Many rescues that adopt animals would have the new adoptor believe that the rescue has first ownership rights to the animal. The notion is that rescues always believe that pet owners are the weak link in the adoption process. The rescue wants you to believe that they have the right to take back the adoption in the event that they become dissatisfied with the care that the adopter is being provided. In the minds of the rescue, the animal is just “rented out” for the period that the rescue believes that the animal is being well cared for. The adoptor takes on all ownership responsibilities while the rescue may recall the animal at any time.
Is this legal?
In my past life, I would have said, “no.” But the legal status of animals is now in question. Many animal advocate organizations wish animals to rise above the notion of being “owned” and given individual rights. However, in most States animals continue to be called property. And in reality, the animal is actually better protected under these laws. Pet owners are accountable for the care of their pets.
Back to the adoption. The first question is whether the rescue organization had ownership rights in the first place. If the animal was delivered to the organization as a stray, then under local laws the animal in their possession is owned by some unknown person in the community. For ownership to take place, the original owner must relinquish their ownership to the rescue organization. The ONLY exception to this is a stray animal picked up and delivered to the municipal animal shelter. Most jurisdictions have laws that stray animals become the property of the jurisdiction after a 3 to 10 day stray holding period. This ownership transition only occurs at the city/county animal shelter.
Since space is always an issue at public facilities, many rescues convince their jurisdiction to allow the rescue to be an alternate stray holding site, so that the rescue can be afforded the same status as the animal shelter when receiving stray animals. Although this is a smart idea, few rescue organizations think to do this. So any adoption of a stray animal is performed illegally by the rescue, UNLESS, it is performed using the localities found animal provisions of their laws. The rescue, as any finder of a lost pet, may assume legal status if they follow the steps outlined in the provisions of their ordinances for the Finders of Lost Property, Most of these laws are posted in State Statues. So if the rescue has not performed each step towards ownership, then they cannot legally adopt the pet.
A person finding a stray has the same ability to claim ownership of a found animal, as long as they complete the tasks required of a finder. Those tasks include contracting the local animals and reporting the found pet, posting a public notice in the local newspaper, and holding the animal for the required length of time (usually three to six months.).