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Treatment of Stray Dogs and Cats

State or local laws affect how stray cats and dogs are treated and disposed of when they are turned into a public animal control center. Some of these animals are owner drop-offs from individuals who no longer want or can no longer keep their cat or dog. But more often, animals come into an animal control facility because they are reported as strays—roaming at large—in the community.

Once animals come into an animal control facility and have been checked for identifying tags or microchips, they are assessed for health and temperament and are generally warehoused until a statutory waiting period expires. This waiting period, typically between 3-10 days, is the minimum time an animal control facility must keep animals before they can consider their disposition. This gives owners whose dogs or cats have run away an opportunity to reclaim their animals.

Animal control facilities are generally overcrowded, however, and are eager to dispose of stray animals coming through their doors. The general policy, therefore, is that once animals have been kept for the minimum waiting period without being redeemed, they are free to be disposed of as seen fit. Disposition can mean adoption, sale, transfer or even euthanasia. Many animal control facilities have their own adoption facilities or work with a local shelter or rescue group to facilitate the process.

Once an adoption or sale takes place, a previous owner’s claim to the animal is severed. This is a public policy that has been in place for decades in order to ensure that individuals who adopt an animal from a shelter or animal control facility are sure that once they take the animal home it is part of their family. Weeks or months later, an owner cannot show up to reclaim their animal.

This policy was challenged in a 2016 Texas case that found that the owners’ property rights to their dog were not severed when their lost dog was transferred to a rescue organization for treatment. Whether this decision will impact the existing policy in other states, and how it will apply to different factual situations within the state of Texas, is as yet unclear.