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 Florida.
Picture it: sunny Florida. Palm trees swaying, waves crashing, cold drinks sweating, and stray dogs running the streets. We may not put it on the postcards, but Florida actually has a big stray and abandoned dog problem.
I’ve lived in Florida for most of my life. Every time I see a stray dog (which is often), I do my best to pick it up, check it for a tag, or bring it to animal services. I 100% understand the impulse to just bring them home with you.
Big soulful, hopeful eyes that light up as they trust you can be really tempting. But in Florida, with its diverse cities and counties, each with its own set of rules, the laws regarding stray dog adopting can be complicated. And how long before a stray dog is legally yours in Florida depends greatly on where you are in the state.
How Long Before A Stray Dog Is Legally Yours In Florida?
All stray dogs in Florida must be surrendered to animal services and held for a minimum of 48 hours before becoming eligible for adoption. Many counties and cities have additional regulations that extend this holding period to 3 days for strays and 5 days for owned animals.
Failing to surrender a stray dog you find can be considered property theft.
Florida statute 823.151 is very clear that the priority of the State is to reunite owners with their lost stray dogs (and cats).
The state of Florida, does not specify your obligations if you find a stray dog. This is different than other states. For example, if you find a stray dog in Alaska, the state has clearly outlined what your responsibilities are.
Florida gives the responsibility of governing stray dogs up to the cities and counties. However, it does make one very important rule.
Florida law indicates that shelters and rescues must try to find owners of stray dogs for at least 48 hours. What happens after that depends on where you are in the state.
However, it’s important to note that dogs are considered property in Florida (828.02). This is true in most states in the US. Therefore, to get a better understanding of your state-mandated obligations if you find a stray dog, we need to look at Florida property law.
Dogs As Property In Florida
Florida law does not specify what you must do if you find a stray dog. However, that doesn’t mean you can claim any stray dog that you find as your own. You have to follow the laws regarding lost property.
Florida statute 705.102 indicates that you must surrender all found property to a law enforcement officer. Failure to surrender found property, including a dog, is considered theft.
If the property you found was a bicycle or a piece of jewelry that you’d like to keep, there is a path to ownership. However, the process for claiming ownership of a bike or a ring is different than for a dog.
Once you surrender the dog to animal control, that dog will be held for at least 48 hours. This is mandated by the state.
If the owner does not claim the dog within 48 hours, as far as the state of Florida is concerned, there is nothing stopping you from legally adopting that stray dog and making it yours.
Therefore, if you find a stray dog in Florida that you want to keep, you are legally required to surrender it to animal control. If the owner hasn’t claimed the dog within 48 hours, you can legally adopt that dog.
However, it’s crucial to remember that these are just the laws at the state level. Florida has specifically given the rights and responsibilities of stray dog management up to the counties and cities across Florida.
You very likely live in a part of Florida that has conflicting and likely more stringent rules when it comes to how long before a stray dog is legally yours in Florida.
Stray Dogs Across Florida
Florida cities and counties have the authority to create and enforce their own laws regarding stray dogs. Therefore, it’s crucial to look into your local ordinances before attempting to claim legal ownership of a stray dog.
In Florida, you are required to surrender stray dogs to animal control. What happens next depends on where you are in the state.
For example, Miami-Dade County is Florida’s most populated county. Their municipal code extends the 48-hour waiting period mandated by the state to 3 days.
Orange County, home of Orlando, has different rules, too. Any dog impounded by animal services that does not have any form of identification will, as in Miami, be held for 3 days. That’s a full day longer than mandated by the state.
However, if the dog comes in with any form of ID, that dog will be held for a minimum of 5 days, excluding the day of impoundment. After that, the dog can be legally adopted (or euthanized).
I live in Alachua County, which has taken the rules a step further. Our municipal code is in line with Orange County’s: stray dogs without ID will be held for a minimum of 3 days, and stray dogs with ID will be held for 5 days.
However, the law specifically states that you shall not feed, harbor, or care for any stray dog that you find unless you notify animal services within 24 hours of finding the dog.
At that time, animal services will likely impound the dog. However, I know my local shelter is typically at capacity. If you are willing to foster the dog for the holding period, they’ll likely let you.
Whether or not it’s a good idea to foster a dog is a different story.
The Sunshine State makes it pretty clear what your obligations are if you find a stray dog. You can’t keep it, you must surrender it to animal control.
The dog will be held for a minimum of 48 hours, giving the original owner time to find and reclaim their dog.
However, most counties in Florida have extended that holding period by at least a day. This still makes Florida one of the states with the shortest holding periods for stray dogs.
For example, if you find a stray dog in Alabama, that dog will be held at the shelter for a minimum of 7 days.
Therefore, if you find a stray dog that you want to keep in Florida, you’re in luck! There is a path to legally claiming ownership of that dog in as little as 48 hours, depending on where you lived.
However, while finding a stray dog may be an opportunity to adopt a new furry friend, it’s also a responsibility. That dog may be part of a family that is desperately missing them.
It may be tempting to just….keep the dog. But, more than being illegal, it’s amoral. The best thing you can do if you find a stray dog in Florida is surrender it to animal services. After waiting the brief holding period, you can legally adopt your new furry friend.