Rewards for missing pets occupy legal grey zone - InfoNews

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Rewards for missing pets occupy legal grey zone

Atlas the missing golden retriever became a celebrity last week. His owner offered a $5000 for his safe return.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Taylor Galt
March 18, 2019 - 6:30 PM

KELOWNA - John Brooke was walking in the woods near Glenrosa two weeks ago when his dog Gus went missing. Brooke said he lost sight of his dog and spent the next two hours whistling for him to no avail. Brooke said there were fresh truck tracks in the area, although it's unclear if Gus was stolen or simply wandered off.

"It's like he vanished," Brooke said.

Missing dogs are a hot topic in Kelowna lately. Last week, residents were enraptured by the saga of Atlas, the golden retriever who was stolen from his backyard and was returned to his owner on March 13. Now people are turning their attention to Gus.

In both cases, the owners offered large amounts of money to get their pets back. Taylor Galt offered $5000 in a Facebook post for Atlas' safe return. Brooke is offering $1000 for Gus.

Big rewards raise an interesting legal question: Do these offers count as binding contracts?

According to Kelowna lawyer Cory Armour, such offers exist in somewhat of a grey zone. He said most contracts require three core elements: An offer, acceptance, and consideration. In his view, posting a reward on Facebook only fulfills two of those requirements.

The post itself is the offer and if someone reads it and decides to look for the pet, they've accepted the reward's parameters. But according to Armour, these offers don't have consideration, which lays out the nuts and bolts of the contract. Consideration usually requires both parties to sit down and hammer out the particulars. A Facebook post read by hundreds of people lacks consideration in the strictest sense.

If a person were to contact a concerned owner and agree to find their pet in exchange for payment, that could meet the requirements of a verbal agreement, but social media is a muddier matter.

So what happens if you find a missing pet and ask for the offered reward before returning it, only to learn the owner has rescinded the reward? Legally, you can't keep the pet, since you'd be holding onto stolen property. According to Armour, if you knowingly come into possession of stolen property, you're obligated to get rid of it immediately.

"You're committing a crime if you don't give the [pet] back," he said.

Armour said he hasn't heard of cases where people sue owners for not producing stated rewards, although he did not rule it out as a possibility. He plans to look into it more in the future. He said it's a thorny issue that requires carefully consideration by both parties.

"It's more of a moral dilemma than a legal one," he said.

Honouring the agreement of a reward posted on Facebook might belong in the realm of personal responsibility as opposed to the world of law. It's something to consider before you offer thousands of dollars for a stolen pet, or before you set out to find missing animals hoping for a hefty reward.

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