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.
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.