If you find a cat and the cat is microchip and the microchip contains the name and contact details of the true owner and you cannot claim that cat as your own no matter how long you care for the cat, be it two weeks or 20 years. The rightful owner will always be the person whose details are on the microchip unless he or she has legally transferred ownership and the microchip has not been updated.
A person cannot claim ownership in an item like a cat (and cats are considered items or chattels under the law) simply by taking possession of him/her provided the cat is microchipped.
You have probably heard the phrases “finders keepers” and “possession is nine tenths of the law”. They both imply that if you find something including a wandering domestic cat then you are allowed to keep him/her. That would apply if there is no evidence that the cat has a rightful owner. But the microchip is strong evidence that a lost cat has an owner and the owner has a legal right to take possession of his/her cat.
Possessing a property is 9/10 of the law but if you possess “property” which has an identifiable owner then possession is simply that: possession. The property is held on behalf of the rightful owner in trust.
To summarise and recap, the finder of a lost cat acquires no rights in that cat but is entitled to possess the cat against anybody else except for the true owner which, as mentioned, is identifiable when the cat is microchipped (all things being equal by which I mean the microchip is accurate).
A person who finds a lost cat and discovers or assesses that the cat is abandoned has a right to keep the cat and own the cat legally.
However, common sense dictates that there is an obligation on a person who finds a cat to take the cat to a veterinarian to have him/her scanned for a microchip to discover whether the cat has a rightful owner. This is an obligation which must be carried out initially and which dictates what happens next.
There have been one or two cases on the Internet of microchipped cats becoming an object in a tug-of-war regarding ownership and often people get the answer wrong.
In the paper today is the story of a dog whose name is Mickey. A custody battle is raging over Mickey. The dog was microchipped by his owner, Tracy Minor, and one-day he disappeared. Tracy searched high and low but never saw Mickey again. He was found by a man two years ago who gave the dog to his niece.
Once again Mickey went missing and he was picked out by a dog warden who scanned his microchip and discovered that he had an owner, Tracy Minor. They telephoned her and told her that they had found her dog. She was overjoyed. In the meantime the person who been looking after the dog lay claim to him.
In making an incorrect decision the local authority decided that the person who found the dog could keep the dog. The true owner, Tracy, is suing for the recovery of her dog.
The authorities who decided that the finder of Mickey could keep him said that their decision was based upon the welfare of the dog.
“Based on the welfare of the animal we made a decision to return it to the person who could reasonably show that they were the most recent owner. The ownership of the dog is now a civil matter.”
They are wrong, as mentioned. This is not about the welfare of the dog or the “most recent owner”. This is about the rightful ownership of the dog under the law. The original owner will succeed in the courts to recover her dog. There is no question about that.