An acquaintance rescued a dog that had been abandoned and was looking for someone to adopt her. My wife and I offered to take the dog and find her a home because we were in a better position to care for the dog than this acquaintance was. While filling out some paperwork for a dog fostering program, we encountered the question, "Are you the legal owner of the dog?" I do not know the answer to that question.


What constitutes legal ownership of a dog in Utah? Is there paperwork or registration that needs to be filled out to become the legal owner? Or do you become the legal owner once you claim the dog (and no one disputes the claim)? Or does taking care of the dog long-term make you the legal owner even if you don't claim ownership? Or is it something else?

1 Answer 1


It does not sound as if the applicable Utah laws have been followed with respect to this animal. You may want to refer to:

Utah Stray Animal Law

I believe you need to involve your local (i.e. county or municipality) animal control:

(1) Each municipal or county animal control officer shall hold any unidentified or unclaimed stray animal in safe and humane custody for a minimum of five business days after the time of impound and prior to making any final disposition of the animal.

After that, the animal may be placed into an adoptive home:

(i) placement in an adoptive home or other transfer of the animal, which shall be in compliance with Part 2, Animal Shelter Pet Sterilization Act;

I think you are having trouble proving ownership of the dog because you are not the legal owner. If you were you would have some documents from a breeder, a bill of sale, or some adoption papers from a shelter.

Most likely you or your acquaintance need to surrender this dog to a local shelter and let them do their due-diligence in locating the rightful owner. In most cases you can indicate that you are interested in adopting the animal and, provided you are otherwise qualified, that may honor your wishes.

  • Ok, I think I should add some details that I thought were irrelevant but turns out matter. The acquaintance did find the owner, and the owner said he couldn't take care of her and let the acquaintance take her. So it is not a stray dog.
    – T Hummus
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 22:18
  • 1
    The owner essentially gave the dog to this acquaintance who then gave the dog to us. But there is no paperwork documenting these transactions because it was an odd scenario. I don't know if that is sufficient to define legal ownership. (For the record, I purchased a puppy a while back from someone whose dog had puppies. I don't think I have documents for that transaction either. Do I not legally own my puppy as well?)
    – T Hummus
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 22:23
  • Also, in case it happens to be relevant, this acquaintance is not from Utah. She lives in Mexico and took in the dog there. She took the dog to the vet for a checkup and to be spayed, and then brought the dog into the U.S. (legally, border control knew she was bringing a dog in). She was traveling through Utah when we took the dog from her
    – T Hummus
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 22:23
  • (I can add the above details to the question text if it is helpful. Or perhaps I should reword this question to be about stray dogs and then ask a new question with about my situation?)
    – T Hummus
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 22:24
  • On the other hand, if you have possession of the dog and there is no reason or no person to challenge that, who is there to say that you're not the legal owner?
    – jwh20
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 2:43

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