Can you keep a cat that you find in a plastic bag in a garbage bin in a public place?

Legal ownership of a rescued cat.

The answer to the question in the title might, under some circumstances, be tricky but I’m going to try and simplify it. If you find a cat that has CLEARLY been thrown away i.e. abandoned, in a cruel way because you find the cat in a plastic bag in a garbage bin in a public, you can reasonably presume that the owner conclusively relinquished ownership to the cat and therefore in rescuing the cat you have not committed theft which requires that you “dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other.” The cat does not belong to another.

The whole answer depends on the intention of the previous owner and whether they wanted to totally abandon the cat and disassociate themselves with ownership. And you have to make a presumption (without hard evidence) that that is the case if you find the cat in a garbage bin in a public place.

But if you find a cat in a garbage bin on someone’s property it just might be the case – although highly unlikely – that the owner was punishing the cat by putting the animal in their garbage bin. This sounds bizarre and it would be bizarre and cruel but this is about ownership.

The reason why the question is relevant is because sometimes people do throw away their cats in a very cruel way and sometimes people find them before they die of their injuries or whatever and rescue them, love them, rehabilitate them and enter into a very close relationship with them. They might be concerned that the true owner will come forward to reclaim the cat.

And if the cat is microchipped which will be discovered when the rescuer takes the cat to the veterinarian for a checkup, that would indicate that there was a previous owner. The best thing to do would be to contact them if the microchip details are accurate and up-to-date.

There’s a little intermediate step there after the rescue. A box that needs to be ticked before you can commit yourself to a long-term relationship with the cat.

It’s not wise to take the cat to rescue center in my view to see whether the true owner comes forward because sometimes rescue centres screw up and they allow a third party to adopt a cat at which point you will be in competition with another person for ownership. And those competing arguments about ownership of a cat can be very lengthy and complicated.

Check that there is a microchip and if so, is the owner contactable and do they want to relinquish the cat? If they are uncontactable take ownership. If they come forward later argue your case or contact me in a comment and I’ll deal with them. Tick those boxes and then go ahead with claiming ownership for yourself.

Morally there are no issues with claiming ownership but this concerns legal matters. Morals and the law often meet but not always.

This is Magdalene who’s story I have described in the first paragraph. She is much loved by her rescuer.

This is Magdalene who's story I have described in the first paragraph. She is much loved by her rescuer.

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Can you own a caracal in North Carolina?

The claws of a pet caracal
The claws of a pet caracal. Photo: in public domain.

Yes, you can own a caracal in North Carolina but you’ll need permit to import this medium-sized wild cat. The North Carolina law on this is limited and sparse. It is strange and also, in my honest opinion, poorly drafted. Here it is the relevant extract as I see it:


There are no known regulations regarding exotic animals not in the invasive species list other than importation rules.


ALSO NEED: Exportation or Importation Permit to import or export.

The North Carolina legislation starts of by stating that:


The state gives counties and cities the authority to regulate, restrict or prohibit animals dangerous to persons or property.

(North Carolina Statutes 153A-131, 160A-187)

Comment: It seems that the state of North Caroline devolves legislation on the illegality or legality of owning a caracal in the state to the administrators of the counties within the state.

The state is divided into 100 counties and ranks 28th in size by area, but has the seventh-highest number of counties in the US.

The caracal is not infrequently ‘domesticated’ to a certain extent in America to become a pet. But they don’t make successful pets unless you have a particular mentality. They are very athletic with the ability to jump up higher than other wild cat species from a standing point in my opinion.

I’ve seen a fat, bored pet caracal on the internet. You’ll need to be a special type to make a success of living with a caracal. The one below lives in Latvia. Sadly obese probably like his/her owner.

Obese Pumba pet caracal of Latvia
Obese Pumba pet caracal of Latvia. Instagram screenshot.

The import permit might set some standards of ownership which may, on occasions, indirectly put a stop of caracal ownership in North Carolina.

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Does a pet microchip prove legal ownership?

Does a microchip prove cat ownership?
These pictures are screenshots from the 5 WRAL video.

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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