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How Long Before A Stray Dog Is Legally Yours?

How Long Before A Stray Dog Is Legally Yours?

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Stats by Oxford Pets show that approximately 70 million stray animals roam freely in the United States.

Each year, 6-8 million cats and dogs find their way into shelters. 10-15% of them are sadly put down. That makes it about 5500 dogs euthanized every 24 hours.

 Pet overpopulation is such a challenge—not only in the United States but the world over.

Strays go through all kinds of challenges. The lucky ones manage to live through starvation, disease, and the poorest of living conditions.

They have no medical assistance when they catch something and often die alone and miserable. The unlucky ones end up in shelters where they are put to rest.

As a loving dog enthusiast, all these things go through your mind when you come across a stray dog.

You want to do all you can to take care of them and prevent them from going through horrible experiences.

But there are laws that govern animals. You cannot just claim a stray dog as legally yours.

There are channels to be followed. So, how long before a stray dog is legally yours?

First Things First…

When you meet a dog that doesn’t seem to have a home, your loving self will want to pick it up and take them home.

You cannot wait to give them a bath, feed them, groom them, and give them a name.

 Well, not so fast. Different states in the United States have different laws surrounding stray dog ownership.

However, no matter where you are, it is simply illegal to own a stray dog just because you bumped into one.

The Utah Humane Society, for instance, holds strict laws on harboring stray animals.

 If you do this, you put yourself up for trouble. For one, you deny the dog’s owner (if any), a chance to reunite with their pup.

If found by the owner, they can sue you and get the dollar value for the dog.

Other states pretty much follow the same set of laws with slight variations.

What Should You Do?

The minute you decide to take care of a stray pet, the first thing to do would be to take caution.

Don’t just walk over to your new friend and grab them. They might attack, run away in fear, or just overwhelm you.

Instead, approach with caution and see if the poor thing is willing to accept your advances. Woo the dog by giving them a treat or being extremely kind around them.

Before you proceed, find out what your local animal laws state concerning keeping stray dogs.

Some insist on calling Animal Control right away. Others say to drop the dog at the nearest shelter.

 Some states are less stringent and can let you keep the animal temporarily while you hang posters around your neighborhood.

By all means, find out what you need to do according to the law and follow it to the letter.

According to Animal Law, expect any of the following from your state.

1. Keep The Dog As You Find The Owner

Finding the owner is always the first thing to do when you come across a stray dog. The law will require this of you.

If your state allows you to hold on to the animal, you will be asked to try all means to locate the owner.

You have several options for doing that:

  • Find the microchip (if any) at the vet and have the owner know that you have their pet.
  • Put up notices around the community, in the courthouse, and in the local newspaper. Yes, you will have to make posters and hang them around the neighborhood.
  • Post on various forums – Facebook groups, sites like,, and related apps.
  • Get on the animal control agency and browse its pet logs to see if anyone is looking for their dog.
  • If no one comes forth to claim the dog, involve the authorities. Meanwhile, keep all the documents showing you are taking care of the pet. The law requires the owner to claim and pay up within an allocated time frame. If they don’t, you can claim the dog as your own.

2. Inform Animal Control

In most states, the law requires you to surrender any stray dog to the Animal Control offices or your local shelter as soon as you find them.

That means you have no right whatsoever to keep the dog despite your willingness to.

The authorities will try their level best to locate the owner. If they come up empty, you may own them legally.

How Long Before You Can Legally Adopt?

A. Via the Animal Control route

As per Pet Orphans of Southern California, strays have to be held for five days in a shelter before they are put up for adoption.

The five days are given to the owner to try and reclaim their lost dog.

If you walk into a shelter with the dog and place First Rights on the pet, you are placed at the top of the list when the dog will be up for adoption.

 Please note that you will need to show up bright and early to claim the dog on the first day it is put up for adoption. This falls within the range of 8-9AM.

The holding period can be anything from 5-7 days in animal shelters across the country.

Still, the time can be as short as 48-72 hours before the dog is put up for adoption, sold, or euthanized.

 Take a look at the holding period for some of the states in the US in this article.

B. Via The Poster Route

Again, different states differ on how long to wait before claiming a stray dog as your own.

In Southern California, you have to make notices for 10 days before legally adopting a stray canine.

However, informing the authorities is always a safer bet as it guarantees only a few days before you have to claim the pet.

Just be sure to choose no-kill shelters and keep checking all the time to see if you can go in and claim your pet.

In North Carolina, animal shelters can let you hold on to the dog as an agent.

When the holding period expires, you can legally adopt them. This assures you that nothing bad will happen to the dog when they are in the shelter.

Additional Tips

Although it doesn’t happen often, animal shelters sometimes refuse the responsibility of taking in strays.

The work of caring for extra dogs and locating the owner can be too much for them to handle.

 In such a case, prepare a statement showing that Animal Control wasn’t willing to help you.

Additionally, keep all the bills incurred when taking care of the pet. In case the owner claims the dog later on and makes a suit, you can present a stronger case and get to keep the dog.

Final Thoughts

Stray dogs need love and protection like their counterparts who are already owned.

 If you encounter one and feel you can take over taking care of them, don’t let anything hold you back.

The procedure of legally adopting them may take a lot from you but it will be all worth it in the end.

 Just find out the laws that govern the legal adoption of strays in your state and follow them to the end.