codes are in Part II; Chapter 5. I have read through Chapter 5 several times, and I cannot find anything definitive about when a good Samaritan can keep a stray.
A few years ago, SA City ordinances used to tell us that if a Good Samaritan cares for a pet for 72 hours, that pet is considered his/hers. The wording has been changed (to allow for foster care) and the limit has increased to 30 days. Note that some city employees will still cite the old ordinance.
Summaries of Los Angeles County Codes located here
If one were to examine the laws carefully, one might find that the spirit and intent of the law is often different than the wording of the law. In some places the spirit of this law is not to establish ownership for the purpose taking a pet away from a previous owner; but is often a way to establish blame if something happens because of the pet
Good Samaritan starts feeding a stray and the stray takes up residence at the GS's house. Thirty-one days later, the stray bites a jogger running by the Good Samaritan's house. The Good Samaritan can be held liable for that dog bite.
Let's say that the good Samaritan takes in a stray and keeps the stray in her basement for 30 days. Never gets the animal scanned for a chip, never checks lost ads, ignores lost flyers in the neighborhood, etc..
Just because 30 days has passed, does that mean that the Good Samaritan can claim the pet? I would not think so.
Legally and Morally
If a Good Samartian (GS) falls in love with a stay, the GS should do everything possible to look for the previous owners and keep records of everything done. If a previous owner does show up, the GS can demonstrate his/her due diligence if the matter winds up in the legal system.
After an exhaustive search, the GS should also make sure the pet is checked out by a vet, get the pet registered with the city, and follow all other legal guidelines in the legal codes.
Think about it. If you lost a pet, wouldn't you want the finders to find you?
So what is due diligence when finding a stray?
Post visible flyers in the neighborhood where found and/or drive the neighborhood looking for flyers
Post flyers at nearby vet clinics and shelters and/or look for flyers at nearby vet clinics and shelters
Post flyers or look for flyers at the city shelter. Also ask the city shelter about registering a found dog with them.
Realize that dogs can travel far or they can be picked up then put back out. So You will also need a way to find owners who might be far away. Which means posting to internet sites, posting to local papers, checking nearby city shelters, etc..
Keep evidence of everything you did. Take pictures of the flyers you posted or take pictures of street corners demonstrating there were no flyers posted by previous owners. Keep newspaper clippings.
I'm terrible at organizing paperwork, so I kept a website detailing what I did for Puddin: http://adoptpuddin.webs.com/
More details here and here and here
How long before I can consider the lost pet as mine?
So you've posted the pet everywhere and you haven't heard anything for a week? Two weeks? When can you claim the pet as your own? That is a hard question to answer. I'll provide some real life examples in my next post on this subject. I waited a month before giving up on finding the owners of the last stray that I picked up.
When considering this question, Good Samaritans should be aware that the owners might be away from home and trusting a family member to take of a pet.
How long before I can provide medical care? Sterilize?
Another tough question. I don't know the answer. But I'd look at what my local city shelter considers unclaimed. In San Antonio, a stray can be held for 3 days before he/she is put down or adopted. So a Good Samaritan might be safe in providing medical care after 3 days, but I'd check with a couple of lawyers to be sure. Personally I didn't waste any time getting a stray animal fixed
Stay tuned for some stray stories
Also see: You've Found A Stay What Next?
San Antonio, TX
"Temporary owner shall mean an individual who finds a stray animal, has the animal for fewer than thirty (30) days and attempts to find the true owner of the animal. When the owner cannot be found, a temporary owner then will find a new home for the animal."
Under licensing requirements
"It is a defense to prosecution under this section that:
The dog or cat owner is a nonresident of this city and is keeping the subject pet in the city for fewer than sixty (60) days;
The dog or cat owner has been a resident of this city for fewer than thirty (30) days; or
The dog or cat had been abandoned or lost and the temporary owner has had the dog or cat for fewer than thirty (30) days."
Live Oak, TX
"It shall be the duty of every person toreport to Animal Control the presence anddescription of straying or lost animals, which appear at or take up at a person’s premise. Said report shall be made within twenty-four (24) hours after discovery of their presence"
Los Angeles, California
"Any person taking up any stray domestic animal found running at large must notify the Department within four hours that they have the animal in their possession, provide a description of the animal, provide the location where the animal is being kept, and surrender the animal to the Department on demand. (Los Angeles County Code Sec. 10.36.020 and 10.36.040)"
One more note on legal issues.
If good Samaritans want to be absolutely sure about claiming a pet as their own, They might consider turning in the stray to animal control, leaving the stray there for the required hold period, then going back and adopting the stray.
Good Samaritans will have legal paper work showing the dog belongs to them.
The pet could be a adopted by someone else when the stray hold period is over
The GS might be turned down for adoption for some reason
The pet might be accidentally killed before the hold period is up
The pet might catch a disease at the facility
Many shelters are stressful places, and stay at the shelter could cause behavioral issues
There are many other disadvantages to this method