An extraordinary proposal has been made by the general manager of animal services in Los Angeles, Brenda Barnette. On 23 May 2017 her proposal was approved by the Animal Services Commission.
Her proposal is that if a person finds someone’s pet, most commonly a cat or dog, they will be allowed to keep it under certain conditions. This avoids taking the animal to government run shelters. This in turn results in lower numbers at shelters which is said to be one reason or perhaps a major reason why the proposal has been made.
One of the conditions is that the person who found the pet needs to keep him or her for 30 days. They also need to report the matter to the shelter. This allows a photograph to be posted online and the legal owner of the animal to locate his or her pet.
It is said that in Los Angeles if a person finds a pet and with due diligence over 30 days tries to find the owner without success then they can keep that animal. I do not know the basis of this in law. I really have great doubts about that because in my opinion the legal owner of an animal remains the legal owner unless that person relinquishes his or her right either through abandonment or transfer of title.
Anyway back to Barnette’s proposal. She believes that everyone who finds an animal and reports it has good intentions and therefore they have the ability to care for the animal even to a standard better than found in an animal shelter.
The criticism of this “finders keepers” method of dealing with lost pets is that the finder is not vetted as is the case when a person adopts from a shelter. I suppose that Bernadette’s thought that they are going to be a decent character precludes that need but that seems to be a risky presumption.
Another condition is that the pet finder must provide a photo to the shelter and distribute flyers where the animal was found. The person who finds the pet has between 30 to 35 days to “try out” the pet. If they don’t like the animal then they can surrender the animal to the shelter.
The proposal makes no requirement for a shelter veterinarian to examine the animal and to ensure that he/she is not sick or injured. And what about microchips? Microchips are checked by shelter staff. This needs to be done accurately. Can the person who finds the animal do such a check?
There have been quite a few occasions when ownership issues have arisen through inaccurate microchips and/or inaccurate checking of microchips.
In addition, it seems that if the found cat or dog is unaltered (neither spayed nor neutered), the person who found the animal can still keep the animal even if he or she also has unaltered animals at home.
Bernadette lists some of the purposes of this change in policy:
- It gives lost cats and dogs home care and medical care if appropriate (if the cat or dog requires medical care the person who found the animal can provide it and the expense can be claimed back from the owner if the owner subsequently claims possession).
- It keeps cats and dogs out of the municipal shelter system.
- It alleviates the concern of some citizens when turning in a dog or cat to a shelter for the reason that they are frightened that the animal may not be claimed or placed which would result in euthanasia.
- It expands the foster program and gets the community involved in helping find pet owners.
Phyllis M Daughtery writing for the city watch (Los Angeles) website lists some of the criticisms that she sees in this proposal:
- The person who found the animal may not wish to release her/him if the owner is identified. This could result in police officers going to that person’s home and charging the person with theft and also seizing the animal.
- There may be difficulty identifying animal by photograph online. It would require the animal to be taken to the shelter for the owner to confirm the identity of the animal.
- The finder of the animal is exposed to liabilities. For example, if over the 30 day holding period the animal becomes ill or injured then the finder may be liable. In addition there may be liabilities if the animal bites somebody while in the custody of the finder.
- The finder may also be liable if the animal escapes and causes an automobile accident.
- The Department may demand that the finder of the animal produces insurance and has no history of animal abuse.
- What happens if the animal is pregnant? The finder will be required to notify the shelter. Is the finder prepared to foster the offspring?
- A person commented on this proposal. He said that it is open to abuse. A person may find a dog with a tag collar, discard the collar and keep the dog claiming that the dog was lost and without an owner.
- Another person commented that it appears that animal shelters have not been consulted. There appears to be an inadequate amount of expertise involved in the decision-making regarding this proposal.
P.S. The source page for this article has been linked to above. It is a very complete article and contains more information than I have covered here. If you would like to read more on this subject then please click on the link above.