How Long Does it Take for a Stray Dog to Become Your Pet? (State Laws)


Discovering a stray dog can be both heartwarming and worrying. You may feel inclined to adopt the dog, but do you know the legalities surrounding it? Depending on the state you reside in, the duration before a stray dog becomes legally yours can vary. In this guide, we will explore the laws in different states, including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington State.

How Long Before a Stray Dog is Legally Yours in Different States

Please note that laws change frequently, so it’s essential to double-check the information provided. The data in the table has been sourced from a third party and may contain errors.

State Duration to Gain Legal Ownership of a Stray Dog
Arizona 90 days
Arkansas 90 days
California 90 days
Colorado 90 days
Florida 90 days
Georgia 90 days
North Carolina 90 days
Oklahoma 90 days
Texas 14 days
Washington State 30 days

Found a Stray Dog? Here’s What You Need to Know

Do you know how many dogs find themselves in shelters each year? An estimated 3.1 million dogs end up in shelters in the US. This includes both voluntarily surrendered dogs and stray dogs rescued by good-hearted individuals. It’s highly likely that you have encountered a stray dog while going about your daily routine or even found one on your property. The sudden appearance of a vulnerable stray can make you believe that fate has intervened to fulfill your dreams of becoming a dog owner. However, the legal system doesn’t work that way.

Dogs are often considered personal property, and that stray dog in your yard might actually be someone else’s lost companion. Keeping the dog without proper legal procedures can lead to accusations of theft, even if your intentions were pure. Besides, there’s the concern of potential zoonotic diseases, such as rabies, which may pose a risk to your own safety. To ensure you are not caught up in legal troubles and to guarantee the health and well-being of the dog, it is essential to involve the authorities.

Reporting a Stray Dog and Reuniting with Its Owner

Almost all states require you to report a lost and found stray dog to a local shelter or contact a local animal control officer. This enables rightful owners to have the opportunity to reunite with their beloved pets. Did you know that approximately 710,000 stray dogs are reunited with their families each year? By involving the authorities, you increase the chances of reconnecting the dog with its owners and prevent unnecessary misery.

If you are unsure about how to contact the authorities, you can visit a local veterinary clinic for guidance. In cases where the authorities or shelters are unable to find the dog’s owner, they will gather your information and transfer ownership to you. Make sure to express your interest in adopting the stray dog, so you are given priority when the dog becomes available for adoption. The duration it takes for you to legally become the dog’s caregiver varies depending on your location. It may range from three days to up to seven days, depending on your state’s laws. For example:

  • In South Carolina, the shelter or animal control officers will hold the dog for five days. If nobody claims the dog within this period, you will be granted legal ownership.
  • In Alabama, it takes seven days for you to become the legal owner of a stray dog if the rightful owner doesn’t claim it.
  • In Texas, the waiting period is only three days before you acquire the legal rights to care for a stray dog.

To find the specific holding periods for stray dogs in different states, you can refer to reliable sources. Ultimately, the shelter or animal authority officer you contact will provide you with the exact timeframe required for you to become the legal guardian of the dog.

In some areas, specific laws may not exist, and the authorities may ask you to continue caring for the dog while spreading the word about their missing status for a specified period. Putting up flyers and online posts can help connect the dog with its owner before you become the official caregiver. This waiting period is actually a blessing in disguise, allowing you to prepare your home and gather the necessary supplies before welcoming your adopted stray dog.

What to Do (and What Not to Do) When You Find a Stray Dog

Approach Them with Caution

Stray dogs often feel overwhelmed and suspicious in new environments, which can make them react defensively. Approach them carefully, keeping in mind that they might bark or growl as a defensive mechanism. If the dog displays signs of aggression, avoid getting closer. However, if the dog appears calm, try to speak to them in soothing tones to build trust. If the dog walks away, but you still wish to help, immediately contact the shelter or an animal control officer, providing a description and exact location. This will facilitate their efforts in locating the dog.

Check for Identification

Before involving the authorities, check if the stray dog has an identification collar. If there is a collar, reach out to the provided contact information and arrange for the dog to be reunited with its owner. If the dog doesn’t have physical identification, consider taking them to the nearest vet clinic to check for a microchip. If a microchip is found, the vet will contact the owners. If no microchip is found, it is advisable to contact the local authorities to determine the next steps.

Keep in Mind

Adopting a stray dog carries significant responsibilities, similar to any other dog. You must be prepared to provide care, meet their needs, and be ready for financial commitments. However, in return, they will provide you with unconditional love and unwavering loyalty. It’s definitely a worthwhile endeavor!


Can I keep a dog if I found it?

No, you cannot keep a dog you found. As mentioned earlier, contacting local animal control officers or animal shelter personnel is essential to reunite the dog with its owner.

How long is the stray hold in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, a stray dog brought to shelters or taken in by animal control officers will be held for five days before being eligible for adoption or, if seriously ill, euthanized.

Are dogs considered property in Alabama?

Yes, dogs are considered personal property in Alabama, as they are in many other states.

How long do you have to claim a lost dog in Texas?

In Texas, you have a period of three working days to claim a lost dog.


If you ever wondered how long it takes to legally become the owner of a stray dog you found, you are not alone. However, please note that the process is not as straightforward as outlined in this guide, and laws can change. To obtain accurate and up-to-date information, it is best to contact your local authorities. They will provide you with the necessary details regarding how long it takes for a stray dog to become legally yours in your specific area.

Remember, adopting a stray dog requires careful attention and responsibility. It is essential to follow the proper procedures to ensure the safety and well-being of both the dog and yourself. The joy and love you can receive from a stray dog are definitely worth it!

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Image of a stray dog in the header from here.

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