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 Indiana.

Indiana, known for its rich agricultural history and the iconic Indy 500 race, holds a unique place in America’s heartland. But there’s an often overlooked issue: the plight of stray dogs.

Indianapolis Animal Control Services, which governs stray dogs in Indianapolis, is in a crisis. Knowing the deplorable and potentially deadly conditions that stray dogs in shelters may face, good Samaritans may feel tempted to keep any strays they find.

But this prompts critical questions about the legal aspects of handling stray dogs. What are Indiana’s laws and regulations regarding stray dogs, and what responsibilities do you assume if you find one? Most importantly, how long before a stray dog is legally yours in Indiana?

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

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

In Indiana, dogs that are surrendered to animal control must be held for a minimum of 10 days. After that, they can be euthanized or adopted. So a stray dog that you find and surrender to animal control can be yours in as little as 10 days if the owner does not claim their dog.

This 10-day holding period is crucial to give owners the chance to reunite with their dog. This is a pretty generous holding period. Your neighbor state is less; stray dogs in Illinois are only held for 7 days.

However, it’s important to note that these rules are specific to stray dogs that are being held at animal control, not individuals.

The state of Indiana does not specify how long before a stray dog is legally yours. However, the lack of explicit rules regarding stray dog ownership does not mean you are free to keep any stray dog you find.

First of all, Illinois gives authority to individual states and counties to regulate animal control. It’s likely that the county or city that you live in in Indiana has their own rules. 

Therefore, it’s crucial to look closely at local ordinances to determine your legal obligations when you find a dog.

Second, in Indiana, dogs are considered property. Finding and keeping someone else’s lost property without following the appropriate channels can constitute theft.

So, to determine how long before a stray dog is legally yours in Indiana, we’ll need to take a closer look at Indiana property laws and laws regarding stray dogs across the state.

Dogs As Property In Indiana

Dogs are considered property in Indiana, just like in most other states. Because of this, finding a stray dog comes with certain legal responsibilities and implications for the finder. 

Indiana’s approach to such situations is outlined in the Indiana Code Title 32, Property § 32-34-1-26. This section mandates that holders of presumed abandoned property, which includes stray dogs, must report that found property.

The law provides detailed instructions on how to report found items. However, the law again does not specify rules for dogs. But one can assume that instead of reporting the found dog to the attorney general (as one would do with a lost wallet or bike), they should report the dog to animal control.

When you find a stray dog in Indiana, you are essentially dealing with property presumed abandoned. The legal expectation, as per the aforementioned section, is to report the finding to the appropriate authorities. 

If you find a stray dog in Indiana, it’s crucial to take reasonable measures to locate its owner. This could involve reporting the found dog to local animal services. 

If the owner of the stray dog is not identified, Indiana property law comes into play. The dog, as presumed abandoned property, may eventually be eligible for adoption. However, it’s essential to follow the state’s legal procedures to avoid potential legal issues.

And, as we mentioned, you’ll need to pay attention to specific county or city regulations in Indiana that might impose additional rules regarding stray dogs. These local ordinances can sometimes complicate the process and extend the time before a stray dog is legally adoptable.

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

Stray Dogs Across Indiana

Indianapolis in Marion County, Indiana’s most populated city and county, has outlined its own specific guidelines you must follow if you find a stray dog. Understanding these local ordinances is crucial for residents who might encounter stray dogs.

Section 531-723 of the Marion County Code indicates that a person who finds a stray dog must notify animal services within forty-eight hours. At this time, they will likely impound the dog. But they may allow the dog to stay with you for the duration of the impoundment. 

Once impounded, according to Sec. 531-731, a stray dog not claimed by its owner will be humanely impounded for not less than thirty-two (32) business hours, roughly the equivalent of 4 business days.

After 32 business hours, the dog becomes available for adoption.

If the dog is not impounded, Sec. 531-208 indicates that you will be considered the dog’s owner after caring for it for 14 consecutive days. 

If you decide to keep the dog, be sure to get a good collar for your rescue dog so they don’t escape again. It might be helpful to check out my article on how to leash train a rescue dog, too.

The initial 48-hour reporting requirement guarantees that lost pets get a chance to reunite with their owners. The 32-business-hour impoundment period offers a window for owners to claim their pets.

After this period, these dogs become eligible for adoption, offering them a chance for a new home. 

On the other hand, if a dog is not impounded, the person who cares for it for 14 consecutive days is recognized as the new owner.

It’s notable that these rules are different than those set forth by the state. This is a prime example of why it’s important to look deeply at your local ordinances, not just the state laws, before attempting to claim legal ownership of a stray dog.


In Indiana, the legal ownership period for a stray dog varies. Statewide, animal control must hold surrendered dogs for at least 10 days before adoption or euthanasia. However, local regulations differ. 

For example, in Marion County, a stray dog becomes eligible for adoption if not claimed within 32 business hours post-impoundment.

Alternatively, if not impounded, caring for the dog for 14 consecutive days makes you the de facto owner of that dog.

Therefore, it’s essential to consult specific county or city rules to understand your legal obligations and timelines for stray dogs in your area.


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