Legal Question in Criminal Law in Michigan

stray dog with chip

I found a stray dog on 2-5-2009. He has a chip and the owner reported him missing 11-7-2008. In Michigan do I legally have to return him?

Asked on 2/10/09, 4:39 pm

5 Answers from Attorneys

Timothy Trichler Timothy R. Trichler - Attorney and Counselor at Law
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Re: stray dog with chip

Greetings; In Michigan and most states, a dog is personal property. Someone owns it. You do not. There is no such thing as ..."finders keepers...losers weepers". If you deprive the owner of the dog, you have stolen it. I use this exact situation in law classes I teach at the local university. Most students are surprised that they get this wrong. So, you are not alone. Do the right thing and return the dog. If you keep the dog, you will become just another common criminal.

Atty. Trichler, www.trichler.com

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2/10/09, 5:00 pm
Timothy Klisz Klisz Law Office, PLLC
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Re: stray dog with chip

Why wouldn't you? It's not your dog and you clearly know how to find the owner. Sounds simple to me. www.kliszlaw.com

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2/10/09, 5:01 pm
Neil O'Brien Eaton County Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney
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Re: stray dog with chip

"Legally have to return him" as in "Am I at risk of criminal prosecution?" (going to jail) or as in "Am I at risk of civil liability?" (being sued)? You posted this message in the Criminal Law section aw lawguru.com, so I assume that you meant the former.

In all probability, no you are not at risk of criminal prosecution even if you are caught with this dog because the dog will probably be deemed to be "lost" property. Lost/abandoned property has no owner, so it cannot be "stolen". So you're probably safe from the cops. Yes, a prosecutor could argue that 90 days is too short a timeframe for a dog to be forever "lost", and that the owner did what it could to assert continuing dominion/ownership by inserting the chip and reporting it missing, and that you ACTUALLY KNOW that there's an owner that can be identified with minimal effort (have the chip read by a vet). But the prosecutor would have to DIS-prove beyond a reasonable doubt your 'defense' that the dog was lost or abandoned to convict you, and that'd be a tough thing to do.

But you might have trouble in the civil law arena. I do not hold myself out as an authority in that area and you might want to ask an attorney who does handle general civil law for advice here. The "lost/abandoned" issue might be the same in a civil lawsuit, or it might not be since you KNOW or have reason to believe that there is an owner who did what he/she could to continue to assert a property interest in the dog -- e.g., by reporting it as missing. with minimal effort and reasonable diligence, you can identify who the owner is (have a vet scan the chip). By not doing that, or by doing it and not following up on the lead, you MIGHT now be a target for a lawsuit. That's why you need to consult with a civil lawyer.

Beyond that, even if you have not violated criminal or civil laws, you have violated moral laws. Have you ever owned a dog that you loved (especially enough to try to not lose by putting in a chip)?? You might be nominated as Creep of the Year if you keep this dog from its owner, especially when it's so easy to make some contact.

Why not do what is morally right ... the simple, GOOD thing to do ... and call that owner, or go to their house and try to reunite them? Why simply try to "get away" with what you can? Why not do the simple, decent, HUMAN thing and try to heal this void in someone's life???! If you don't, then you sicken me.

PS: How ironic is it that you post your question in the middle of the two-night Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the MOST WATCHED show on cable TV every year -- a testament to our love for our dogs. Honor that love by being a hero to one dog and its owner!

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2/10/09, 5:02 pm
William Morrison Action Defense Center
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Re: stray dog with chip

No, dummy! Once you can identify the owner, the dog's no longer a stray.

Also, you don't know if he ran away or was taken, in which case you could be a receiver of stolen goods, which in this case is a felony.

Do the right thing and do now.

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2/10/09, 5:27 pm
James Schmier Law Office of James G. Schmier, PLLC
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Re: stray dog with chip

Its not your dog and belongs to someone else. You could be charged with a crime if you intend to deprive the rightful owner of his property.

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2/10/09, 5:34 pm

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