Pop quiz. A dog wanders onto your property or up to your front door. He looks dirty, is thin and has some blood on his fur. He’s not wearing a collar and is scared, but seems friendly. Which of the following describes how you react and what you do? You:
1. Ignore the dog and hope he’ll go away.
2. Shoot the dog or shoot near the dog to make him go away.
3. Assume the owners of the dog do not care about him and must have dumped him or abandoned him intentionally.
4. Post about the dog on Facebook and try to find him a new home by yourself and without involving local animal control authorities.
5. Contact local animal control authorities to report the dog so a record will be created in the event someone is looking for their lost dog.
6. Take the dog to a local veterinary clinic or rescue group to have him scanned for a microchip.
Thousands of us in Marshall County share our lives and homes with companion animals and most of us consider them family members. It can be difficult to think of them as property, but that is what they are considered under the law, just like our cars and our furniture. The big difference is that most of our property cannot get lost, get confused or feel pain. Case law on the subject of animals as property and the value of those animals when they are stolen or killed is evolving.
Animals get lost for a variety of reasons and not all of them relate to people being irresponsible. A gate is left open, a contractor does not close a door, a child opens a door to go outside and an animal pushes past him or her. A dog or cat jumps a fence following a loud noise which scares them, including fireworks or gunshots. Our default assumption may be that an animal we encounter is loose because someone is to blame or people just don’t care enough. That may be true sometimes, but not all the time.
If you find a lost animal, even if that animal comes on your property, you are not entitled to keep that animal any more than you are entitled to keep a car parked near your house with the keys in the ignition, the wallet you find when walking through a parking lot or the bicycle you see leaning against a wall outside of a business. If you knowingly keep a person’s property from them and/or later transfer that property to another person, you have committed a crime. This includes posting about the animal on Facebook or other social media platforms and giving that animal away.
I know this is an emotional topic. I know that people who find lost animals more often than not want the very best for them and are just trying to be helpful. The next time an animal in need crosses your path, please give some serious thought to how you would feel if your pet went missing. Wouldn’t you want the person who found your pet to presume the best of you, and not the worst, and do everything possible to help you find your lost pet? I know I would. Please take the time to contact local animal control authorities so you can get the animal into the animal control system and give the owners an opportunity to find him or her. This is the ethical, and the legal, thing to do. Please. Don’t steal my dog.