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WI Laws related to keeping found animals

4.9.12 Animals and Poultry not to run at Large
No person owning any animal or fowl shall allow the same to run at large within the County

  • A number of people claiming ownership of found dogs in Wisconsin recently concerns many of us who work with lost and found animals. A facebook post from an individual announced she found a German Shephard dog and she declared the dog hers after four days. Many people in Wisconsin are under the impression that they can keep a stray animal and claim it theirs if they hold it for the statutory stray hold time. This is NOT TRUE. In Wisconsin, only the government or organizations contracting with the government may transfer ownership after a statutory stray hold time.
  • It is unlawful for a private citizen to take up a stray animal unless they find it on property they own or occupy. If the stray is found on property owned or occupied by the finder and the person chooses not to surrender the dog to an authorized agent of the government, the finder has a series of steps they must take or risk a lawsuit or a claim of theft. Those rules are found in Wisconsin Chapter 170, Strays and Lost Chattels.
  • Chapter 170 requires the finder to notify the town clerk they have the animal. They must include a detailed description of the animal, the specific location where the animal was found, and the date it was taken up by the finder. If the animal's owner is known, the finder must notify the owner that the animal was found and where the owner may recover it. If the animal's owner is unknown and the animal's value exceeds $50.00, the finder must also publish a Class 3 legal notice in the newspaper that is authorized to publish those types of notices.
  • When all of those steps are taken, the owner can still recover their lost animal up to a year later if they pay the reasonable costs incurred by the finder to care for the animal. If those steps are not taken, the finder never can obtain ownership of the animal and may be subject to paying the owner damages.
  • The best option when finding a lost animal is to contact law enforcement or the humane officer for your area. If you can't or don't do that, you must review Chapter 170 of the Wisconsin statutes to determine what steps are required under the law of lost strays and chattels.
  • https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/170
  • Information on this page provided by  Animal Legal Resources, LLC