By Amy Feldman

By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A family in California was overjoyed last month when its beloved dog, who had gone missing while the family was camping nearly two years ago, was spotted by a camper who had seen the flyers and returned the dog to the family. But what if the good Samaritan had, rather than returning the dog, kept it?

Legally, who gets to keep a dog that is lost by one owner, found and kept by another?

Pet owners hate the fact that the law treats pets like property – but it does, so get over it. In general, who keeps property depends on whether it was lost, stolen, or abandoned. If the dog was abandoned, for example if the old owners brought it to the shelter, then the new owner keeps it. But if it was lost or stolen, the property returns to the original owner if the original owner can prove that it’s his dog and not another dog of the same breed who looks like his, and that he actually made efforts to get the dog back like posting signs or Craigslist notices so he can show it wasn’t abandoned.

That said, many states have time limits on how long a person has to file an action to recover lost property for three to six years. Even so, the best way to avoid the situation is to get the dog micro-chipped, kept with a collar in a fenced in yard, and never have to hire a lawyer to sue to get back the dog in the first place.

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