The details on a microchip inserted into a cat or dog do not prove unquestionably that the person stated in those details is the legal owner of the dog or cat concerned. Although, the details provide good evidence that the owner is as stated in the microchip details. To stress, though, they are not absolute proof of ownership. It is just good evidence which can be counteracted with other evidence.
UK law confirms this assessment
Also, in the UK, the law confirms that a microchip alone is not proof of legal ownership. This comes from the Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations legislation in which it is stated that the person who cares for the dog and keeps them in the home is called a ‘keeper’ not an ‘owner’. There’s a big difference between a person keeping a dog i.e. looking after a dog or cat which is “possessing” that dog or cat and legally owning the animal.
Legally binding contract (agreement) usually proves title
Owning is about legal ownership or to put it another way having “title” to the animal. To me, the best way to prove that you own a cat or dog is to produce a bill of sale by which I mean a purchase agreement signed by both parties. And in that contract, there would be a clear identification of the cat or dog concerned. A good contract signed by both parties with the dog being clearly identified perhaps through a photograph and other identification, would prove legal ownership in the buyer. But even under these circumstances the seller would have to have legal title to make the contract binding!
There are other forms of evidence of ownership such as veterinary records and insurance policies et cetera. It’s quite a complicated area and the complexity of it and the uncertainties concerned are illustrated from time to time in Internet stories about lost cats and dogs being found by someone other than the original owner at which point a competition begins between the finder of the animal and the original owner of the animal.
This is what happened in the case of a tuxedo cat whose name is Bob. His original owner is said to be Carol Holmes of Wichita, Kansas. She said that she adopted Bob in 2013. She added that he disappeared from her home a few months after she adopted him. This cat likes to wander as some cats do.
Not a great deal of time after he disappeared from Holmes’ home, a woman whose name is Alex Streight found him outside in bad condition. At the time she lived in the same city as Carol Holmes. She said that she fed him and looked after him while she searched for the owner and because he was in bad health, she took him to a local veterinarian. It’s not clear whether the veterinarian checked for a microchip or not but there was no mention of a microchip being scanned and the original owner being revealed.
And then sometime later in 2015 Streight moved from Wichita to Fuquay-Varina. In the meantime, she had renamed the cat ‘Maui’.
And then Bob started to roam again and a neighbour picked him up and took him to Five Points Animal Hospital where they scanned him for a microchip and discovered that Holmes’ details were on the chip. She was contacted by the hospital manager, Scott Wilson, and of course Holmes was delighted that he had been found after 10 years.
Hospital manager believes microchip is proof of ownership
Scott Wilson believes that the microchip details are proof of ownership. I would argue that he is wrong as I’ve stated above. Scott Wilson would not release the cat to Streight because of the ownership battle. The police got involved which I think is unfortunate. Streight went to the local magistrate’s office to “take a warrant out for larceny of the cat”. She was claiming that her cat had been stolen I guess by the hospital and then learned that the cat was at Animal Control. Clearly after all these years she had a very close bond with Maui and considered him hers. A normal feeling.
The administrators of Animal Control say that they will not release the cat to Streight “under any circumstance”. They also believe that a microchip proves ownership. Streight is distraught and states that, “It’s just absurd to me that anyone would think to take someone’s pet away from the family that he’s been with for 10 years”.
Possessing and caring for a found cat can be like fostering not legal ownership
She makes a good point. How do you prove ownership under these circumstances? Surely, looking after the cat for so long is very good evidence that you are the owner of the cat. It is. Although, in my view, the only true way to prove ownership is through a written and signed contract and it will be even better if the signatures were witnessed! But that very rarely happens unless you adopt a cat from a shelter or purchase a cat from a cat breeder. But the signatures are never witnessed under the circumstances.
Holmes is the legal owner
Without that kind of firm evidence, you have to build up evidence in various ways and one factor is possessing a cat for a very long time and spending money and energy in looking after the cat. That helps to establish ownership. In this instance the original owner, however, is probably the true owner and Streight was simply a good caretaker or foster carer of the cat for those 10 long years and I think that she will have to give him up to Holmes once they’ve sorted it out.
Cat ownership philosophically speaking
Philosophically speaking it is possibly fair to say that no one really owns a domestic cat in the true sense as you would own a car or a refrigerator. This is what is at root in these ownership battles over domestic cats.
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