Porky & Buddy’s Pet Health: Is Helping A Crime?

Dear Porky and Buddy,

Maybe I’m just confused but I sometimes rescue cats and dogs that I find that appear to be lost or abandoned and if I can’t find the owner, I then try to find them new homes on my own. A friend of mine told me I could be charged with larceny because they are really not my animals. Is that true?


Dear Mary,

Well bless your heart for your kindness to animals. If more people were like you, our job would be a lot easier. But that said, there are some precautions you should take in your efforts to help lost and abandoned pets.

First, remember that your local dog control officer (DCO) for your town or village or city is the official with the responsibility to deal with stray dogs. So the first thing you should do after you have taken a dog in is to notify the DCO of who you are, where and when you found the dog, whether it has any identification on it, and a description of the dog. Most DCO’s have appropriate shelters that they can take the dog to wait the five days required by law to keep a dog with no identification. After that it can be euthanized or adopted out.

Most DCO’s are dog lovers. Why else would they want such a thankless job? They will often keep a dog much longer than the five days required in hopes of finding it a home. Most are glad to accept help from you or from other animal organizations to either find the owner or a new home. If you tell the DCO that you are willing to adopt it after the five days if necessary then his or her job is that much easier. But understand the DCO is not authorized to just let a dog stay with you in limbo. If a new home is found, the dog must be registered to the new owner. That may mean you, if you want to save the dog and then try to find a new adopter on your own. So make friends with your DCO and establish a working relationship if you can so that he or she knows that you can be trusted to be helpful and to comply with the law.

The situation with cats is not so simple. There are no statewide laws for the licensing of cats and for the most part local officials have no statutory duty to handle cats. Some cities do take responsibility for stray and abandoned cats, so once again, your first step should be to call your town or city to find out what services are available. If there are none, then you should make every reasonable effort to find the true owner of the cat, and you should keep records of the steps you take. Notify local officials, including in adjoining towns and cities, call local veterinarians and animal shelters or rescue groups. You might want to put out posters about the cat with its picture. It is amazing how often that works.

Remember that while many cats are abandoned or carelessly allowed to stray, it is also true that many just wander off despite their owner’s best intentions and you may well find that owner and witness a happy reunion. If not, you should probably wait the same five days that humane societies must wait after they take an animal in before they can place it in a new home. In case there are ever any questions about how you dealt with a stray cat, your best defense is the fact that you made good faith efforts to find the owner and your careful record keeping about those efforts.

And thanks for all you do!

Are you nervous about the idea of adopting? Afraid you’ll end up with some scruffy cranky pet that won’t even like you? You can “test drive” one of our pets for adoption by fostering a lonely pet for the holidays. No fees, no guilt, not commitment. You will be helping one of our overburdened foster homes for a week or two; you’ll have some companionship and entertainment for the holidays; and you can bring the pet back to us when the holidays are over and you have to go back to reality. It’s a win win! Call our office for more information or check out our facebook page to see the available pets! Or come to our “Foster a Lonely Pet Adoption Day” on Saturday, December 18th from 11 to 2 at the Tractor Supply Company, Route 104 East, Oswego.

The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County. Our office is located at 265 West First Street, Oswego, New York. Phone (315) 207-1070. Email: [email protected] Website: www.oswegohumane.org.