Lost and Found: Humane Societies’ Rights and Obligations Regarding Companion Animal Ownership

Lost and Found: Humane Societies’ Rights and Obligations Regarding Companion Animal Ownership

  • Patricia A. Bolen
  • Animal Legal & Historical Center
  • Publish Date: 2005
  • Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law

I. Introduction

This paper will address the issues concerning lost and found companion animals, particularly issues of ownership and title rights. First, the paper will examine the current state of animals in the law today, and will give a brief explanation of how animals and their owners are treated in the courts today. The legal rights of companion animals and their owners are increasing; for example, people can now provide for their animals in their wills, and can bring suits for the wrongful death of a companion animal. This current state of the law shows the progression of animals from being seen merely as property to being seen as a part of the family unit that needs protection by the law. Because of the increasingly important status of companion animals today, shelters and individuals who find animals need to be well aware of their own rights and the rights of the owner regarding that animal. This paper will address when and how the original owner’s property rights are relinquished, and when an animal becomes the property of an animal shelter.

Note: The law treats animal shelters the same whether they are publicly or privately operated. Although private shelters may have different policies from public pounds, such as no-kill policies or longer holding periods, public and private animal shelters are the same in the eyes of the law. For ease of reference, in this paper the terms “humane society” and “animal shelter” are used interchangeably.

II. The current state of animals in the law today

A. Animals are treated as property

Companion animals are treated as property in the law. Under common law, a person who owns a domestic animal still owns that animal even when the animal is not directly under the person’s control. For example, a dog who escapes from a backyard is still the property of its owner. [1] Although treating animals as property affords them, and their owners, some protection in the law, it also limits animals’ and their owners’ rights. Additionally, there are inherent contradictions in the law regarding the treatment of animals: they are seen as property, they are essentially treated in a way that holds them criminally liable for their actions. A dog that bites may be killed by the state or at the least greatly confined; although the owner is liable for injuries that the dog causes, the dog is also ultimately punished. There are difficulties in treating animals as property, as they are sentient beings, and are often integral parts of their human families. [2]

B. Tort remedies for injuries to companion animals

In recent years, courts and the legislature have come to recognize the importance of companion animals to their families, and have also begun to recognize that companion animals deserve more protection than traditional property law affords them. If a companion animal is wrongfully killed, the owner can usually collect compensation for the cost of the animal. [3] However, this is often inadequate because the compensation is determined based on the animal’s market value. Although purebred animals have a determinable worth, mixed breeds (mutts) do not, and so traditionally no compensation was required. [4] Awarding damages for wrongful death of a pet based on the animal’s market value has been seen to be increasingly inadequate to compensate the owner.

Some courts have recognized the inadequacy, and inconsistency, in awarding pet owners only market value for the wrongful death of their pet, and have started to award non-economic damages. [5] However, courts are still reluctant to award punitive damages in cases of the wrongful death of a companion animal. [6] In addition, some courts have also started to consider the best interests of the animal in divorce cases, which is a standard applied to child custody. [7] Thus, animals are not only gaining more rights in the law, but are also being treated as more than just property. Persons are also able to set up trusts for their companion animals’ care, and are able to provide for their animals in wills and estate planning. [8]


III. Animal ownership in the law today

            Such developments in tort and estate planning law are important to both animal owners and animal shelters. As the law becomes more and more willing to recognize the familial status of animals in today’s society, shelters too must be careful to respect the rights of companion animal owners. Thus, shelters must be well-versed in the laws of their state regarding when the shelter gains title and ownership in a found or brought-in animal, and what those rights mean. First, however, it is important to understand how far a person’s property rights in her companion animal go, and when those rights can be taken away. This next section of the paper will examine how an owner can lose his property interest in his companion animal, including through abandonment and giving the animal away. It will also examine the duties of an individual who finds a companion animal

A. Owners can lose title to their companion animals

            As title-holders, owners of companion animals can transfer that title through several means. Owners can transfer title immediately to a third party by giving an animal as a gift to another person. An owner can give an animal to an animal shelter, which results in an immediate transfer of title to the shelter if the owner shows the intent to relinquish title. An owner can also relinquish title by abandoning an animal, which happens when the owner leaves the animal in a public place, with or without tags, or otherwise shows that he is unable (or unwilling) to care for the animal. [9] Similarly, the police or other law enforcement can find an animal running at large and take that animal to the pound. If, within a statutorily mandated minimum number of days, the animal is not claimed, the animal becomes property of the shelter. [10]

B. Transfer of title by giving animal away

            If an owner brings an animal directly to a shelter, that owner is transferring title of the animal to the shelter. In property law, this is considered a gift, and title usually transfers immediately upon receipt of the gift. When an owner gives an animal to a shelter, the shelter has both possession and title; generally, it does not have to hold the animal for a minimum number of days, as required by statute, before adopting the animal out or otherwise disposing of it. [11] However, there are good reasons for shelters to have the policy of holding even owner-relinquished animals for the statutory minimum number of days. Often, an owner will make a rash decision to give an animal away when the animal misbehaves, but will want the animal back after a few days. Shelters therefore protect themselves from tort liability by holding the animal for a period of time during which the owner has a chance to regain possession of the animal. When an owner gives his animal to a humane society, the society cannot demand that the owner pay for the costs of boarding the animal [12], unless the owner reclaims the animal. Shelters are immune from civil liability for disposing of a pet that is brought in by the owner as long as the shelter complies with the minimum holding period mandated by state statute. [13]

C. Abandonment

Most states have laws governing the abandonment of animals by the owner. The majority of these statutes deal with situations in which an animal is left at a veterinarian, kennel, or similar facility. [14] If an owner does not collect his animal and pay for the services within a certain number of days, [15] the animal is deemed abandoned. At that time, the facility has certain duties before gaining title to the animal. First, most statutes require that the facility contact the owner and notify him that he can obtain the animal by paying for the services. If the owner does not respond, the facility generally has the duty to turn the animal over to an animal shelter. Most states require that the facility inform the owner as to which shelter the animal has been turned over. After delivery to an animal shelter, the animal is treated as per the shelter’s policies. A facility that does not comply with state statute, for example by turning the animal over to a shelter before the waiting period has expired, can be liable to the owner for expenses incurred. [16]

An owner can also abandon an animal by leaving it in a public place, thus showing the owner’s refusal to care for it. If an animal is left in public for a certain period of time determined by statute, the owner can be charged with a misdemeanor. [17] If an owner attempts to reclaim an animal who has been abandoned by being left in a public place, the owner is liable for any costs incurred by the local authorities in dealing with the animal. [18] For example, if the animal found in a public place is brought to a veterinarian to be treated for injuries, and the owner wants the animal back, the owner is liable for the costs of treating the animal. [19] Authorities who find animals in public places take possession, but not full title, of that animal. [20] Possession of the animal entails giving necessary care and treatment to the animal until the animal is deemed suitable to be returned to its owner. [21] For example, if the animal is found injured, the local authority may require that animal to be treated before returning it to its owner.  The owner is then liable for any costs incurred. [22] If the owner cannot be found, or does not want the animal, the animal is turned over to the local animal shelter. Finally, an animal found in a public place without tags or other indication of being licensed is considered abandoned, and will be immediately turned over to an animal shelter upon being found.

D. Property rights when an individual finds an animal

            If an animal is picked up by a third party, and not by a shelter or public authorities, then the owner may retain title for a longer period of time. If the owner takes reasonable efforts to find the pet, such as contacting local shelters and putting up signs around the neighborhood, then the owner’s title to the animal will likely not be destroyed. [23] There is a presumption that if the animal is licensed, micro-chipped, or tattooed, and the owner has made efforts to find the animal, that the animal still belongs to the owner and should be returned if found by a third party. However, if the finder of a lost dog tries to find the owner and also cares for the animal for a long period of time, the finder may gain title to the animal. [24]

            If a person finds an animal and does not want that animal, the person is under an obligation to notify animal control authorities. [25] When a person finds a stray animal and wishes to gain title to that animal, the person must first attempt to find the original owner of the animal. If the animal is licensed, or otherwise identifiable, the person must contact the owner. The owner may wish to reclaim the animal, or may give the animal to the finder. If the animal is unlicensed, the person should make reasonable efforts to find the owner. Reasonable efforts include putting up signs around the area in which the animal was found and notifying local animal shelters. [26]Some states require lost animals to be turned over to the shelter even if the finder wants to keep the animal. [27] In that situation, the finder can request to be given first chance to adopt the animal after the shelter has held it the mandatory waiting period. [28]

Most courts will award title and possession of an animal to a finder if the finder has made efforts to find the owner. “Where the finder of a lost pet makes a reasonable effort to locate its owner, and responsibly cares for the animal over a reasonably extensive period of time, the finder may acquire possession of the animal.” [29]


IV. Property rights in an animal found by a humane society

Once an animal is brought into a humane society or city pound, that organization has an obligation, governed by federal and state (or in some cases, local) statute, to keep the animal for a prescribed period of time. This period of time varies from state to state.During the time that the shelter holds the animal, the shelter must make reasonable efforts to find the owner of the animal. Due the to overwhelming number of animals brought in to shelters, a “reasonable effort” generally means contacting the owner if the owner can be identified, and publishing a list of stray animals if no owner is determined. [30]

States require such efforts as a matter of policy; it is in the animal’s interest to be returned to a home where it receives love and care, so owners should have a reasonable opportunity to reclaim a lost animal. On the other hand, animals that do not have caring owners are best served if the state gains title after the owner has had sufficient opportunity to claim the animal. The shelter can then makes a decision in the animal’s best interest as to what should be done with the animal. The function of state laws governing found animals protects both the animal and the owner; shelters should consider both interests in determining their own policies in compliance with state law.

The shelter has possession, but not title, of the animal during the required holding period. In terms of property law, the shelter has bailment of the animal – that is, the shelter holds the animal (as property) and has possession of the animal. During the period of bailment, only the original owner can reclaim the animal, and he may be required to pay costs. For example, if the city or municipality brings animals into the shelter, and the owner is notified that they are there, the owner can be liable for any expenses incurred in board the animals. [31] In addition, the state legislature often gives the animal shelter the ability to put a lien on the animal, requiring owner to pay for costs incurred. If the owner does not pay, it is considered a forfeiture of the animal. [32]

A. Shelter’s duties to an animal brought in by the owner

            If an owner brings in an animal, the shelter has to keep the animal for a statutorily prescribed period of time before adopting out the animal or otherwise disposing of it. [33] In cases where the owner reclaims the animal, the shelter can require the owner to pay for the costs incurred in boarding the animal. Additionally, the shelter can keep possession of the animal until it determines that the animal is suitable to be returned to the owner. For example, if the animal is injured, the shelter can treat the animal before returning it the owner, and can collects costs from the animal. [34]

B. Shelter’s duties to a stray, unidentified animal

Humane societies do not gain title immediately to an animal that is unlicensed. [35] Shelters must still hold an unlicensed animal for a minimum amount of time, and must make reasonable efforts to find the owner. Due to the overwhelming number of animals in a shelter, reasonable efforts include posting a list of found animals at the shelter. [36] Such lists contain information as to the type of dog found, a general description of the animal’s appearance, where the animal was found, and when it was found. When an animal is brought in, the shelter must add it to the list; generally, such lists are kept in chronological order with the most recently found animals listed first. Persons searching for their lost animal can look through the list or obtain information from the shelter over the phone. In general, courts will uphold the decision of a humane society to adopt out an animal, as long the humane society has complied with any necessary statutory requirements, such as the minimum holding period. [37]This policy protects the shelter against lawsuits from owners who do not make reasonable efforts to find their animals.

C. Shelter’s duties to a stray, licensed animal

If the animal is licensed, that license shows ownership of the animal. Therefore, an animal that is clearly licensed (for example, by wearing a collar with tags on it) is deemed property of a specific person, and the shelter must make efforts to contact that person to let them know that the shelter has the animal. Further means of identification of an animal include micro-chipping, a practice that is now standard upon adopting animals from some humane societies, [38] and tattooing the animal. [39] Micro-chipping and tattooing show actual title to an animal in a traditional property law sense. Shelters that obtain a licensed animal must make reasonable efforts to contact the owner to inform him as to the animal’s whereabouts. Reasonable efforts generally entail calling or writing to the owner to inform him that the shelter has the animal and will hold it for a minimum number of days. If the owner does not respond within the statutory minimum holding period, the shelter gains title to the animal and can adopt it out or otherwise dispose of it. [40] Additionally, if the owner responds but does not take action to pick up the animal, the shelter still gains title after the minimum holding period. Shelters can collect costs from owners if the owner reclaims the animal. [41]

D. Shelter’s duties to a licensed animal brought in by a third party

            An animal that is brought in to a shelter by a third party (for example, a neighbor) is treated the same as an animal brought in by local authorities. The shelter must make reasonable efforts to contact the owner, such as calling or writing to notify the owner of the animal’s whereabouts. If the owner does not respond, the shelter is obligated to keep the animal for the requisite number of days; after that, the shelter gains title to the animal.

E. Holding period for licensed animals

Some states require a shelter to hold a licensed animal longer than an unlicensed one. There are policy reasons for this; first, an unlicensed animal is more likely to be sick or diseased from lack of care. A license shows that someone owns, and presumably cares for, the animal. An animal may escape while its owner is on vacation; therefore, it makes sense for shelters to hold licensed animals longer, to give the owner a chance to reclaim his animal. Also, a licensed animal is generally one which has a loving home; shelters prefer to return an animal to a place where it can get proper care, rather than have the animal be euthanized or adopted out to an unknown family.

F. Special situations in which a shelter does not have to hold the animal for a minimum number of days

There are narrow exceptions in most state statutes that allow shelters to euthanize animals before the minimum holding period has expired. If an animal is extremely sick, believed to be experiencing extreme pain and suffering, or has a contagious disease, the shelter can kill the animal [42] Such determination of the animal’s condition needs to be made by a veterinarian or the shelter supervisor. [43] If the shelter can determine who the owner of the animal is, it must make efforts to contact the owner by calling him before destroying the animal. [44] Generally, in cases in which the owner is known, the shelter must wait twenty-four hours after obtaining possession of the animal before destroying it; during this time, the shelter must repeatedly call the owner. [45] Such exceptions serve to protect both the specific animal and the animal population in general; allowing a contagious animal into a shelter would likely result in all of the animals becoming sick and therefore unadoptable.

G. Specific state laws regarding the minimum number of days a shelter must hold an animal

            Once a shelter has held an animal for the statutory minimum number of days, the shelter has several options regarding the disposition of the animal. The shelter can immediately adopt out the animal to a human family. It can also hold the animal for future adoptions; many shelters will do this while continuing to evaluate the animal for its potential success as an adoptee. Shelters can also decide to put the animal to sleep or, in limited circumstances, to sell it for research.

            States have specific statutes regulating how long a shelter must hold an animal before the shelter gains title to that animal. Beyond the statutorily required minimum holding period, shelters may hold animals for as long as they wish, under their own policies. Many shelters hold animals that are considered adoptable as long as there is room in the shelter; animals with health or temperament problems may be killed soon after the statutorily mandated holding period is up. Further, many shelters will hold animals that are easily identifiable – for example, through tags, tattoos, or micro-chips, longer than the required minimum. In fact, some states have different holding periods for animals that are easily identifiable than for ones who are not.

In Michigan, a private or public shelter must hold a found animal for four days after acquiring it, after which time the animal can be adopted out or put to sleep. [46] However, animals that are licensed or otherwise identifiable must be held for at least seven days before disposing of the animal. If a licensed or otherwise identifiable animal is sold for research after the seven day holding period, the owner must be notified before the transaction occurs. [47]

In California, animals must be kept at a shelter for six days, not including the day on which the animal was found. [48] After that, the animal can be adopted out or euthanized. [49] However, if the shelter has fewer than three full-time employees, a found animal must be kept only four days before being adopted or euthanized. Finally, if the shelter is open until at least seven in the evening, the shelter only needs to keep found animals for four days. Again, a shelter in California that sells found animals for research (after the statutory waiting period has run) must post a sign somewhere in its shelter that notifies the public of this practice. In New York, both public and private shelters must keep a found animal for five days before adopting or euthanizing it. [50]New York law makes no distinction between licensed and unlicensed animals; all must be kept for five days.

Some states, such as Texas, allow local municipalities to determine how long an animal needs to be kept in a shelter. Shelters in Houston, Texas must hold an animal for three days if it is unlicensed or otherwise unidentifiable. [51] If the animal is licensed, tattooed, or microchipped, it must be held for six days after the owner was notified that animal was in the shelter (notification must be made by mail or telephone). [52] On the seventh day, the shelter may dispose of the animal at its discretion. Texas state law governs the conditions in which animals must be kept in the shelter, but local cities and counties determine how long an animal is kept. [53]

H. Federal law

The Federal Pet Theft Act mandates a five-day holding period for shelters before selling a pet to a dealer.This is in order to prevent stolen pets from being sold to research companies, and to allow the owner to reclaim the animal. [54] The Act states that “[i]n the case of each dog or cat acquired by an entity described in paragraph (2), such entity shall hold and care for such dog or cat for a period of not less than five days to enable such dog or cat to be recovered by its original owner or adopted by other individuals before such entity sells such dog or cat to a dealer.” [55]The entities to which the Federal Pet Theft Act applies include all public and private animal shelters, as well as any research facility licensed by the federal Department of Agriculture. [56] This Act was passed to ensure that all companion animals used in research facilities were legally obtained, and also to protect pet owners from having their pets stolen for research purposes. [57] The Act applies to a fairly narrow class of animals, as it mandates only that those animals being sold to a research facility be held for at least five days before being sold. In addition, the shelter must give the receiving research facility a certification that the animal has been held for at least five days; without such, the research facility cannot accept the animal. [58]

Similarly, several states have statutes against shelters selling found animals to laboratories for research. [59] Some states also require a shelter that does sell animals for research to notify the public of such policy. [60] Additionally, the Federal Pet Theft Act trumps any state or local statute that allows an animal to be sold for research before being held for five days. Therefore, an owner has a cause of action against a shelter that is not in compliance with the Federal Pet Theft Act, even if the shelter is in compliance with its local laws.

I. Tort liability for shelters

Courts will generally uphold the decision of a humane society or animal shelter to euthanize an animal over the owner’s claim to that animal if the humane society followed all statutory obligations. [61] If a humane society has not complied with statutory mandates, in particular by not holding the animal the requisite minimum number of days or not attempting to contact the owner, the owner will likely be successful in a suit against the humane society. [62] Therefore, it is good policy for a shelter to establish a holding period that complies or exceeds that required by local law, in order to avoid liability to the owner. In addition, it is generally considered good policy to hold licensed animals as long as possible, particularly if the animal is adoptable.

J. Adoption procedures and transfer of title to new owner

When a person “adopts” an animal from a shelter, that person is really buying the animal; the transaction is covered by the Uniform Commercial Code, which regulates the sale of goods. Although humane societies can place conditions on the adoption of animals, [63] such conditions are difficult to enforce once the animal is placed with the new owner, as title then transfers from the shelter to the owner. [64] More than half of all states now require that animals be spayed or neutered before being adopted, [65] and contracts for adopting an animal that is too young to be fixed may include a clause requiring the new owner to get the animal fixed once it is old enough. [66] In such cases, the owner usually must leave a deposit with the shelter, which is forfeited if the owner cannot provide proof of spaying or neutering within the designated period of time. [67] Shelters are able to make extensive inquiries into an animal’s future living conditions before agreeing to the adoption of an animal. For example, shelters can inquire about the animal’s access to a backyard or other exercise; [68] other animals or children in the home; [69] and whether the animal will be kept indoors or out. [70] Shelters can call to check-up on an animal soon after an adoption; [71] however, the shelter generally cannot investigate or follow-up on the animal without cause. Shelters have cause to investigate an animal if there are reports of abuse or neglect, or if the animal is found running at large or otherwise abandoned in a public place. Such investigations are usually done by animal control. Of course, if the owner is suspected of animal cruelty, the animal control can also instigate criminal investigations.


V. Conclusion

Shelters must be aware of their obligations and limitations in caring for lost or abandoned animals. Shelters must hold animals for a minimum number of days so that an owner has a chance to reclaim a lost pet. The holding period protects the owner’s interest and title in the animal, and also protects the animal itself by attempting to return the animal to its caring owner. Allowing the shelter to take title to the animal after the requisite holding period benefits the animal. At that point, when the owner either cannot be found or does not want the animal, the best interests of the animal are determined by the shelter. Adoptable animals are generally held and placed with a new family; animals that are too sick, old, or unsociable to be adopted are euthanized. Once a shelter gains title to the animal, it can do with the animal as it sees fit, and its decision will be upheld by courts as long as the shelter complied with state law.  Following state law is essential not only to protect the rights of animal owners, but also to protect the shelter from tort actions by the owner; state law also ultimately protects the animal itself.

[1] See Mary Randolph, Dog Law (4th edition 2001).

[2]See, for example, Oregon that defines an animal as the property of its owner.

[3] See Lisa Kirtk, Recognizing Man’s Best Friend: An Evaluation of Damages Awarded when a Companion Pet is Wrongfully Killed, 25 Whittier L.Rev. 115 (2003).

[4] See Andrew Boxberger, The Missing Link in the Evolution of Law: Michigan’s Failure to Reflect Society’s Value of Companion Animals, 5 T.M. Cooley J. Prac. & Clinical L. 139 (2002).

[5] See Elizabeth Paek, Fido Seeks Full Membership in the Family: Dismantling the Property Classification of Companion Animals by Statute, 25 U. Haw. L. Rev. 481 (2003), in which the author discusses a case where a man was prosecuted for killing a woman’s dog. See also Lynn B. Epstein, Resolving Confusion in Pet Owner Tort Cases: Recognizing Pets’ Anthropomorphic Qualities Under a Property Classification, 26 S. Ill. U.L. J. 31 (2001) and Richardson v. Fairbanks N. Star Borough, 705 P.2d 454 (Al. 1985), in which the court used the fair market value of the animal in awarding damages; compare with the discussion in Valuing Companion Animals in Wrongful Death Cases: A Survey of Current Court and Legislative Action and a Suggestion for Valuing Pecuniary Loss of Companionship (note: pdf version), Elaine T. Byszewski, 9 Animal L. 215 (2003), in which the author discusses various courts’ opinions stating the need for legislation that allows for emotional distress damages in wrongful death of pets cases.

[6] See Epstein, supra note 5, and Paek, supra note 5.


[8] See Garry W. Beyer, Estate Planning for Pets, 15-AUG Prob. & Prop. 7 (2001).

[9] In addition, leaving an animal in this manner will also likely be a criminal offense. See Randolph, Dog Law at 13/9.

[10] This is similar to the concept of eminent domain, in which the government gains property rights to land. In addition, the government in most states has the right to immediately destroy any animal running at large that poses an immediate threat or danger to the public; see Dog Law, supra note 1. In general, however, animal control authorities must impound an animal running at large and make efforts to contact its owners before gaining property rights in that animal. Dog Law.

[11] See Pet Fair, Inc. v. Humane Soc. Of Greater Miami, 583 So.2d 407 (1991); see also C.R.S.A. § 35-80-106.3 (Colorado), which provides that shelters must hold owner-forfeited animals for the minimum holding period. This is a somewhat unusual holding and does not seem to be the general rule.


[13] For example, see C.R.S.A. 35-80-106.3(2), which states “[a]n animal shelter and any employee thereof that complies with the minimum holding period as set forth in subsection (1) of this section or that disposes of a pet animal in accordance with the provisions of subsection (1) of this section for owner-surrendered animals, abandoned animals, or suffering animals shall be immune from liability in a civil action brought by the owner of a pet animal for the shelter’s disposition of a pet animal.”

[14] See, for example, 59 Okl..St.Ann § 698.16; Ohio Revised Code Annotated R.C. § 4741.30; V.A.M.S. 340.288 (Missouri); C.R.S.A. § 12-64-115 (Colorado); 17 M.R.S.A. § 1021 (Maine).

[15] State statutes generally require the facility to hold the animal for at least ten days, and often up to thirty days. See, for example, Animal Hospital of Elmont, Inc. v. Gianfrancisco, 418 N.Y.S.2d 992 (1979). In New York, a person who leaves an animal for a specified period of time with a kennel or veterinary facility and does not claim the animal within ten days of the last day of service is deemed to have abandoned the animal. If the period of time the animal is to be left with the facility is unspecified, the animal is considered to have been abandoned twenty days after the facility notifies the owner that it still has the animal. See also Massachusetts Soc. For Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Commissioner of Public Health, 158 N.E.2d 487 (1959); Massachusetts has a ten-day period in which a facility must hold an abandoned animal before turning it over to an animal shelter.

[16] See Gianfrancisco, supra note 15, in which the court found that a facility that prematurely turns an animal over to a shelter can be liable for that animal’s costs.

[17] See People v. Rogers, 708 N.Y.S.2d 795 (2000), which discusses the New York rule that an animal left in the public for more than three hours is deemed abandoned, and its owner can be charged with a misdemeanor. See also Anderson v. George, 233 S.E.2d 407 (1977) for a description of how West Virginia deals with animal abandonment.

[18] See Broden v. Marin Humane Society, 83 Cal. Rptr. 235 (1999).


[20]Id. See also Dog Law, supra note 1, in which the author points out that unless an animal running at large poses an immediate threat to the public, animal control authorities must hold the animal for the minimum number of days and attempt to contact the owner before destroying or adopting out the animal. Dog Law, at 2/12.

[21] See Broden, supra note 18.

[22]Id.; see also Pet Fair, Inc. v. Humane Soc. Of Greater Miami, 553 So.2d 407 (1991).

[23] Williams v. McMahan, 2002 WL 242538 (2002).

[24] Morgan v. Kroupa, 702 A.2d 630 (Vt. 1997).

[25] Mary Randolph, Dog Law 18.

[26]See Morgan v. Kroupa, 702 A.2d 630 (Vt. 1997).

[27] Randolph, Dog Law 18-19.


[29] Morgan v. Kroupa, supra note 24.

[30] Randolph, Dog Law.

[31] See Hubbard v. City of Oxford, Inc., 717 So.2d 814 (1998).

[32]SeeState v. Branstetter, 45 P.3d 137 (Or.App. 2002).

[33] See discussion on page 3, supra.

[34] See supra notes 9 and 10.

[35] See, for example, Scharfield v. Richardson, in which the court found that an owner’s property rights do not extinguish when the animal is lost and unlicensed. Compare to Williams, in which the court found that the owner’s failure to license an animal amounted to an expiration of the owner’s property rights.

[36] Randolph, Dog Law.

[37] See Huss, Separation, Custody, and Estate Planning Issues Relating to Companion Animals, 74 U.Colo. L. Rev. 181 (2003); see also Johnson v. Atlanta Humane Society, 326 S.E.2d 585 (Ga.Ct. App. 1985).

[38] For example, the Kent County Humane Society in Walker, MI.

[39] When an animal is tattooed, its identification number is registered with the state department of agriculture, and also engraved on a tag to be worn on the animal’s collar. If the owner and animal move to a different state, the number can be registered with that state’s department of agriculture.

[40] Randolph, Dog Law.

[41] See supra note 9.

[42] People v. Youngblood, 109 Cal. Rptr.2d 776 (2001).


[44] C.R.S.A. § 35-80-106.3 (Colorado).



[48] Ca. Food & Ag. 31108.

[49] However, it is California’s state policy that no adoptable or treatable animal should be euthanized. See West’s Ann. Cal. Civ. Code § 1834.4; an “adoptable” animal is one that does not pose a threat to the public.

[50]McKinney’s Ag. & Markets Laws § 322.

[51] Section 6-111 of Division 4, Code of Ordinances for the City of HoustonTexas.


[53] Title 10 of the Texas Health and Safety Code applies to animals, and does not include a section mandating a minimum time period for which a found animal must be kept.

[54] 7 U.S.C. 2158


[56] 7 U.S.C.A. § 2158(a)(2).

[57] See id.; see also 2003 Cong.  S 2346.

[58] 7. U.S.C.C. § 2158 (b)(2).

[59]  Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia all have statutes that prevent shelters from selling animals for research purposes. Dog Law, supra note 1.

[60] For example, California.

[61] See supra note 11. See also Rebecca J. Huss, Valuing Man’s and Woman’s Best Friend: The Moral and Legal Status of Companion Animals, 86 Marq. L.Rev. 47 (2002); see also Johnson v. Atlanta Humane Society, 326 S.E.2d 585 (Ga. Ct. App. 1985); Lamare v. N. Country Animal League, 743 A.2d 598 (1999). In both cases, the courts found that as long as the humane society complied with statutory mandates, its transfer of title to third person (or killing the animal) was upheld against the owner’s original title, because the owner was found to have forfeited title by losing their animal.

[62] Richardson v. Fairbanks N. Star Borough, 705 P.2d 454 (Al. 1985), the owner was successful in a suit against an animal shelter that killed his dog before the minimum holding period had expired. The owner was able to recover market value damages.

[63] State legislatures usually give animal shelters the ability to devise their own policies regarding the adoption of animals; many state legislatures have enacted statutes stating that the shelter does not need to adopt an animal to a person unwilling to comply with the shelter’s policies or conditions. See, for example, V.A.M.S. § 273.405, which is the Missouri statute. See also the Louisiana statute, LSA-R.S. 3:2475, which further states that if the conditions agreed upon are not upheld, the shelter is able to bring a court action.

[64] Such conditions help the shelter to ensure that the adoption will be final, and that they will not end up taking title to the animal again due to unfit conditions.

[65]Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, DC, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia all require that animals be spayed or neutered before leaving the shelter. Dog Law, supra note 1, at 2/20.

[66] See, for example, M.C.L.A. 287.338a (Michigan); West’s Ann. Cal.Civ.Code § 1815 (California).


[68] For example, most shelters will inquire about a prospective owner’s living conditions, and may not allow the person to adopt if she lives in an apartment unless she can show that the landlord allows pets.

[69] Some shelters require that all animals living in the same household meet before an additional animal is adopted; for example, the Kent County Humane Society in Michigan.

[70] Shelters may have policies that allow them to decline adoption to a person who intends to keep the animal solely out-of-doors. For example, in Michigan, local humane societies allow adoption of dogs only if they are to be housed indoors; however, in South Carolina, shelters will adopt to families who intend to have the dog be an outdoor-only animal.

[71] Several shelters in Michigan have a policy of making follow-up calls a week after an animal is adopted.