All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Finders Keepers Does NOT Apply

I work in a very animal-friendly office. We don’t have an official bring-your-pet-to-work policy, but my coworkers occasionally do bring in their little four-legged friends from time to time and everyone loves those visits. A week rarely passes by when something animal related doesn’t come up. Last week was no exception. An office mate forwarded an email about a little found dog that needed a home right away because the nice person who rescued the dog from the streets could not keep it.

This was the second “found dog” in a relatively short amount of time that my friends at work wanted to assist in placing into a new home. I am thrilled they are all so happy to help an animal in need; but as good as these intentions are, they are also unlawful.

It might be hard to believe, but no one is allowed to keep a pet they find roaming, even if it is not wearing a collar or tag—and pretty much everyone I know has kept a found pet at some point in their life. The reason for not keeping a found animal is because every pet must be assumed to have a home somewhere and every effort should be made to return it to its owner.

Last year, through a series of mishaps, an acquaintance of mine lost her little poodle. He had been a therapy dog and visited children’s hospitals regularly; he was loved by a lot of people. Unfortunately, he was not wearing a collar and tag. For months, his owner checked every animal shelter and rescue in California on a daily basis. She also hired a pet detective agency. A number of witnesses saw the dog at a local school yard and observed a man putting the dog into his car. Nearly a year later, the dog is still missing and was never turned over to a shelter. Someone clearly assumed that since the dog had no identification, it needed a home. That assumption led to heartache.

Even if it seems like a dog or cat couldn’t possibly have a home somewhere, it must be turned over to the animal shelter that has jurisdiction over the area where the pet was found. I remember an occasion many years ago when I found a matted, filthy, starving, injured dog roaming the streets of Lake Forest. I brought him to the County Shelter where he received veterinary care and was reunited with his elderly owner who was overwhelmed with emotion to have her beloved dog back. He had been missing for several months after escaping when workers left a door open where he lived.

Anyway...back to my current story...The latest email that circulated at my office described the dog as a purebred—healthy, young, and sweet. Here's the thing: A sweet dog is generally a loved dog, which means someone, somewhere was out looking for him. It’s just not right to deny its owners the opportunity to get their dog back.

I know it’s not easy to turn a dog over to a shelter. But it’s the best possible outcome. Animals in shelters receive all needed veterinary care, are scanned for microchips, and checked for any other identification. If an owner cannot be located and the dog is a purebred, it can be transferred to a breed rescue organization that will find a good home for the pet; or placed in a home by the shelter itself. Further, by going to a shelter first, it will be spayed or neutered, will receive all needed vaccinations, and at most shelters, will also receive a microchip.

Shelters also offer some type of “hold” system that allows the person who turns in a found pet to adopt that animal in the event no owner can be located. This is actually a great deal because when one considers the cost for spaying or neutering, licensing, vaccinating, microchipping, and other vet care, the adoption fees are going to be far less than the grand total of those items if paid for outside of the shelter system.

This advice does not just hold true for dogs and cats. All pet animals that are found “stray” should be turned over to a shelter. That means rabbits, snakes, iguanas, exotic birds, etc. The “Finders-Keepers” rule didn’t work in Kindergarten and it doesn’t work now.