Attorney General: Commissioner F. Philip Prelli, Department of Agriculture, Formal Opinion 2008-012, Attorney General State of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

July 21, 2008

 


Commissioner F. Philip Prelli
Department of Agriculture
165 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT  06106

 

Dear Commissioner Prelli:

 

This letter is written in response to your request for advice regarding a dog named “Wiley.”

Your staff has explained the background as follows. A number of months ago, a feral dog pack was found roaming around the Southern Connecticut State University area.  There were five dogs.  Two were caught by Town of Hamden Animal Control Officers (ACOs) and euthanized.  Two others were caught by Town of Hamden ACOs and adopted.  Unknown to the Town, the last dog, now known as Wiley, was found by a Hamden resident, who cared for Wiley.  Following up on a complaint from a neighbor, a Town of Hamden ACO was scheduled to investigate Wiley’s new home, but Wiley’s keeper gave the dog to another Hamden resident.  This second keeper had a vet examine Wiley and the vet gave Wiley a rabies shot.  Wiley is reportedly healthy.  The second keeper wants to keep Wiley and has stated that she will take responsibility for him.  She registered Wiley with the Town of Hamden.

The Town ACO wants to impound Wiley under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-332.  That statute provides that any state or municipal ACO may take into custody:

 

(1) any dog found roaming in violation of the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-364, 1

 

(2) any dog not having a tag or plate on a collar about its neck or harness on its body as provided by law or which is not confined or controlled in accordance with the provisions of any order or regulation related to rabies issued by the commissioner in accordance with this chapter, or

 

(3) any dog found injured on any highway, neglected, abandoned, or cruelly treated.

 

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-332 has a process for notifying the owner of the roaming dog or if no owner is known, putting notice in the newspaper.  Dogs are then either euthanized or adopted out if the owner is not found or if no one claims the dogs within the prescribed time frame.  When a dog is adopted, there is a new legal owner.

 

The Town and the Department have a legitimate concern about people "finding" roaming dogs and, without going through an impoundment process, giving them to others or keeping them.  However, under the facts presented, there is no basis for an ACO to impound Wiley or another dog so situated.  

 

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-332 applies only to cases where a dog is "roaming" when found by an ACO.  Wiley was not found by an ACO "roaming."  Section 22-332 does not permit an ACO to seize a dog in someone’s care, nor does it require someone who took in the roaming dog to surrender it.  If an individual who found a roaming dog under one of the above three scenarios agreed to give the dog to an ACO, the ACOs could follow the process for finding an owner or adopting the dog out under the statute.  However, where a citizen takes in a roaming dog and refuses to give the dog to an ACO, there is no authority for an ACO to enter the home or business of a citizen and remove such dog under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-332.

 

Where a citizen refuses to give a dog to an ACO and the dog is thought to be owned by another, the matter becomes a civil property dispute between the owner of the dog and the person keeping the dog, beyond the authority of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-332 and possibly a criminal matter.2  Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-350, dogs are deemed personal property; any person who steals a dog may be prosecuted under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-351 or  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-118 to § 53a-129 inclusive (penal code offenses including larceny).  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-351, relating to theft, killing or injuring of a companion animal, provides for a criminal fine or imprisonment for a violation.  A companion animal is defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-351a as a domesticated dog or cat that is normally kept in or near the household of its owner or keeper and is dependent on a person for food, shelter and veterinary care, but does not include a dog or cat kept for farming or biomedical research practices.  I understand that  the ACOs did not know whether Wiley was a companion animal of a prior owner before he was taken in as described above. 

 

You also questioned whether the State could deem Wiley’s keeper to have obstructed an ACO in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-365.  This statute is not applicable under these facts. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-365 would only be applicable if Wiley’s keeper were obstructing an ACO engaged in the discharge of any duty imposed by the chapter.  Here, as explained above, the ACO does not have the authority to impound the dog under these circumstances.

 

I hope you find this information helpful.

 

Very truly yours,

 

 

 

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL

ATTORNEY GENERAL

 


1 Section 22-364 provides in pertinent part:

“No owner or keeper of any dog shall allow such dog to roam at large and not under control of the owner or keeper or agent of the owner or keeper nor allow such dog to roam at large on any portion of any  public highway and not attended or under control of such owner or keeper or his agent, provided nothing in this subsection shall be construed to limit or prohibit the use of hunting dogs during the open hunting or training season."

2 If there is evidence that a dog is stolen, ACOs may pursue a search and seizure warrant to remove the dog from the home.  We do not address the basis for pursuing a warrant here.  Our comments are limited to the authority to take a dog absent a warrant under the facts presented.


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