Note: The DearEsq free 'ask a lawyer' site is offered as a free informational service to the public and is not intended as legal advice. Laws vary from state-to-state, and in addition every situation is unique, and relevant facts may not be known. The answer to the question posed below may not apply to in your state or to your situation. For legal advice in your state and your situation you should consult with an attorney in your state who is familiar with the rules and laws in your state.
Question: I have had a dog in my care for over 2 years now. Originally, it was the next door neighbors’ dog. He left the dog in my care and “assumed” that she was okay. He never checked on or inquired about her at all in those 2+ years of time. Only if she was outside, would he even look at her or pet her a little. Other than that, he never asked for her to come home; nothing! I recently moved and took this dog with me. I have vetted, licensed, boarded (when away on vacation) and fed this dog for those entire 2+ years. Now that I have moved, this neighbor has now been causing trouble saying I stole his dog and “his kids want her back!” In this entire period of time, the guy bought (maybe) a half dozen bags of dry dog food and that was it. He never asked if she was okay; nothing. So my question is: if I have done all of what a responsible dog owner is supposed to in all legal terms (IE license, feed, water, house vet, everything) does he have any rights to this dog anymore? I am in West Virginia. I was informed, by the animal shelter director, that he did abandon this dog into my care (in their determination) and because he never vetted her, had no rabies or collar of any type, that she was roaming and considered a stray in the eyes of the law here. What are my rights?
Answer: You will need to check with a local attorney who is familiar with the laws of property abandonment as they pertain to animals in your state (and if they can’t find anything specifically about pets, they may need to check for laws regarding abandoned livestock, or even abandoned property generally).
You should also check with your veterinarian, as vets often have to deal with animals that have been abandoned at the vet, and so they may be able to point you to the law, as well as to a lawyer familiar with the law.
All that said, we’d bet that you could make this go away by offering to buy the dog.