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What Makes A Dog Legally Yours?

A pet lover passionate about educating readers about animal health and care. Love reading studies and recent research.
Published on
Friday 16 September 2022
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
What Makes A Dog Legally Yours?
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Feeding, sheltering, and taking care of a dog does not necessarily mean that you legally own them. Yes, you’ve read that right! Legally owning a dog is much more complicated than we thought. With that, this article will guide you on everything you need to know about what determines the ownership of a dog and how to get legal ownership of a dog!

⚠️ We are not lawyers. We do not know your situation. Always consult with a local lawyer in your jurisdiction for formal legal advice. This content must not be taken as professional legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Even though every pet owner views their dog companion as a legitimate family member, it is a different case in the eyes of the law. According to the Animal Legal and Historical Center, dogs are property. Therefore, further documents are necessary to verify that they are legally yours. 

Some of those documents are your pet’s breeder, veterinary records, adoption papers, agreement forms, identification tags, and even photos. You can also consider microchipping your dog to establish legal ownership. 

According to Cooper & Co Solicitors, knowing what makes a dog legally yours is essential since there has been an increase in disputes over dog ownership and custody.

Here are the specific steps that determine the ownership of a dog:

Microchipping Information

Microchipping refers to putting a permanent ID chip on your dog’s shoulders. Scanning the microchip will provide the pet owner’s identity and other information. Microchipping is a wise idea since it not only shows that you are the owner of your dog, but it can also be helpful in case your dog goes missing or is lost. 

Furthermore, pet owners shouldn’t worry about pain and discomfort since the microchipping procedure is painless. Microchips are very tiny and about the size of a grain of rice. 

Dog Tag

Putting a dog tag on your dog’s collars can be used to prove dog ownership. In their dog tags, include all necessary information like their name, vaccination information, medical conditions, pet owner’s name, address, and contact numbers. Also, ensure that all information on the tag is up to date and accurate. 

Veterinary Records

Veterinary records can also be the legal court’s basis in determining the legal owner of a dog. Judges or the legal authorities sometimes look at whose pet owner’s name is listed in the veterinary papers, and who pays for the veterinary bills most of the time. 

Purchase or Adoption Records

The court will most likely ask for purchase or adoption records first to determine if a dog is yours. You can acquire these records from your local adoption shelters or the pet shop where you got your dog. 

Pet Agreement Form

Pet agreement forms can also be used to establish custody and care. If the dog is owned by multiple individuals, like a family, couple, or a group of friends, having a pet agreement form will be beneficial in identifying the owner of the dog. This form may include one or more individuals as the pet owner. 

Estate Plan

Estate planning is not a common practice among pet owners, but it is also a way to determine legal dog ownership. In pet estate planning, you are discussing the terms of how your dog will be taken care of in case something bad happens to you. This includes possible medical bills, food, shelter, and other basic needs. 

Pet Insurance

Pet insurance refers to a health care plan that reimburses your pet’s certain medical costs. This insurance helps pet owners afford sudden pet medical expenses. Moreover, it proves that you are the one who takes care of your pet’s health care needs. 

How Can You Prove That The Dog Is Yours

Aside from the ways discussed above, here are other methods you can follow to prove that you are the dog’s legal owner: 

Since dogs are considered property by the law, providing the transfer of ownership to your name is one of the best ways to prove that a dog is legally yours. According to this article, the legal transfer of dog ownership works the same way as other properties (real estate, cars, etc.). Thus, a contract or paperwork should state that you are the new owner.  

Here is an example from the KC Pet Project Organization of what a legal transfer of ownership agreement form looks like. Without formal contracts, email conversations, payment transactions, and other legal documents can also serve as evidence for the transfer of ownership. 

Recent Photos or Videos of the Dog 

In case other records and paperwork are not available, showing recent photos and videos of your dog is an easy way to prove that a dog is yours. Moreover, updating your dogs’ pictures can help you find them if they go missing. 

Types of Pet Ownership Paperwork

Processing paperwork may be tedious, but its purpose makes it worth it.  With that, here are the different types of pet ownership paperwork that you should prepare:  

Registration Paperwork

As mentioned, registration papers are the first thing a legal authority looks for in verifying legal dog ownership. Moreover, some places require all pets to be registered; thus, not registering your dog might cause legal problems. 

Here’s how you can process your registration paperwork:

  • Visit your local country or city’s designated registration office to know their requirements. Each place may have different sets of requirements. So, it is recommended to inquire personally.  
  • The best time to register your pet is after their vaccination since vaccination forms are sometimes required before a dog can be fully registered and licensed. 
  • After registering, your dog will have a license and a tag. Make sure to store all the licensing paperwork and put the tag on your dog’s collar. 
  • If your dog is purebred, you can also register them with certain kennel clubs like the American Kennel Club. Registering to kennel clubs is not mandatory, but they can also come in handy. 

Veterinary or Medical Records

Veterinary or medical paperwork shows all of your dog’s medical records and history.  Keeping your dog’s medical records helps legal authorities distinguish who caters to the dog’s healthcare needs – and it is also an advantage in deciding who will have dog custody. 

Here’s how to properly store your pet’s medical records: 

  • Make sure to include all records of surgeries in your dog’s file. This practice helps in identifying future medical needs.
  • Your medical records should also contain your pet’s current medical condition, such as allergies, prescriptions, and special disabilities. 
  • The required dose, brand name, and instructions should be included in the prescription. 

Vaccination Paperwork

Since vaccination records contain the pet owner’s name and other details, they can also serve as a document to prove legal pet ownership. Here are the different vaccinations you should prioritize: 

  • Rabies
  • Canine Parvovirus
  • Hepatitis
  • Canine Distemper

After vaccination, ensure to keep all the vaccination records in a clean and protected area. Take in mind that vaccination paperwork is not only beneficial for proving legal dog ownership, but also to ensure your dog’s immune system and overall health are well protected. 

Service Dog Documentation

Service dog documentation verifies that a dog is a legitimate service animal. Here’s how you can acquire the documentation: 

  • First, ensure that your dog is a true service dog. Service dogs refer to dogs who are trained to perform certain tasks. 
  • Then, go to your country’s designated office for service dog registrations. For example, there is the USA Service Dog Registration for service dogs within the United States. 
  • After registering, bring the form whenever you go out with your dog. Since service dogs are tasked to go to places that are sometimes restricted, bringing the service dog documentation will help them have access. 

All in all, what determines the legal ownership of a dog is not as easy and simple as we think. Thus, following the ways that prove that you are the legal owner of the dog, such as microchipping, putting on dog tags, and preparing the needed legal dog paperwork, are very important. 

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