I Found a Lost Dog, Can I Keep It?

This is a general guide on keeping dogs that you find. Laws are different and more specific in each area. This is not a legal guide, but is a general reference, and covers most basic rules.


Perhaps you have found a dog, have taken pity on it, and welcomed it into your home. You soon bond with the pooch and decide to keep it. The problem is, somebody, somewhere, lost that dog, and might be looking for it.

You might think the dog is an abandoned stray, but perhaps it has been lost for months.

You might have seen somebody dump the dog out of their car, but how do you know this was the dogs owner, and not a neighbor tired of its barking?

In truth you do not know how the dog ended up running loose, and in most areas keeping a stray in these situations is considered theft. You have effectively taken something that does not belong to you, and you kept it.

Lost dog by ewen and donabel.

photo source

Most cities have laws that do not allow dogs to be loose, however, this is not a “Finders, Keepers” type of law. Generally you can take a stray into your care, but you must report finding it first.

To report finding a stray dog generally you contact your local animal shelter, pound, or SPCA. If you are not sure where you call in your area, a veterinarians office, or local by-law department will know. Some areas have more than one place to call.

You need to file a FOUND DOG report, and have them check it against any LOST DOG reports that they have at the time. They will want to know the gender of the dog, the breed (if you know, or a general description if you don’t), where you found it, if it had any collars or tags, and how to contact you. You might be able to have the dog roll over so you can examine inside its hind legs as this may be where a tattoo, or the dog may have one in its ear.

To go a step further you can take the dog to the shelter, or to a veterinarian during their regular hours, and have it scanned for a microchip, and better identification if you were unsure what breed it was. You can even leave the dog at the shelter if you don’t want to keep it.

If anything links the dog to the owner it hopefully can be returned to them. They might even offer you a reward.  

Some newspapers offer free FOUND PETS ads.  You may be able to put up posters in your area as well, or even walk the dog around to see if it heads for home.

If no owner is found when reporting the dog then you can hold the dog in your care for a period of time, but are still not considered the legal owner. Here is where laws get tricky. Depending on your area you need to allow a certain period of time for an owner to come forward. Perhaps they were on holiday and left the pet with a friend, or perhaps they suffered an emergency themselves, or simply did not know where to call. As such you may have to wait anywhere from 72 hours to 2 weeks, or more, before you are considered the legal owner of a stray dog, starting from the time you reported finding it.

If you have left the dog in the care of the shelter, they would require you to adopt it from them, and you would have to follow their adoption procedure.

Once the dog is considered yours, it is a good idea to provide it with proper, ideally permanent, identification. You should also take pictures of it (in case the dog goes missing). The dog should visit a veterinarian for a check up, vaccination, and deworming. You should also take proper measures to ensure the dog does not get loose, out of your yard, a good fence, or dog run is best for this, as tying dogs tends to make them aggressive.

*Remember:  In some areas keeping a dog without claiming it can be risky, if an owner reported it stolen, you may be charged with theft.  It is also unfair to the rightful owner who may be looking for it, and unfair to the dog, who may have health concerns or special feeding requirements.

Related Links

Guide for Dog Owners

Bringing Home a Puppy

The Advantages of Adopting a Pet

How to Find a Lost Pet

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User Comments
  1. lillyrose

    On May 5, 2010 at 8:41 am

    great article B. We used to have to take all found dogs to the police station but they don’t have kennels now and they all have to be taken to the RSPCA rescue where the owners have to pay a hefty sum to get them back. Needless to say a lot of owners don’t bother.

  2. Jenny Heart

    On May 5, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Much food for thought here Brenda. Great article!

  3. Sourav

    On May 5, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Good article… good one for awareness.

  4. ken bultman

    On May 5, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Great. Everybody knows that when you take in a lost dog all is right with the world with the small exceptiion of the animal. Dogs miss their owners as much or more than their owners miss them.

  5. Brenda Nelson

    On May 5, 2010 at 9:52 am

    in many areas owners of licensed dogs do not have to pay huge fines, especially if they pick their dog up in the first 24 hours. But they may have to pay something – indeed this is why its good to PHONE the shelter first before taking the dog to it, in case the owner has reported it missing – so you do not have to take the dog there directly.

  6. Belle Dob

    On May 5, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Excellent advice. Thanks for sharing.

  7. flame007

    On May 5, 2010 at 11:52 am

    very good article

  8. Joie Schmidt

    On May 5, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this important information.



    -Liane Schmidt.

  9. Vikram Chhabra

    On May 5, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Great article! I hfound a lost dog once. A small little apso. I chained it and was about to call the local police, but the owners came by and I returned it to them. great to know the laws about it now!!

  10. sloanie

    On May 5, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    When the kids were growing up we got a dog and a cat from the RSPCA .
    The house was never quite, but they were well loved pets.

  11. Authoress Terry E. Lyle

    On May 5, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Great insight, I’ve often wondered if the finders keepers loser weepers applied to lost animals.

  12. VTech

    On May 5, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Good Post

  13. maeraquel

    On May 6, 2010 at 12:11 am

    It can be dangerous keeping a stray animal too…

  14. Ruby Hawk

    On May 7, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    I wouldn’t know whether to pick up the dog or call a shelter. I doubt a shelter would come out to pick up an animal, but possibly they would.

  15. PR Mace

    On May 9, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    This was an outstanding article. I didn’t realize there was so much to finding or keeping a stray dog. We had a stray follow my daughter and I home once while we were walking. He then jumped the fence and made himself at home in our backyard. We called animal control as he was trying to attack our small dog Dobie.

  16. Anuradha Ramkumar

    On May 12, 2010 at 6:04 am

    Great article. I was recently reading an article and somebody has asked whether he can keep the dog that he found with himself. As I was not sure about these laws, I didn’t write anything about it. May be this article will help him.

  17. wendym

    On May 16, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Good article and some food for thought. We love dogs but have always worried that if their owners don’t call or can’t be contacted that we would be forced to take them to the shelter. Nice to know what we can do just in case the situation arises.

  18. Daisy Peasblossom

    On May 18, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Just after moving, three years ago, my dear old speckled pup went walk-about for nearly 48 hours. I posted signs, walked, called, and knocked doors. I left the patio door open (she had escaped through a hole in the screen) with food, water, and one of my shirts in case she decided to come home. She turned up early the third morning, and I was so glad to see her! I would hope anyone finding a dog would make every effort to find the owner.

  19. stacy hernandez

    On June 4, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    hi my name is a stacy and today in the mornin they took my dog his name is MYLO he is white with brown please help me fin him


    On June 4, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    he is loke a baby to me please help me find him i really want him back at home with his family please help me get him back becuase i really love him a lot and my grandama cant stop crying please help me find him THANK YOU VERY MUCH IF U GET TO FIND HIM

  21. Brenda Nelson

    On June 4, 2010 at 10:41 pm


    your point is not clear, is your dog lost or did somebody take it? if its lost call your local shelter, if it was a theft call the police, but dont just sit there crying, get out and look for the dog.

  22. Found A Dog,Willing To keep it if you cannot afford dog food for it.

    On October 20, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    Put up a FOUND sign for 3 days,no claim we KEEP IT!
    Black Eye Patch,with a Butt-patch,white layer!
    It’s had showing ribs,and it can down 1 package of weeners in 5 minutes….
    Please E-mail me at SavanahRebel@yahoo.com
    It was found near Mill Street,on North 5th,by a center. If you lost it,you will know what I am talking about..
    U will need recent pics of Pixy to claim her. We do not give dogs. *Not For Sale*

    …Stacy,if I found your dog,how could I contact you? A Brown Dog Of Ur Explanation Is Staying In A Abondon House…

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