Beware the legal ramifications when re-homing lost pets

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - An animal advocacy group is asking people that find lost pets to use the proper channels to help families reunite with their furry friends.

As private and public community Facebook pages grow, fewer people are working with Huntsville Animal Services to rehome lost pets and that could be making it harder for families to find their pets.

Most of the kennels at Huntsville Animal Services were filled just within the last 24-hours. You might think that people are actively trying to find their dogs when in reality only 20% of those dogs will be reunited with their families.

"I don't know if people don't know about where to go look for their lost pet or they don't want their pet back," said HAS supervisor Karen Buchan. "We get some beautiful dogs and we know they are owned."

It's hard to pin-point why Madison County has such a low reunification rate compared to other cities.

While social media pages like Lost and Found Pets - Huntsville, Alabama are great, not all pages are public.

"If I've lost my dog and you've posted about my dog on Facebook, I may never find that post. I may never see it," explained Aubrie Kavanaugh with No Kill Huntsville.

You don't have to look far to see people taking the re-homing process into their own hands. Clearly, people have good intentions but WHNT News 19 found a post where someone is asking the community to foster a dog they themselves can't find an owner for. The poster found the dog a week ago. Other commenters offered to take the dog if an owner wasn't found.  Sometimes the person who found the dog decides they want to keep it.

In this instance, the owner ended up coming forward, but that isn't always the case.

"It's not a matter of finders keepers," said Kavanaugh. "We don't like to think of animals as property but legally that's what they are under the law."

Because shelter space is limited due to renovations, Huntsville Animal Services asks that people fill out a found pet form and send them a picture.

"We post it as a found animal on our website," Buchan. "So people have a central location where they can look for their lost pet."

When a dog comes here, technically it can be adopted within 24-hours. However, if the owner steps forward there's paperwork signed acknowledging the dog will have to be returned.

Huntsville Animal Services says its always best to check with your neighbors if you find a lost dog. If you give a lost dog to someone else and the owner comes forward, the owner could take you to civil court.

34.730369 -86.586104