Can someone claim ownership of our dog?
November 19, 2009 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Missing dog filter: How long does ownership last?

My girlfriend's dog recently went missing (we believe stolen) from a dog sitting friend in Colorado Springs, about a week ago. The dog has a collar and microchip implant with current info but no one has contacted us yet. We have peppered the area with missing posters, sent posters to all area vets and reported him missing to the Humane Society, Pet Amber Alert, etc. It would be easy for us to prove ownership of him, that he was stolen/lost and is still being looked for, but time is passing and he is rare, cute and friendly - perfect for anyone to just keep if they were heartless. Is there a statute of limitations on ownership? Is it possible that he will ever legally become the property of someone who has possession of him now? My girlfriend is beside herself and the thought of someone having her awesome dog for good is breaking her heart.
posted by dozo to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
IANAL. Short answer, there isn't any statute of limitations on ownership at common law for lost property. See here: under "Lost Property," second sentence, last 8 words.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:13 PM on November 19, 2009

There are stories of Cats/Dogs/etc ending up in other states in Australia and FINALLY being scanned and returned to their owners after crazy amounts of time like 9 years, (also sometimes the original owners transfer ownership to the people who looked after the dog/cat/whatever.)

IANAL but I don't think ownership of a pet expires (legally) anywhere. If the dog was stolen, perhaps contact the police?
posted by titanium_geek at 5:24 PM on November 19, 2009

You would most likely be able to recover him against anyone who stole or found him. If they sold him to an innocent third party, you might not be able to recover him legally, but I have trouble believing that an innocent third party would not give up a dog they discovered had been lost or stolen, especially if you offered to compensate. I say this not knowing the law in your jurisdiction; it's just my best guess.
posted by Dasein at 6:04 PM on November 19, 2009

I should clarify - when I say innocent third party, I mean someone who doesn't have any notice that the person selling them the pet doesn't properly own the pet.
posted by Dasein at 6:05 PM on November 19, 2009

Anecdotally, a friend of mine cared for a cat that wandered into her yard one day (collarless, flea ridden, and reaaaally skinny) for a year and a half. Eventually, she took it to the vet for a minor issue. She mentioned how she'd come to own the cat, the vet found a microchip, scanned it, and contact the original owner, who wanted the cat back. I was given the impression that the vet felt it was her duty to return the cat; I'm not sure if there's any legal reasoning behind this.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:14 PM on November 19, 2009

As the original owner, your claim on the dog will be stronger than anyone who discovered or purchased him later. Any “statute of limitations” would probably start ticking after you found out that third person X had taken your dog and you held off on doing anything about it. This is just sort of a first year law student perspective.
posted by Kirklander at 6:24 PM on November 19, 2009

Ashley801, Sorry to have come off as taking offense (I didn't) but if my girlfriend has to add the worry of her dog possibly being used in such an inhumane manner it'll devastate her needlessly.
posted by dozo at 6:55 PM on November 19, 2009

Understood. By the way, under common law, an innocent purchaser (bona fide purchaser) of stolen or lost personal property doesn't have good title. (Good title is essentially when nobody has a better claim/rights to something than you do). Because you can't transfer better title than you have. The finder of your lost property or a thief of your property doesn't have good title, so they can't transfer good title to anyone else. So your property stays yours even if an innocent person buys it.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:10 PM on November 19, 2009

Ashley801 is right, ignore what I said.
posted by Dasein at 7:27 PM on November 19, 2009

Oh god, I'm so sorry, how awful! :( I would be so sad if my little guys got stolen!

All I can say is, don't give up. Keep getting the word out. Sometimes it takes FOREVER before someone thinks to look for a microchip on a dog. So just keep posting everywhere, visiting rescue organizations, vet's offices, etc.

Good luck and hugs.
posted by snailparade at 9:03 PM on November 19, 2009

A dog is a chattel good. It is like a car. You can't lose ownership of it when it is lost. Perhaps if it was sold to a third party with no knowledge of the theft, a bona-fide purchaser for value, like to a pet store, then maybe. But the circumstances are very rare, and the chip makes it hard to for a buyer to not know that the dog belonged to someone else. I wouldn't worry about it.

Good luck!
posted by Ironmouth at 9:11 PM on November 19, 2009

As Ironmouth says, a dog is considered chattel property. It is no different than if the person stole your iPod or hair dryer. As long as you can prove rightful ownership and the theif can't provide proof that they bought it, the dog is yours. However, police will generally not interfere in a situation like this. You will have to go to small claims court.
posted by nestor_makhno at 9:53 PM on November 19, 2009

Sorry confused, are you saying the friend sitter stole the dog or the sitter was watching it and then it got stolen? If it was the former, go to their house and steal the dog back.

I will say the posters and calling local vets and humane shelters and give them the poster w/ chip ID for them to scan incoming pets that look like that dog. I'm sorry you're going through this. Good luck.
posted by stormpooper at 12:43 PM on November 20, 2009

Thanks for the great answers. Dog was found after 10 days of wandering through the mountains around Colorado Springs. A very nice lady found him in her front yard and called
the number on his collar. Reward was given and the vet says he's none the worse for wear.

Thanks again, all!
posted by dozo at 9:26 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify for stormpooper, he disappeared from the sitters yard while two other dogs remained. A neighbor down the street acted suspicously and has been known to have stolen a dog previously. Apparently ours just wriggled out and was on his own for a week and a half!
posted by dozo at 9:35 AM on December 9, 2009

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