If you saw a hungry stray cat would you help him out? Of course you would! I’m suspecting that most people who read my column are animal lovers and would be more than willing to help out a stray animal. There certainly are a lot of stray, feral and outdoor roaming owned cats out there. So when does helping a stray cross over to theft of a pet?
If you bring a stray into your home, he no longer has the ability to get back to his home. That’s not to say you shouldn’t open your doors to help out a struggling animal, especially when the weather is harsh. But if you bring an animal indoors and do nothing to try and find his rightful parents then you can be accused of theft. Even though it’s illegal to allow a pet to freely roam off the owner’s property, you can’t just scoop up the animal and hide him in your house!
We recently had a cat surrendered to the shelter when the “owner” was moving out of the state. She filled out a profile and for the question about how the pet was acquired she wrote “found as stray, 8 months ago.” During our routine health exam the cat was scanned for a microchip and bingo! We found one! We reached out to the registered owner and found out that the cat had been missing for several months. They were beyond ecstatic to hear that she had been found. They had completely given up finding her after all this time. See where this is going?
Now to be fair, the cat was not found in the vicinity where she was lost. Sometimes, as I mentioned in my story a couple weeks ago, people find a stray as they are passing through an area and take the animal with them to their home in a completely different part of town. Cats have been known to find a cozy bed in the back of pick-ups or have climbed through open car windows to find shelter from rain. Imagine pulling up at your home and reaching into the back seat for something only to touch fur! Now you have a pet that’s a long way from home! So the finder may never see a lost cat poster and the worried parents are, of course, focusing their search to their immediate area.
That’s where microchips become the hero! A pet, without any visible identification may have a tiny microchip hidden in his or her body. That chip holds a unique identifier number that is (or should be) registered in a national database. The database can hold an infinite amount of information – owner’s name, address, email address and several phone numbers, an alternate person and their contact info, the pet’s name, age, breed, color, a veterinarian’s name, any health issues, who the implanter was, etc. It’s like magic when it works, as in this instance. If only the cat had been scanned when she was first found!
So the minimum required when you find a lost pet is to notify the animal control agency in the area the pet was found with a full description of the pet (a photo is very helpful), and your contact information; and to have the pet scanned for a microchip. You must surrender the pet back to the rightful owner (no matter the condition of the animal and your harsh judgments about the person). If it makes you feel better you can surrender the pet to the shelter and let them deal with the person claiming the pet. They can ensure that any health issues get taken care of and the pet is not neglected.
Wouldn’t you want someone who finds your pet to return him to you? Giving the parents a chance to claim their pet is the right thing to do and doing everything required gives you some protection if you are accused of theft down the road! Besides, everyone loves a happy ending and returning a lost pet home is definitely a win!
“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home. FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed 1-6:30; Thurs.-Fri.-Sat. 1-5:30; Sun. 1-4:30.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.