Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and the content of this article is for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice. If you have specific legal questions or concerns, please consult with a licensed attorney in Arizona.

For the residents of the Grand Canyon State, the appeal of adopting a stray dog can be tempting. 

The wagging tail, hopeful eyes, and the thought of giving a homeless animal a forever home are straightforwardly heartwarming. However, in Arizona, the legalities surrounding the adoption of stray dogs are not as straightforward. 

While the state has its guidelines, major cities like Phoenix have their own rules that stack on top of state laws. This article explores the regulations that Arizonians need to keep in mind before determining how long before a stray dog is legally yours in Arizona.

How Long Before A Stray Dog Is Legally Yours In Arizona?

How Long Before A Stray Dog Is Legally Yours In Arizona?

In Arizona, how long before a stray dog becomes legally yours varies by location. State law requires a stray dog without ID to be held for 72 hours (3 days). Dogs found with ID are held for 120 hours (5 days) if found with ID. In Phoenix, you are legally the owner of a dog after keeping it for more than 6 days. 

Arizona state code specifies that, after these holding periods, the original owner does not get to reclaim the dog. Any person can adopt the dog, effectively making it legally theirs.

Arizona may be fine with you legally adopting that stray after 3-5 days, depending on their ID status. However, rules regarding how long before a stray dog is legally yours in Arizona are complicated by laws at municipal and city levels. 

These laws greatly influence your rights and the rights of the original owner. It’s imperative that you look deeper into your local ordinances before you try to take legal claim of the stray.

Stray Dogs In Phoenix

If you find a stray dog in Phoenix, you are legally required to contact the owner or surrender the dog to animal control within 24 hours of finding them. If the owner does not claim the dog within 6 days, you become the de facto legal owner of that dog.

Failing to contact the owner or surrender the dog to animal control or a recognized rescue within 24 hours is a Class 1 Animal Cruelty misdemeanor, according to Section 8-3(E) of the Phoenix municipal code

If the owner cannot be reached, the rescue or animal control officer may demand the dog’s surrender. They will hold the dog at the pound for the mandatory holding period. This is especially true if the dog is in fact licensed or if the dog is unaltered. They may also allow the dog to remain in your care for the required holding period.

If the owner does not claim the dog during the 3 or 5-day holding period, then animal services have the right to adopt out that dog. That dog is legally yours if you adopt it from animal services or another recognized rescue.

If they do not confiscate the dog from you, then that stray dog will be legally yours after it’s been in your care for 6 consecutive days.

Think long and hard before you sign up to foster the dog during this holding period. It’s easy to fall in love with a dog, and easier to have your heart broken if things don’t work out. If you find yourself wondering “Should I foster a dog?” my guide may come in useful to you.

How Long Before A Stray Dog Is Legally Yours In Arizona?

Phoenix’s 6-Day Rule For Dog Ownership

This is a Phoenix-specific law. Phoenix strictly enforces this 6-day rule of ownership as put forth by section 8-1 of their municipal code

In fact, a 2018 case involving a stray English Bulldog named Rhino ignited debate over Arizona’s six-day law. The controversy arose when someone found a dog they named Rhino as a stray. They were eventually confronted by someone who claimed that Rhino was actually their lost dog, Mikey.

The person who found Rhino had kept the dog for more than 6 days. Therefore, they had the right to refuse to return the dog. 


Arizona’s laws surrounding stray dog ownership are complex and conflict when state and local regulations intersect. With the state mandating holding periods of varying lengths based on the presence or absence of ID, and cities like Phoenix creating their own laws like the six-day rule, it can be difficult to discern how long before a stray dog can be called legally yours in Arizona. 

Laws merely provide the laws provide a framework. It’s important to keep in mind what’s best for the dog and their family. Remember, they may be dearly missing their beloved pet. Before you attempt to adopt a stray dog you found, try your best to find the rightful owners. Check with your local ordinances about what your requirements are. And before you enter into a conflict with anyone about the claim to the dog, consult with a licensed attorney in Arizona.

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2 thoughts on “How Long Before A Stray Dog Is Legally Yours In Arizona?

  1. This information is not entirely correct. There is a definition for county impound a six day hold. It does not apply to the general public. It is true that animals are property, dogs are property. The only thing that clears and transfers ownership of a dog according by the way you’re describing it here is if they turn that animal into the county shelter or if they foster it for the county shelter. If they do the steps on their own it takes longer than six days.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to engage with me and the article. Maybe you can help me better understand where you’re coming from.

      In Phoenix, the county requires animals to be held in shelters for 3 days if they are unlicensed and 5 days if they are licensed. These laws are specific to animal shelters. So you are correct that this does not apply to the general public.

      One of the few laws regarding this subject that does directly apply to individuals is that you are legally required to find the owner or contact animal control if you find a stray dog.

      You cannot just find the dog and keep it for 6 days and claim it’s yours. If you cannot find the owner yourself, you must contact animal services. Failing to do so is considered theft.

      Another layer of complication, however, is that Phoenix specifically defines the owner of an animal as “….any person owning, keeping, possessing, harboring or maintaining an animal other than livestock for more than six consecutive days.”

      Basically, it’s complicated, and there are a lot of different laws that could come into play if a dispute over ownership comes up. But I don’t think there’s anything in this article that’s inaccurate. If you explain to me where we’re diverging, I’ll happily update the article for clarity.

      Thanks again!

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