Finder’s Keepers Does Not Apply to Found Dogs

The law in Wisconsin is very clear about two things.  First, if you find a dog, you do not have the right to keep him or her as your own simply because you found the dog.  Second, you must put forth a reasonable effort to find the dog’s legal owner.

What the law does not make clear, however, is what is considered “reasonable.”  So, to help you stay in compliance with the law, Lost Dogs of Wisconsin has put together a list of steps you can take to successfully put forth a reasonable effort to find the owner(s) of a dog.

  1. Check the dog’s collar to see if there is a license and/or ID tag affixed to it.  If there isn’t one, ask people in your neighborhood if they recognize the dog and have an idea of where his or her owner lives.  There is at least a chance the owner lives nearby.
  2. Take the dog to a local veterinarian or shelter and have him or her scanned for a microchip and checked for an identifying tattoo.
  3. Notify all of the appropriate authorities that you have found the dog and are trying to find his or her owner.  Call the non-emergency line of your local police station.  Contact your local animal control agency and complete a Found Dog Report, too.  Inform shelters and vets in your area that you have found a dog as well.
    1. If you are unable to temporarily house the dog you found, bring him or her to your local animal control facility.
  4. Create “Found Dog” flyers that include a picture of the dog, a written description of his or her physical and behavioral characteristics, and the location where you found the dog.  Post the flyers around your neighborhood and in animal-related businesses such as vet offices, grooming shops, and pet stores.
  5. Post listings on Craigslist, other lost-and-found sites, and on the Facebook pages of organizations like Lost Dogs of Wisconsin that work to reunite lost dogs with their owners.  Put an ad in the classifieds section of your local paper, too.  Papers typically let people place found ads in their classifieds sections for free.

In addition to the two points mentioned above, Wisconsin law makes one other thing unmistakably clear:  dogs are considered property in this state.  Whether you agree or not, dogs are property in the state of Wisconsin, just like your car is.  And anyone who keeps property that does not belong to them can get into legal trouble.

Finally, it is important to refrain from making assumptions about a dog’s past, future, or owners based on the condition the dog was in when you found him or her.  For information about why not making assumptions or judgments is so important, please read our article entitled, “Assumptions usually lead us down the wrong path

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About Cindi Ashbeck

Lost Dogs of Wisconsin Volunteer
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