Informal transference of ownership of a pet is a difficult area of the law. Here are two different but similar examples with opposite outcomes.
Lost Cat Rehomed Through Shelter
When a cat is lost, even temporarily, and finds her way to a shelter – perhaps because a neighbour found the cat and thought she was a stray – ownership of the cat passes to a person who adopts the cat from that shelter no matter how speedy the process.
That is the outcome from a Hillsboro shelter where they apply this rule because to do otherwise would make their work untenable. You can see what would happen. A new adopter would have doubts as to whether she would have to give the cat back if the owner suddenly turned up. On that basis you couldn’t do business.
Perhaps, there is one compromise. There might be a cooling-off period of say 5 days between the time the cat is brought to the shelter and before she is allowed to be adopted. That compromise rule may be in place at some shelters. I don’t know. I don’t think it would make much difference, anyway.
You can see how the rule could result in heartbreak for the original owner, though. You have temporarily lost your cat and within a week she is homed with someone else and you can’t do a thing about it.
By the way, I don’t know if the rules of this particular shelter have been tested in court.
Dog Found and Adopted
Where a person finds a pet animal near her home and then tries, unsuccessfully, to reunite the animal with his owner, she cannot claim that she then owns the animal. If she tries to keep the animal she might be charged with theft. This is another actual case. This time from Corvallis, Oregon and it concerns a dog.
The story does not refer accurately to the amount of time between finding the dog and then the true owner coming forward to claim his dog. This time frame must be important. What if the finder looks after a lost pet for 3 years and then the owner claims ownership? The original owner would be hard pressed, surely, to successfully reclaim his dog.
I would suggest that under these informal circumstances of pet ownership transfer, the amount of time the animal has been with the finder of the dog is a major factor in determining if transference of ownership has taken place.
Moral of These Tales
Hang on to your companion animal. If for some unfortunate reason you lose your companion animal, first (immediately) check the local animal shelter and if that proves negative search locally.