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Whose Dog Is it Anyway: What Determines Ownership of a Dog?

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Whether you’re wanting to establish who is the primary owner of the dog or you’re going through a divorce, understanding who has the ownership of your dog can be difficult. Pet owners typically think of their dogs as members of the family. However, they’re actually more like cars or a household’s assets in terms of being viewed as property.

So, if you’re going through a break-up, divorce, or you’re just looking to seize ownership of the family dog, it’s important to understand how ownership is established. The last thing that you want is to believe that you’re the primary owner of your dog only to find that they’re being taken away from you.

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The Court Side

Court Side

In the court of law, a judge will determine who has rightful ownership of a dog based on the following aspects. One of the most important aspects is who the dog is registered to in the family.

When you register and license your dog, the process involves putting down a name as to who the dog belongs to. That name is typically recognized in court as the primary owner of the dog.

Since a fee is paid for the licensing, it also shows an investment on the part of the owner in establishing the pet as their property. When signing your name on the registration and licensing form, you’re basically establishing that you’re responsible for any future licensing.

It also establishes that the owner is responsible for any liabilities that occur with the dog.

The second aspect that the court examines is vet records. When you first visit a vet’s office, the staff will ask who the owner of the pet is. A couple may both sign their names to the document. For a court, this shows that both sides were interested in the wellbeing of their pets.

However, if only one person signs the document, then the court sees that only one person was considered as the primary owner of the pet.

If you want to ensure that the pet is yours if you’re ever in the position of losing them, then having your name added to their medical records is a good step to take.

Along with the vet records, the court will also go over the vet bills. If you primarily paid the vet bills, then the court may decide in your favor. This shows that you had a monetary and emotional investment in the pet’s health.

A third aspect is microchipping. Many pet owners these days choose to have their dog microchipped. The microchip enables vets and other animal organizations to scan the chip to determine who its owners are and where it belongs. Similar to when you first visit the vet, you’ll have to place a name for an owner during the microchip process.

The court will look at that name to help them decide who is the proper owner of the dog.

One last aspect that may or may not concern your pet is if they a purebred dog. If they are, then you should register it with the American Kennel Club. During the registration process, you have to place the name of the owner of the dog. The court will examine that name when determining legal ownership.

How Can You Transfer Ownership of a Dog?

Transfer Ownership of a Dog

If your name happens to be the primary one on the documents above but you want to transfer ownership to someone else, then there are a few steps that you need to take.

One of the initial steps that you need to take in order to transfer ownership is to first establish that you have ownership of the pet. You can’t transfer your dog if you’re not the legal owner of it.

To establish that you’re the owner of the dog, you should download an ownership transfer form and sign it. This owner also should have a bill sale made that includes the microchip number. That bill of sale should then be given to the person who is taking ownership of the dog.

You’ll also need to contact the dog’s vet. The veterinarian will need to sign a letter that states who the new owner of the dog is. In that letter, the microchip number should also be included.

Finally, you’ll need the license as well as vaccination records that display the microchip number.

It should be noted that, in terms of transferring ownership, vet bills aren’t proof to indicate who the owner of the dog is.

Depending on where the new owner is acquiring the dog, from you or a shelter, you may need to pay a transfer fee. In the case of a rescue or shelter, the fee can sometimes be waived.

For someone who is just transferring ownership of their pet to someone else, there likely won’t be a fee at all outside of the price the new owner paid for the dog.

If the previous owner died, then you’ll need a death certificate to prove it.

Are Dogs Considered Property?

Are Dogs Considered Property?

When you buy a dog, it’s difficult to think of them as property like your car or house. Yet in the eyes of the law, pets are considered property. Because of that, establishing who has the right of ownership can be difficult.

Someone who has been emotionally invested in their dog may face heartbreak if they weren’t the one who signed their registration or took them to the vet. While you may consider your pet as an actual member of the family, they’re still considered property.

How Much Time Must Pass for a Dog to be Considered Abandoned?

In cases where a dog is left at the vet’s office, for example, a certain amount of time can pass before it is considered to be abandoned. When that happens, the vet can place a lien on it. This allows them to sell the dog, euthanize it, or give it to a rescue or animal shelter.

In the case of a vet placing a lien on the dog, they have to wait anywhere from 10 to 20 days for the dog to be considered abandoned. After that period of time has passed, they’re within their rights to do what they need to do with the dog.

Depending on what state you’re in, this length of time may be longer or shorter. Local pet laws may also determine exactly what a vet can do with the pet after it has been considered abandoned.

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For those who abandon their dogs, it’s actually illegal. You can be hit some unpleasant fines that can sometimes extend to $500. You’ll also be charged with a simple misdemeanor. To avoid this, you should ensure that you are legally transferring the ownership of your dog to someone else.

Can Animal Control Take Your Dog Away?

If your dog bites another person, it is possible that animal control will be called to take the dog away. In the event that your dog doesn’t a license, then animal control will most definitely take the dog away.

Animal control can take your dog away even if it isn’t doing anything harmful if it doesn’t have a license. To be outside, a dog must have a license to be considered owned. Otherwise, it’s viewed as a wild animal and can be seized.

In certain states, if animal control cannot seize your dog, officers are given the right to terminate the dog on the spot. This is typically done if your dog presents itself as a danger.

Once the dog is taken, you have five days to claim it. Otherwise, the shelter can terminate the dog. In some cases, rescues and other shelters may be able to seize your dog instead in order to save their life. However, if animal control takes your dog, then it’s crucial that you pick him up.

Last update on 2020-10-28

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6 thoughts on “Whose Dog Is it Anyway: What Determines Ownership of a Dog?”

  1. Hi my co-worker got a dog for her grandpa from an individual that rescues stray dogs and finds them homes. This dog was found in January in the snows with a bad ear infection. My co-worker and her grandpa took the dog to a vet, that vet scanned the dog for a chip and was told there was no information on the chip. My co-workers grandpa was also told that the dog had an ear infection. The grandpa paid for treatment and medication. They then returned to their home and the ear infection had not resolved so the grandpa took the dog to another vet. This vet scanned the dog again and it turns out the microchip actually had the owners information. The previous owner now wishes to claim the dog. The dog in question has been fed, taken care and given medical attention by the grandpa since January 2020 does previous owner still have a right to the dog?

    1. Me and my partner have separated and have two dogs. They’re both registered in the vets in my name and I’ve paid for there medical records since day one. She’s trying to say she has a claim to him as it’s hers and gone as far as to cancel a vet appointment for him to try set her own up. Is she allowed to just take him or can him keep him as I don’t want to separate them. They’ve been together since birth and need each other

  2. I would say yes. The first vet either did not scan and said he but the dog was chipped. There could be many reasons why the dog was lost. Return the dog and have the people pay for your vet visits.

  3. A registered non-profit organization receives dogs from kill shelters in other states, rehabbing them and then putting them up for adoption. This process is all done legally. Some of the dogs go up for adoption in a few months, some are pregnant and must have litters, whelp pups, etc and are be with the group for many months, some have serious behavior or health problems and are with the group for 2 years or more. My question is: Who legally owns the dogs between the time that they are turned over to this organization and the time that they are adopted? Is their ownership in the name of the organization?

  4. A friend of mines dog went missing after a house fire, the dog was missing for just under a year, when they finally found it a shelter had sold him to another family. The dog was trained in show and had numerous titles, and the new owners have even admitted there is no mistaking its the same dog, yet are refusing to give him back, would the law side with my friend?

  5. My son broke off his relationship and the girlfriend moved out. Feeling guilty, he allowed her to continue seeing the dog for emotional support. They “shared” the dog for almost a year. Now, he’s in a new relationship and planning to move to another state. He told the Ex, and she has decided to keep the dog, stating that the dog is better off with her. She had a lawyer draw up a contract for him to sign giving up all ownership of the dog. Of course, he refused. Now, he has filed to take her to court. The dog was a gift to my son from us and the Ex for Christmas. Everything, i.e. license, vet records, microchip, AKC papers, are ALL in his name only. With the current pandemic, court cases are taking extra long. I’m considering asking friends and family to write statements affirming that the dog belongs to him. Any advice?

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