Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

What Happens If My Dog Gets Picked Up As A Stray?


You let Fido out in your fenced-in back yard while you go grocery shopping one day.  Little do you know, the gate latch is coming undone, and a gust of wind blows the gate open.  Fido gets out and has a fun romp through the neighborhood.   A friendly animal control officer captures Fido, fortunately without incident.  The officer leaves you a voicemail message that Fido is fine, but that she’s taking him to the pound because Fido is not licensed and registered. 

You don’t understand why Fido had to go to the pound.  He was wearing his tags with your contact information and proof of his rabies vaccination.  On the way to the pound, you ask yourself whether the animal control officer had the right to impound Fido.

In fact, the animal control officer had no choice but to impound Fido.  Of course you can reclaim Fido, but the pound can and will require you to license and register your dog and pay any connected license and impoundment fees before you can take Fido home.

Virginia Code Section 3.2-6562 requires officers to capture and confine “any companion animal of unknown ownership running at large on which the license fee has not been paid.”  The pound must comply with the holding period required by Section 3.2-6546.  That holding period requires the pound to hold an animal for five days while it attempts to locate the owner.  If the pound can ascertain who the rightful owner is, it must hold the animal an additional five days to give the owner time to claim the animal.  The law gives the pound the right to require the owner to pay the license fee and all impoundment costs before returning the animal to its owner.

If the rightful owner doesn’t step up, the animal is deemed “abandoned” and becomes the property of the pound.  The pound may arrange for adoption or release to a rescue or shelter, or may euthanize if it follows specific procedures in the statutes.  The law also gives the animal control officer the ability to euthanize if the animal is injured, disabled or diseased “past recovery” or to the point that a reasonable owner would euthanize.

If your dog is picked up as a stray, there are several things you can do to get your dog back as safely and quickly as possible:

  1. NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG OUTSIDE UNATTENDED!  Even if you have a fully fenced yard, you should let your dogs out only when you are home and able to supervise them.
  2. Make an identification tag for your dog, and keep all contact information on the tag current.
  3. Keep your dog’s rabies vaccination up to date.  Make sure you have a tag and several copies of a certificate indicating accurate information for your dog’s most recent rabies vaccination.
  4. Register your dog in the locality in which you live.  Keep your dog’s license and corresponding tags up to date, and keep several copies of a certificate showing that your dog is properly licensed and registered. 
  5. Securely fasten the identification, rabies, and license and registration tags to your dog’s collar.  Make sure your dog is wearing her collar and tags any time you go out with her.
  6. Don’t count on tags alone.  Have your dog microchipped, and have several backup contacts linked to the microchip, including your dog’s veterinarian information and other emergency contacts.  Get a tag that says your dog is microchipped, along with the contact information of the microchip company, just in case the microchip malfunctions.
  7. If your dog has any special medical needs or allergies, make sure to have a very visible separate tag to alert people to these needs.  Include this information on the microchip and in your dog’s registration.
  8. Don’t hesitate to create other tags and add other microchip information if appropriate.  For instance, good rescues (like A Forever Home where I got Sophie) will give you a tag to put on your rescue’s collar, will ask you to include them in the information you provide to the microchip company, and won’t hesitate to step in and claim your dog if you are unable to do so for some reason. 

Author: Heidi Meinzer

Attorney and Animal Lover, not necessarily in that order

3 thoughts on “What Happens If My Dog Gets Picked Up As A Stray?

  1. While it is always the safest thing for your dog and the neighborhood for Fido to remain within the confines of your yard, and while the animal control officer may be required to capture your dog, I don’t think the friendly animal control officer is REQUIRED to take your dog to the pound. For example, if your dog is running at large, is captured by animal control and your neighbor is out in your yard and offers to take your dog in until you get home from work, then the officer should not be required to take the dog to the shelter. Instead, the ACO should let the neighbor hold the dog for the owner’s return (perhaps with a citation stuck on the owner’s door) Or, if the gate is open and it’s the obvious way the dog got out, the ACO can put the dog back in the yard and close the gate. Of, if that neighbor says you’ll be home at 6, and it’s 5:30, the ACO might put the dog in the truck and stop back a bit after 6pm to give you your dog back (and perhaps a citation for running at large. Especially if the ACO knows where you live (as evidenced by the voice mail left in the story, above). There are a number of jurisdictions in North America in which this happens. The Maryland Dog Federation would like to see more ACOs be less punitive and more community friendly. What do you think?

    • I love seeing community friendly ACOs! Unfortunately, the way that the Virginia statute is written, if the dog isn’t current on its registration, the statute uses mandatory language requiring the dog to be impounded until the license fees are paid. If the license fees are paid and the registration is current, then there is nothing in the code requiring the ACO to impound, and the ACO would likely put the dog back in the yard or contact a neighbor to hold your dog until you got home.

  2. Pingback: All is Not Lost: California Becomes First State to Pass Bill Mandating Microchips « Companion Animal Law Blog

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