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Dog Ownership Laws

Dog ownership laws can be difficult to deal with, as dogs are considered property under the law despite the emotional attachment owners are likely to have towards the creatures.

A dog is considered an item that is owned by law. When there is a dispute between two people who think that they should own the animal, the Court can decide who has ownership. The majority of the time these cases are heard in the Small Claims Court.

The claim will be for:

  • legal ownership
  • the return of the animal
  • damages for the wrongful keeping of the animal.

The Court may consider many different aspects and points like considering who bought the animal and who the person who actually provides for the animal is.

It is a possibility that the Court could just decide that the dog is owned jointly and if an agreement on who should have it cannot be found, could order that the dog to be sold and the money shared. Another option would be for the Court to decide on shared ownership, so that each person could have the dog for half a year each.

The ownership of a dog is decided at the same time as all other matrimonial items in a divorce.

The Court does not however possess the legal power to order that someone gives access to a dog.

Finding and losing dogs

If you find a dog without an owner, i.e. a stray dog, then it is your duty to return the dog to its owner or report it to the local authority. It is against the law to not do this if you intend to keep the dog, as it may otherwise be considered theft.

If no owner is found, then you may be permitted to keep the dog, but there is the possibility that the original owner could still claim it back.

If it is you who have lost your pet dog then you should immediately inform the local authority and keep in contact with them. The council may give the dog to someone else if a week has passed and you have not attempted to get it back - however, the legal ownership does not transfer to the new owner, and you may still be able to claim your dog back if you come forward at a later date.

Dog identification and tracking

In most circumstances it is required by law for your dog to wear a collar with your name and address somewhere on it. Failure to do this means that you are breaking the law as well as making it far harder for you to retrieve the dog if it goes missing. The highest penalty for not complying with this legal requirement is £2,000.

The law also requires all dogs to be microchipped by the time they are eight weeks old. This can be done by a vet, animal charity or local authority, and may be offered as a free service. You could be fined up to £500 if your dog is found not to be microchipped and you do not remedy this within 21 days.

You can also have your dog tattooed for identification purposes - the National Dog Tattoo Register website has more information on this. 

Local authority responsibilities

Local authorities have a duty to collect and register all dogs that are found or handed in. Complaints about stray dogs will be responded to as promptly as possible, normally within two days. The local authority employs a dog warden who keeps you informed of what he is doing while maintaining confidentiality. If the authority cannot find out or contact the owner, they will take the dog into their kennels. The dog will be kept until you can prove who you are and you have paid the necessary fees. Local authorities generally charge £25 for a seizure, £30 for transport and admin and £15 a night for the kennels.

Buying a dog

If you're purchasing a dog and wish to ensure that you have an appropriate contract with the seller, we offer a dog sale contract in our Law Shop which you may find extremely useful.

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