If you find a stray, you have no specific duty to take the stray in. Each county and city in Virginia has to have an animal control officer, and you are certainly within your rights to contact animal control to report the stray.
But if you decide to take in the stray, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6551 outlines what you have to do. This code section kicks in if you provide “care or safekeeping” to the animal, or if you retain the animal “in such a manner as to control its activities.” Within 48 hours, you must:
- Make a reasonable attempt to find the owner, if you can ascertain who the owner is by way of a tag, license, collar, tattoo or other form of identification or markings; AND
- Notify the local pound where the animal was found, and provide the pound with your name and phone number, the location where you found the animal, and a description of the animal along with any information from a tag, license, collar, tattoo or other form of identification or markings.
You can find helpful tips and guidance about stray animals from the Humane Society of the United States and the Missing Pet Partnership. The most important consideration is safety — yours and the animal’s. Remember that the animal will likely be fearful, and may be sick or injured. Be particularly careful if you find the animal in an area with traffic. Be aware that if you take in the stray, you take on the duty to provide the animal with adequate care. This includes the duty to provide veterinary care, so be prepared to pay the vet bills if the stray is injured or sick.
The second most important consideration, thanks to the Missing Pet Partnership, is to “think lost, not stray” — and do all you can to get the animal back to its owner. It is for this very reason that a violation of Section 3.2-6551 carries a civil penalty of up to $50 per animal. The Missing Pet Partnership has some great ideas, including putting a long lead on a dog and telling him to go home to see if the animal knows its way home, hanging large “Found Dog” posters in the area where you found the dog, and taking the animal to animal control or a vet to see if the animal has a microchip.