Plaintiff found a lost hunting dog wandering as a stray and took it in, posting notices announcing its discovery and notifying authorities. It came to be regarded as a family pet. A year later, defendant owner located the dog and retrieved it. Plaintiff sued for replevin and trial court found for plaintiff. Defendant appealed.
What Vermont property laws apply to a lost family pet? Does the passage of time affect the original owner’s rights? Should courts distinguish between pets and livestock? Does a family law element invoke in dealing with pets? Should courts use a public interest argument in adjudicating lost pet disputes? Is this an instance of conversion?
The appellate court affirmed, finding that VT’s lost livestock statute did not directly apply (making plaintiff’s imperfect compliance therewith moot) and determining that public interest would be best served by allowing plaintiff to keep the dog.
Defendant argued he was entitled to the return of the dog as he was the owner and that plaintiff had not complied with the “lost beast” statute requiring a specific set of notices and final disposition. The court considered whether a family law analogue could apply, with reasoning made according to the best interests of the dog. The court found that neither the livestock rule nor the family law approach applied well: the livestock rule was intended to apply with animals of significant agrarian value, and evaluating the best interest of the dog was broadly imperfect.
The court held that a substantial intent to provide notice by the plaintiff before the plaintiff became the owner served the common good. The court held that allowing a finder who cares for a dog to eventually keep it would encourage rather than discourage such actions. The plaintiff’s argument from conversion was also held as inapplicable, as a family pet is property only in a qualified sense.