Information for participating vets and animal shelters

This information is intended to provide guidance for vets and animal shelters who reunite lost pets without an agreement under section 84Y of the Domestic Animals Act 1994 (DA Act).

Accepting a lost pet

If you accept a lost pet, you will need to:

  • Scan the pet within 12 hours (vets) or 24 hours (animal shelters) of accepting it, as ownership needs to be determined within 24 hours of accepting the pet.
  • Determine whether the pet must be relinquished to council (e.g., if it is a declared dangerous dog or menacing dog verifiable on microchip registry. Dangerous dogs should also wear a distinct red/yellow collar).
  • Make a reasonable attempt to contact your local Council to compare microchip information against Council pet registration data.
  • Identify an owner within 24 hours of accepting the pet (through the animal’s microchip or council registration data/tag).
  • After identifying the owner, contact them as soon as you can to collect their pet. Nominate or agree to a recovery period within which the pet must be collected. The recovery period is the first 24 hours since the pet was received by the shelter, the period nominated by the shelter or a period agreed between the shelter and the owner.
  • The pet owner or their agent (e.g., family member, relative, friend) can recover the pet within the agreed recovery period if they prove they are the owner or their agent
  • Record details regarding the lost pet, the owner and who collected it.
  • Report quarterly to council on the pets reunited with owners. No report is required if there were no reunifications in the quarterly reporting period.

If vets or animal shelters have an existing 84Y agreement with council/s, they must continue to comply with the terms and conditions set out in the agreement/s. The reuniting pets reforms do not apply to 84Y agreement holders.

Pet reunification

Once the owner is identified within 24 hours of accepting the pet, you must contact the owner as soon as possible to advise the owner to collect their pet.

Owners or their agents are required to satisfy you that they are the owner or sent by the owner. Verification of ownership is most easily done by providing proof of ownership when collecting the pet. Forms of ownership verification documents could include:

  • a recently paid council pet registration;
  • veterinary bill that shows the pet’s microchip number; or
  • a reminder email from the relevant animal registry service about updating microchip details.

Reporting

Vets and registered animal shelters without an existing 84Y agreement will be required to complete record keeping and reporting requirements to ensure appropriate oversight and compliance actions.

It is important that local councils, as the primary regulators for domestic animal management, maintain oversight of animal movements within their municipality.

Information will assist councils to follow up any compliance matters, such as supporting owners to keep dogs contained to the property, or ensuring pets are appropriately registered. This helps ensure public safety, accountability and transparency. It is also enables follow-up investigations as required.

Reunification reports to council must capture the following information:

  • Phone number of person handing in lost pet (if provided)
  • Date and time animal was handed in
  • Whether the pet is a cat or dog
  • The suburb or municipality where the pet was found (if known)
  • The pet’s microchip number
  • The council tag registration number and the council name (if the microchip can’t be located)
  • Owner’s name, residential address and telephone number
  • Agent’s name and phone number (if agent is collecting on behalf of the owner)
  • Date and time pet collected.

Formal reunification reports must be submitted to council on a quarterly basis. The prescribed reporting periods are:

  • 1 January to 31 March in every year
  • 1 April to 30 June in every year
  • 1 July to 30 September in every year
  • 1 October to 31 December in every year

An online Central Animal Records reporting option is available to vets and animal shelters that prefer a real-time, record keeping and reporting option.

A sample reporting template is also available, should this be a preferred format for certain vets and shelters. Download:

The guidance documents below aim to assist animal shelters and vets to implement reforms introduced by the RP Act.

If vets or shelters have any further questions, please contact the Customer Contact Centre on 1300 506 186 or email pet.welfare@agriculture.vic.gov.au.

Process for reuniting pets through vets

Process for reuniting pets through vets. Further information below image.

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  1. The process begins when a member of the public finds a lost or stray cat or dog
  2. The lost pet is then delivered to a vet clinic by that member of the public
  3. If the vet clinic accepts lost pets, the vet clinic is required to check whether the pet meets the criteria for reunification. This includes collection by an identifiable owner within an agreed timeframe.
  4. If the pet meets the criteria it is reunited with its owner.
  5. If the pet does not meet the criteria, it is relinquished to council to reunite the pet with its owner.

Reunification criteria

Pet must be scanned for a microchip within 12 hours of being accepted by a vet and owner identified within 24 hours.

Pet must be relinquished to the local council if:

  • You have concerns about the health or welfare of the pet
  • You reasonably suspect it is a dangerous or menacing dog through information obtained on the microchip registry.
  • You reasonably suspect it is a restricted breed dog (i.e., Japanese Tosa, fila Brasileiro, dogo Argentino, Perro de Presa Canario, American Pit Bull Terrier)
  • Any other circumstance prescribed in the regulations apply.

You must make a reasonable effort to compare the lost pet’s microchip data with council registration data. This may include a phone call or email to the relevant council or contacting council’s after-hours ranger service (if available).

The owner may send an agent (e.g., a family member or friend) to collect their pet if they are unable to. The agent will need to provide proof that they are collecting the pet on behalf of its owner. In either case, you must be satisfied that, based on the evidence and identification provided, the person collecting the pet is either its owner or agent.

If you are not satisfied, the pet must be relinquished to the local council.

Process for reuniting pets through shelters

Process for reuniting pets through shelters. Further information below image.

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  1. The process begins when a member of the public finds a lost or stray cat or dog
  2. The lost pet is then delivered to a shelter by that member of the public
  3. The shelter accepts the lost pet and is required to check whether the pet meets the criteria for reunification. This includes collection by an identifiable owner within an agreed timeframe.
  4. If the pet meets the criteria it is reunited with its owner.
  5. If the pet does not meet the criteria, it is relinquished to council to reunite the pet with its owner.

Reunification criteria

Pet must be scanned for a microchip within 24 hours of being accepted by a vet and owner identified within 24 hours.

Pet must be relinquished to the local council if:

  • You have concerns about the health or welfare of the pet
  • You reasonably suspect it is a dangerous or menacing dog through information obtained on the microchip registry.
  • You reasonably suspect it is a restricted breed dog (i.e., Japanese Tosa, fila Brasileiro, dogo Argentino, Perro de Presa Canario, American Pit Bull Terrier)
  • Any other circumstance prescribed in the regulations apply.

You must make a reasonable effort to compare the lost pet’s microchip data with council registration data. This may include a phone call or email to the relevant council or contacting council’s after-hours ranger service (if available).

The owner may send an agent (e.g., a family member or friend) to collect their pet if they are unable to. The agent will need to provide proof that they are collecting the pet on behalf of its owner. In either case, you must be satisfied that, based on the evidence and identification provided, the person collecting the pet is either its owner or agent.

If you are not satisfied, the pet must be relinquished to the local council.

Frequently asked questions

General

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As soon as reasonably possible after finding a lost or stray cat or dog, you must take the animal to:

  • the local council in which it was found or allow a council authorised officer to collect the pet from you; or
  • a local vet that agrees to accept lost pets (providing a pet reunification service is voluntary for vets); or
  • a registered animal shelter; or
  • a person or business that has an 84Y agreement with the council in which the pet was found

No, this scheme is voluntary for vets and not mandated. If a vet is unable to reunite lost pets, they may refer members of the public to other participating vets, shelters, or to council.

Yes. Shelters usually have the capacity and capability to hold animals for the time required to reunite them with their owners. If they already have an 84Y agreement with the council on how to manage lost pets, they will be obliged to follow the process set out in that agreement and these reforms do not change current arrangements.

The new laws only apply to shelters and vet clinics without a council agreement under section 84Y of the Domestic Animals Act 1994 (DA Act). If a vet or shelter has an existing 84Y agreement with council that includes management of lost pets, it must continue to operate under that agreement.

Yes, if the local vet agrees to accept lost pets. Reuniting pets is voluntary for vets. It is recommended you contact the clinic before dropping off the pet, to make sure they can accept it.

Lost pets should be taken to a vet in the council it was found. Most lost pets live nearby, so taking them to a local vet helps to ensure they get home as quickly as possible. This reduces stress for the animal as well as their owner. Taking the pet to a distant vet could result in the pet not being reunited with its owner.

No. Under no circumstances should a pet be abandoned at a closed vet clinic or any other location. Pets have been seriously injured or have died after being left at, or tethered to, a closed vet clinic or shelter. You should come back when the vet is open or contact your local council.

Vets can request a nominal reunification fee, but cannot compel payment or make reunification dependent on payment.

Vets provide an important community service, and must balance this with competing business pressures. Some vets may request a nominal fee to help cover some of the costs involved in caring for and reuniting the lost pet, similar to council pounds.

If you are asked to pay a reasonable fee for reunification, please consider doing so to help vets to continue to provide this important service.

Yes. For some people it may be more convenient to call their local council and ask them to collect a lost pet they have found.

If a local vet does not accept lost pets and you are unable to find an alternate local vet that does, it will need to be provided to a council authorised officer to reunite the pet with its owner.

It is important lost pets get home to their lawful owner. To protect the pet’s welfare and the rights of its owner, the law requires lost pets to be reunited according to specified processes. There are instances where pets have been claimed through social media by the wrong people. This is a distressing outcome for the pet owner and a poor welfare outcome for the pet.

Local councils, shelters and participating vets all have the expertise and equipment to care for and reunite lost pets.

Vets and shelters

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Under the new arrangements, if a vet or shelter accepts a lost pet, they will need to:

  • Determine whether the pet must be relinquished to council (e.g. if it is a declared dangerous dog or menacing dog, verifiable via the microchip registry. Dangerous dogs should also wear a distinct red/yellow collar).
  • Scan the pet for a microchip. For participating vets this must occur within 12 hours; for shelters, this would need to occur within 24 hours as ownership needs to be determined within 24 hours of accepting the pet.
  • Identify an owner within 24 hours of accepting the pet (through the animal’s microchip and/or council registration data/tag).
  • Make a reasonable attempt to verify ownership by contacting their local council to compare microchip ownership information with council pet registration data.
  • Contact the owner as soon as possible to collect their pet, including nominating a recovery period within which the pet must be collected. The recovery period is the first 24 hours since the pet was received by the vet/shelter, the period nominated by the vet/shelter or a period agreed between the vet/shelter and the owner.
  • Ensure they are satisfied that the person collecting the pet is the owner or their representative. If ownership could not be verified with council, proof of ownership must be provided by the person collecting the pet; this could include a recent council pet registration renewal or vet bill.
  • Record details regarding the lost pet, the owner and who collected it.
  • Report quarterly to council on the pets reunited with owners. No report is required if there were no reunifications in the quarterly reporting period.

Record keeping and reporting requirements have been drafted in consultation with stakeholders and are prescribed in the Domestic Animal Regulations 2015 (DA Regulations).

While it is not mandatory, it is highly encouraged that you contact your local council to advise that you will be providing pet reunification services. This will promote timely communications when attempting to verify a pet’s ownership details, or seeking council’s assistance in circumstances where you cannot reunite the lost pet and must relinquish it to council.

The reunification scheme only applies to lost pets with some form of ownership identification (i.e. microchip or council tag).

For facilities without 84Y agreements, the answer differs depending if it is a vet or shelter:

  • Vets: If the vet is willing to accept the pet into their care, they will need to relinquish it to council.
  • Shelters: The shelter will need to contact local council to determine if council wishes to retain custody of the animal. If it does not, the shelter is expected to keep the animal for the standard eight day holding period before adoption.

AWV is encouraging councils to develop a working relationship with vets and shelters in their municipality that intend on providing lost pet reunification services.

Vets and shelters are also encouraged to reach out to their council to advise whether they intend to reunite lost pets. If so, agreeing on a communications process will assist timely ownership verification or pet collection. Developing relationships and agreed processes will benefit the welfare of the pet, identify practical solutions and assist with compliance.

Yes, you can accept a lost pet from another council area, however it may slow down any reunification process. It is preferable that lost pets are delivered to vets and shelters in the municipality they are found.

If the person who delivered the cat or dog provides their contact number, it must be collected and recorded. While the requirement to collect the contact information of this person is not mandatory, the information may assist councils to follow-up any ownership, investigative or compliance matters.

If the pet’s microchip owner details do not match council registration data, and you have doubt over legal ownership, you must relinquish the pet to council to determine legal ownership.

Microchip registry information may not always be up to date, as owners sometimes forget to update details when moving or pet ownership is transferred. As council registration is renewed annually, council registration data may provide a more accurate or current data set and ensure the pet is returned to its lawful owner.

If you have made a reasonable effort to contact council but have been unsuccessful, you can continue to reunite the pet using the microchip registry or council tag information. The owner or their agent will be required to provide proof of ownership that satisfies you that they are the owner (or were sent by the owner). This proof could include a recent council pet registration renewal or vet bill.

In most cases, the pet will be from your municipality, so calling your local council should be sufficient. However, if you scan the pet’s microchip and it brings up an owner in a suburb in another council, you can either contact that council to verify ownership or, if you are a vet, just relinquish the pet to your local council.

To identify the council for a particular suburb, visit the Know Your Council website and enter the suburb that appears on the microchip details.

The process will be the same for any lost pet that you accept for reunification.

Page last updated: 11 Sep 2023