Lost Dogs Ownership
Dog ownership can be complicated at times, particularly if you are faced with a missing or lost dogs. In terms of the law, lost dogs is dealt with in the same way as property. From a legal perspective, a dog is deemed to be an item which is owned. When there is a disagreement between two parties regarding the ownership of the animal, a Court can make a decision to determine who can retain ownership. In most instances, the cases are dealt with through the Small Claims Court. Any court claim is usually made to establish legal ownership, to enforce the current keeper to return the dog to the rightful owner or to secure damages from unauthorised possession of the animal.
When reaching a decision, the courts may take a number of different factors into consideration. In legal terms, dogs are treated in the same way as moveable property (chattels). Ownership of the animal is said to be ‘absolute’.
When ownership refers to something as being ‘absolute’ they own it unconditionally and they are free to use, treat or dispose of the item as they wish. Where this relates to dogs these guidelines are subject to certain pieces of legislation such as the welfare of animals.
Finding Lost Dogs
If you find a dog in a public place and it does not have an owner, you are under an obligation to file a report with the local authority. If you know who the owner is, then you must return the dog to its rightful owner. You have no right to keep the dog, even if you find it in your local area unaccompanied. These guidelines also apply to stray dogs. Even if you find a dog unaccompanied, it is against the law to claim the dog as your own because this is considered as theft. If the owner of the dog cannot be located, and you had found the dog, you may be allowed to keep the dog. However, there is always a possibility that the original dog owner could reclaim the dog at any time.
If you lose your dog, perhaps because it has escaped from your back garden or broken free from its lead, you must inform the local authority. It is advised that you remain in contact with them periodically until your dog is located. If you don’t make any attempt to recover your dog, the council may give it to someone else within just a week. Nevertheless even if this happens, the legal rights to ownership still rest with you and does not automatically switch to the new owner. In this case you may still be able to reclaim your dog.
In the majority of circumstances it is a requirement of the law that dogs wear a collar. This collar should provide the details of the dog owner including your name and address. Failure to ensure that your dog has a collar is not only against the law, but it also makes it much more difficult for the dog to be retrieved if it does go missing. The maximum penalty for failure to comply with these rules is a £2,000 fine.
Additionally, the law states that by the time they reach 8 weeks old, all dogs must be microchipped. Microchipping can be undertaken by an animal charity, the local authority or a vet. It is often provided for free to dog owners in some local authority areas. If your dog escapes from your garden and is later found by a warden but it is not microchipped you could face a £500 penalty if you fail to get your dog microchipped within a period of no more than 21 days.
Dogs can also be tattooed as a further method of identification. It is a safe method to identify a dog and it can be applied to dogs from 6 weeks old.
Responsibilities of the Local Authority
The local authority has a duty to create a register and collect information on all dogs that are found or handed over to them. Where a complaint is made to the local authority about a stray dog, the service request should be followed up as soon as possible. Usually this is within a two day period. Usually, all local authorities will have their own dog warden. Where the dog is found by an individual and they wish to keep the dog, the dog warden can keep you updated as to their intentions and investigations into whether the owner could be found. If the dog owner cannot be located the dog will be taken into the kennels of the local authority.
The dog will then be kept here until the dog is claimed either by its owner or the individual who found the dog. If you wish to keep a dog that you have found and the owner cannot be located, you will have to provide identification to the kennel and pay the required fees. The prices that the local authority charge may vary but they are usually £25 to seize the dog, £30 for transportation and administration and a further £15 per night spent in the kennels.
Purchasing a Dog
When you buy a dog you will have certain rights and these rights should be included within a contract with the seller. If the case involves a stray dog which has been successfully re-housed, the individual who lost the dog or the original owner still has full ownership and they are well within their rights to reclaim the dog, even if you have taken the dog home.
Unfortunately, even if you have fed, housed and cared for the dog, treating it as your own this does not give you any rights to retain possession of the animal. However you may decide to bring a claim against the owner of the dog if they come forward. Within your claim you can ask for the costs you have incurred as a result of taking care of the dog during the owners absence.
If the individual who re-housed the dog will not return the dog back to the original owner, the owner can under ‘wrongful retention of goods’ make a formal claim to the court.
This will involve instigating formal court proceedings through a County Court or in some instances, the High Court. The purpose of these proceedings is for the owner to instruct the keeper to return the dog to them.
At the same time a ‘conversion’ claim is also made in the event that the dog cannot be returned for some reason. Sometimes this occurs when the dog has been sold on, it has died or it has run away. If a conversion order is issued, the Court will award the original dog owner a sum of money instead of delivery of the dog.
Before a claim is made the original owner must have asked for the dog back and there must have been an unequivocal refusal to hand the dog over. In this instance it would therefore be wise to write to the keeper of the dog to request in writing that the dog is returned.
The statute of limitations states that wrongful retention of goods claims can be made at any time up to 6 years from the date when the keeper refused to return the dog to the original owner.
Under The Control of Dogs Order 1992, every dog within a public place must wear a collar which identifies the name and address of the owner. Therefore if the dog is lost or goes missing, it is much easier to retrieve the dog and return it to the rightful owner.
Dog owners are reminded that failure to comply with this legislation is a criminal offence and can result in a fine if the dog is not suitably identified. It can also be seized by the local dog warden who can exercise their powers under The Environmental Protection Act 1990 to either destroy or sell the dog if it is unclaimed after a period of 7 days.
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