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 Colorado.

In the state of Colorado, where nature and urban life meet, it’s not uncommon to encounter a stray dog. While the sight of a stray might tug at your heartstrings, it’s crucial to understand the legal implications of finding and potentially keeping a stray dog. 

Colorado’s laws are rooted in the principle that dogs are considered property. They aim to strike a balance between the rights of the original owner and the finder’s intentions.

But you’re subject to the laws of the city and county you’re in as well as the laws at the state. Therefore, how long before a stray dog is legally yours in Colorado is a frustratingly complex question.

This article delves into the intricacies of Colorado’s stray dog laws. I also talk about the obligations of those who find them and a few variations across the State.

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

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

If you find a stray dog in Colorado and bring it to a licensed animal shelter, the standard holding period is five days. After the holding period, if the dog isn’t reclaimed by its original owner, it may become available for adoption, potentially making it legally yours if you choose to adopt it.

Under certain conditions, this period can be reduced to three days or extended based on local ordinances or the shelter’s policies, according to state code 35-80-106.3

However, these rules specifically only apply to dogs that are impounded at animal shelters. Colorado does not specify an individual’s responsibilities if they find a stray dog

It’s important to note, though, that dogs are considered property in Colorado. Colorado law does not specify your obligations if you find a dog. But they do specify what should happen if you find someone’s property.

Dogs As Property In Colorado

Dogs are considered property in Colorado, the same as any other personal property. Therefore, if you find a stray dog in Colorado, you’ll need to adhere to the same laws as you would if you found any other property. 

Think what you’d do if you found someone’s wallet or jewelry. You can’t just pick it up off the street, pocket it, and call it yours.

Before property is presumed to be abandoned, Colorado code 38-20-116 states that you must attempt to contact the owner. You also must have a good-faith reason to believe that the owner is not looking for that property. 

It also states that you must make these efforts for no less than 30 days. Not doing so may be considered theft of the dog.

Other states offer specific guidance about what you must do if you find a stray dog.

For example, if you find a stray dog in Alaska, you must make “reasonable measures”” to return that dog.

As it relates to dogs, this may mean surrendering the dog to animal services. It may also mean putting up flyers, checking for microchips, and other reasonable efforts to find the dog’s owner.

Fostering a dog, especially a stray, has it’s risks. It’s important to ask yourself questions to decide if fostering a dog is right for you. You may find my guide helpful if you’re not sure.

Regardless, if after 30 days the owner has not contacted you, that property is considered abandoned. At this time, at the state level, there is nothing preventing you from keeping the dog.

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

Claiming Ownership

Unless you register the dog as your own and get it the necessary shots, the original owner may always, even years later, be able to make a legal claim to the dog.

If you find a stray dog that you want to keep in Colorado, the best thing to do is surrender it to the shelter. If the owner has not claimed the dog in 5 days, you can legally adopt it.

This is the only way to legally claim ownership of the dog. Otherwise, the original owner will always be able to claim ownership.

These are just the laws at Colorado’s state level. They have expressly given the right to any town, city, and/or county to make their own rules to extend the waiting period past 5 days.

This is why it’s so important to check the city and county laws before deciding whether or not to keep a stray dog.

Stray Dogs Across Colorado

The state of Colorado mandates that shelters must hold a dog for owner reclaim for a minimum of 5 days. However, cities and counties across Colorado are free to extend the holding period as they see fit.

Therefore, how long before a stray dog is legally yours in Colorado greatly depends on where you are.

For example, Colorado’s most populous county, El Paso County, has extended the holding period. They’ve increased the minimum of 5 days to 6 days according to their municipal code

Their municipal code, much like the state law, does not mention what you are required to do if you find a stray dog. Therefore, it tracks that must make reasonable efforts to find the dog’s owner for at least 30 days as mandated by the state.

However, El Paso County also defines the owner of a dog as anyone who cares for it for a mere 72-hour period. 

Contrast that to Colorado’s largest county, Los Animas, which sticks to the 5-day rule outlined by the state. They also do not specifically state what your legal obligations are if you find a stray dog.

Their municipal code section 5-17 defines the owner of a dog as anyone who cares for it for 10 days.

As you can see, the specific rules about when a stray dog becomes legally yours in Colorado are complicated by city and municipal laws.


There is no state law in Colorado that mandates that you must report a stray dog. However, you may be subject to more specific laws depending on your exact location.

To ensure you are legally taking possession of that stray dog, it’s advised that you contact animal services and wait the requisite 5-day minimum before attempting to claim legal ownership.

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