Finders of Lost Pets

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you will see that I tend to be unforgiving of ignorant pet owners who wait days or weeks before looking for their lost pets.  Finders of lost pets frequently have that same genetic disposition when attempting to find the owner of a lost pet.  Finders of lost pets tend to take in animals and appear unaware that an owner might be out looking for the lost pet.

Commonsense should dictate that actions of the person finding a lost pet; but, I find it necessary to spell it out for the many who cannot figure out  the path to returning a pet to its owner.  The first step is to check the animal for identification… a collar is a good sign.  If there are no tags attached to the collar, take the collar off and exam it to see if anyone has written anything inside the collar.  Put the collar back on the animal and note the color and material that the collar is made of.

Take the dog to your local animal shelter to have the animal scanned for a microchip.  Animal shelters are more likely to have access to a universal scanner than your veterinarian.  Shelter staff can help you identify the breed of the animal and will photograph the animal in the event that an owner comes in looking for the dog.  The animal shelter should be the first stop for an owner to look for their lost pet.  A reasonably  smart owner will look for their pet at the animal shelter within hours of losing their pet; so, a reasonably smart finder to quickly report the dog found there.

Some animal shelters are required by law to take custody of the animal.  If you wish to keep the animal, shelter usually give the finder of the animal first adoption rights.  The benefit of surrendering the animal to an animal shelter is that it will likely receive vaccinations and a medical examination.  Prior to adopt, the animal will be sterilized.  If you want to keep the animal fertile, you are not the kind of person that should be reading my blogs.  The primary reason to adopt from an animal shelter is that the animal becomes legally yours.

Many States have laws that provide for the “Finders of Lost Property.”  If you follow the steps contained in those laws, you can claim ownership.  Some States have no such laws, so the finder can never claim legal ownership.  If your State allows for a person to claim ownership, that person will need to place two ads in a “newspaper of competent jurisdiction”.  That means that you need to post the found ad in the newspaper that is most likely read by people in the community where you found the animal.  If you post the two ads, then after six months the animal is yours to keep.  This is a sicky issue and even though you follow all of the rules, if an owner comes forward, it may be necessary for a judge to make the final decision as to which owner has the greatest rights to the animal.  Many times the judge will rule on which owner provided the most medical care to the animal.

One of the most difficult efforts to find a lost pet is when the finder brings in an animal that is found in a rest stop.  I had one case in which the finder travelled through two States before delivering the animal to an animal shelter.  This is when convivence overrules commonsense.  There are commonsense rules that an owner can do prior to losing their pet, following those rules when travelling are even more critical.

The fact is that most finders will do the least possible work to find the pet’s owner.  So given that obstacle, the owner needs to make it easy on the finder to locate the owner.  This is nearly an impossible task because owners do not take serously the need to place and keep identification on their pet.  I worked in two animal shelters in which we printed identification tags for people whose pets came in without identification, we even included a collar.  We would see time after time the same animal coming  in without the tag that we provided.  In one jurisdiction, I changed the law to allow us to microchip an animal that has  come into the shelter three times without wearing a tag.

Very few animals that come into an animal shelter are wearing any sort of identification.  Most of the identification that is on an animal is worthless.  I had an animal come in with only the animal’s owner name.  I searched the driver’s license database for the surrounding States and found the owner in a neighboring State.  Don’t expect your animal shelter to make those kinds of efforts.  I just like to test my ability to find an owner.  Don’t count on a dog tag to be your primary identification.  I found an old dog tag that was issued by Jefferson County, it had a phone number without an area code.  Do you have any idea as to how many Jefferson Counties we have in the United States.

The biggest mistake that pet owners have is to not update the information on their pets.  Most microchip searches fail because the microchip is  either unregistered or goes to an old address.  Fortunately, the Post Office works with us to locate the owner’s new address.  I have discovered that many veterinarians will microchip an animal for the owner, but not keep a record as to who they sold the microchip to.  If you do not register your microchip, we go back to the veterinarian who was sold the chip.  If the veterinarian doesn’t not keep those records, you wasted you money on a microchip.

So, the trick to helping the finder of your lost pet, you need to have current identification on your pet with sufficient information.  If you put your phone number on the ID, include your area code.  Hint to License Clerks:  never print your phone number on a dog license without including an area code.

Although I don’t like microchips because people put to much faith in them.  I still recommend microchipping your pet because it seems that the  first thing that an animal loses is its collar when running loose.  I figure that a good samaritan finds your dog, takes off the collar to get a better look at the identification tags and while looking at the tags, the dog runs off again.  So a good rule is to place a leash of an animal when taking off the dog’s collar.