The Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019 (PAWS Act) allows certain animal shelters to take ownership of animals that are found or abandoned if one the following situations happen:

  • no animal owner or custodian is identified within five business days
  • the owner or custodian does not claim the animal within five business days

Ontario Regulation 447/19 under the PAWS Act sets out the types of animal shelters that can use this authority. They are:

  • a registered charity, whose charitable objectives include offering animal sheltering services
  • a municipality
  • an animal shelter that has a contract with a municipality to provide animal sheltering services

Eligible animal shelters that chose to use this authority must hold the animal for a minimum of five business days before taking ownership of the animal.

Municipal Pounds and the Animals for Research Act

If a dog or a cat enters a shelter through municipal animal control (also known as municipal animal services or municipal by-law), shelters that are municipal pounds must hold animals these dogs or cats for a minimum of three days (excluding the day on which the dog or cat was impounded and holidays) before the dog or cat may be adopted, donated or, in some cases, humanely euthanized. This is set out under the Animals for Research Act (ARA). Under the ARA, a municipality may choose to set a longer holding time than the minimum of three days.

Municipalities may also set their own time period for holding other stray animals like rabbits, birds or hamsters, so please check your municipality’s by-law or animal control website for more information.

The following sets out voluntary best practices that animal shelters may want to use to help identify and reunite owners with animals that are found or taken in.

Determining the owner of a lost or abandoned animal

Animal shelters may use the following methods to determine the owner of a lost or abandoned animal:

  1. Check the animal for any tags or tattoos that may provide information about the owner.
  2. Using a universal scanner, scan the animal to check if a microchip is present and find owner information from the microchip registry.
  3. If an animal shelter is not able to scan for the presence of a microchip in-house, promptly take the animal to one of the following places to be scanned:
    • partner animal shelter such as a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) or humane society
    • municipal pound
    • local veterinary facility

Animal shelters that are pounds, as defined under the Animals for Research Act may be required to follow other steps to determine the owner of a lost or abandoned animal, as set out under the ARA.

Communicate that you are looking for the owner

While reunification programs vary by animal shelter, shelters may also widely communicate when looking for the owner of a lost animal by choosing to use one or more of the following methods:

  • posting a description of the found animal online on multiple websites that are open and accessible to the public, such as:
    • their website, a partner local animal shelter’s website or community website. Include location and contact information, hours of operation and the deadline to claim the animal
    • social media or other widely used digital platform connected to the location where the animal was found (for example, local Facebook groups)
  • placing flyers in community post office boxes, local veterinary clinics, partner animal shelters, local grocery stores or libraries. Provide:
    • a description of the lost animal in the local area where the animal was found
    • contact information where the owner or custodian can reclaim the animal
    • the deadline to claim the animal
  • posting large, colourful and visible signs at the corners of major intersections where the animal was found, providing contact information for where the owner or custodian can reclaim the animal and the deadline to claim the animal. Shelters may wish to check with the local municipality to find out if there are any restrictions on where signs can be placed.

Placing flyers and posting signs may be helpful if animal shelters have limited public hours.

Additionally, animal shelters can look out for any lost animal notifications. This includes online platforms or local community posters to see if an owner is looking for a lost animal which might match the description of the animal found by the shelter.

Reuniting owners with their lost or abandoned animal

During the minimum holding period, as a best practice, animal shelters may attempt to contact the owner, if known, multiple times (for example, at least five times) at different times of the day including morning, afternoon and early evening.

In addition, animal shelters may attempt to contact the owner using several different options, including:

  • phone call, leaving a voicemail message where possible
  • text message
  • email
  • social media account, if available
  • letter mail, if the animal shelter doesn’t get a response using the other methods

When contacting owners, animal shelters may also explain their return-to-owner process, including location and hours of operation of the shelter. This information may also be made publicly available (for example, posted on the animal shelter’s website and at the physical location of the animal shelter).

As a best practice, animal shelters should be easy to contact during reasonable hours for owners reclaiming their animal. Ideally, these hours should include time outside regular work hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday) so owners have enough flexibility to reclaim their animal.

Record keeping

Animal shelters may wish to keep a record of the information related to a lost or abandoned animal, including:

  • when the attempts were made to contact the animal’s owner
  • methods used to reach the owner
  • the outcome of the animal’s status. For example, if the animal is adopted out or transferred to another facility following the minimum holding period
  • the contact information of the person who adopts the animal or the organization where the animal is transferred