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Border Collie Rescue - On Line - Stray Dog Law

The law, the stray dog, its owner and finder.


The definition of a stray dog is a dog unsupervised in a public place regardless of whether it is wearing a collar and tag.

Every year in the UK, thousands of dogs are lost, stray or are stolen.
Many strays are picked up and will end up in a local dog pound where they will stay for a period of time before being re-homed or PTS.

Finders have an obligation to follow a legal process in either returning the dog or reporting it as found to their local council Dog warden.
Dog Wardens must follow a statutory process in dealing with stray dogs reported to them or seen by them.

A dogs legal owner has a limited amount of time to re-claim their dog from a pound before they loose their right of ownership.
It is important to act quickly if your dog disappears and inform the appropriate authorities.

This is the law relating to this situation.

Local Authorities (Councils), have a duty to appoint a dog warden who's job it is to seize and control stray dogs within its jurisdiction.
Authority to act is given under two acts of parliament - the Environmental Protection act of 1990 (sections 149/150/151)
and - the Environmental Protection (Stray Dogs) Regulations 1992

The law states that a dog is the property of its human owner.
If a finder keeps a stray dog and does nothing, it may be regarded that they are deliberately trying to deprive that owner of their property - stealing by finding.
If found out, they may be prosecuted and the dogs original owner may also be able to sue them for compensation.
By law the local authority must be informed of all stray dogs in their jurisdiction through their Dog Warden Service which usually works through the Local Council Environmental Health Department.
Stray dogs must be 'seized and impounded' by an officer appointed for that purpose by the local authority.
It must be impounded in a facility appointed to hold stray dogs by the local council. This may be a local rescue group, private boarding kennels or a facility designed for that purpose, owned  and run by the local authority or privately owned.

It is only after a period of time - defined by law - that a dog, if unclaimed, ceases to be the property of the original owner and becomes the property of the local authority who can then deal with the dog as though it were their own.

If the dog goes to the local 'dog pound', it is kept for 7 days and then becomes the property of the council.
If the owners turn up during this time they can reclaim the dog and pay a release fee.
If they turn up after 7 days they may have lost their legal right to the ownership of the dog, but if the dog has not been re-homed or PTS they may still be able to get the dog back.

After 7 days in the 'dog pound' the dog becomes the property of the council who often passed on to the ownership of the people who run the pound who will then seek to find a new home for it.
Sometimes the dog is passed on to a local animal rescue group for re-homing.
Sometimes a local animal rescue group is already the official licensed 'dog pound'.
In a very few areas, dogs are still destroyed after 7 days - but this is very rare.

If the dog stays with the finder it has to be kept for at least 28 days.
If during this time, the owners turn up they can claim the dog back. They do not usually have to pay a release fee or fine to the council if they do the council will probably keep that.
A finder who retains a dog will not be legally entitled to demand any payment towards food, keep or veterinary costs you may have incurred and they will have to give the council or the dogs owner the dog back on instruction from the Dog Wardens.
If the owner does not turn up within 28 days, the Dog Wardens may allow the finder to keep the dog but under this system it will not become the finders property.
If the original owners turn up after this time the finder may be be obliged to pass the dog back to them if they demand it and they may take legal action to force this, and seek compensation, if refused.
The only persons legally entitled to hold a stray dog is the appointed and licensed 'dog pound' or a person appointed by the Dog Warden to be the legally defined 'finder'.
A finder who keep hold of a dog will not be able to pass a stray on to an animal rescue organisation  for at least 28 days and a rescue will not legally be able to take it from a finder within the 28 day period without the prior agreement and authorisation of the Dog Warden who are unlikely to be able to give consent as their local authority will be contracted to a particular kennels as their licensed 'pound'.

If a rescue organisation is not a licensed dog pound they should not take the dog from you. If they do, they may be breaking the law.

If a finder does not notify the Dog Warden that they have found a stray within a certain period of time - usually 48 hrs - the Dog Warden may refuse to take the dog into their care.
The finder will not be able to pass the dog onto an animal rescue organisation because they would not be the legal owner of the dog and rescue groups are only allowed to take in dogs from their legal owners who sign ownership over to them.
The finder will be legally responsible for the care of the dog and will not be able to abandon the dog, as this would be an offence.
They would be obliged to hold the dog under the 28 day rule with all its consequences.
They, and the dog, may find themselves in a legal limbo situation, where, by law, they cannot part with the dog and are responsible for its care and welfare and, by law, if the dogs original owner makes a claim with proof of ownership, they would be obliged to return the dog to them.

If the dog turns out to be unfriendly , unsuitable or inconvenient, you may find that you are stuck with it because you have not followed the legal process.
It is therefore best to notify the appropriate authorities as soon as you have found a stray dog and follow the advice of your Local Authority Dog Warden or appointed Animal Welfare Officer.

Local Authority Dog Holding kennels (Dog Pounds)

These facilities exist for the accommodation of stray dogs.
They are often private boarding kennels that have a section for council strays. Because each local authority has some flexibility on how they hold strays and set their own budget for the administration and care of stray dogs, and because each authority may have different demands on their service and available budget, these facilities often vary greatly.

If you have any concerns about handing a stray dog you have found over to your local authority, perhaps due to stories or rumours you may have heard about dog pounds, you can check for yourself. If you feel improvements are called for you should contact your local authority about your misgivings and suggest they take action.
Perhaps you may like to contribute to improvement of facilities yourself.

Dogs do not see things in the same way that humans do and your values may not reflect those of a dog, so don't judge too harshly.
Whatever your personal feelings about your local pound, you need to remember that it is a legal requirement to notify your local Dog Warden if you have found a stray and it is in the best interest of a stray dog if it goes though the system and then gets offered for re-homing.
If concerned you may take on the dog yourself at the end of the 7 days and then keep it or seek to re-home it through a rescue.

These days, very few pounds practice an automatic PTS policy after 7 days and most will seek to pass on strays to a rescue group or re-home them directly, once the 7 days is up.

Some pounds are rescue groups and some are council owned and run facilities that rehome their stray dogs themselves.

Different organisations and groups have different functions.

Council Pounds are for strays and not to take in unwanted pets, although they often directly re-home the strays they take in.

The Police deal with stolen dogs as they would with all stolen property.

Environmental Health Officers deal with noisy dogs, although in some councils it will be the Dog Warden.

The RSPCA or the Police or the local authority Animal Welfare Officers deal with cruelty and neglect.

If you have found a stray contact the Dog Warden. See the link on what to do on the sliding menu to the left.
If you have lost your dog take action immediately. See the link on what to do on the sliding menu to the left.

If you have an unwanted pet dog then contact a Rescue.