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Q: During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, a dog was outside our property. She had a collar and we took her in. We kept a sign outside our property saying we found a dog, though I doubt anyone’s saw it. We never took her to the pound or anything. Three years later we still have her and I finally thought that taking her in was stealing. We probably should’ve taken her to the pound. What should we do? She’s already attached to our family and our other dog. Should we try to find her owner again and risk facing legal problems for not returning a lost dog to the shelter? Or should we keep her for the dog’s own sake? I am stuck here on this moral issue.
—In the dog house?
A: Like you, I feel somewhat stuck when considering the moral dilemma that you’re facing, and I regret that I don’t have an abundantly clear direction in which to steer you. I do have a few thoughts, though.
First, I’m getting the sense that you are being hard on yourself for your past choice to take the dog in without giving too much effort to reuniting the pup with her former owners. May I remind you that the pandemic was a wonky, destabilizing time? We were all just trying to survive with our bodies, minds, spirits, and relationships intact. I think that all our pandemic selves deserve a little bit of grace.
Secondly, as a rule of thumb, it’s probably best not to judge your past self based on your current self’s understanding of what is right.
With that being said, it seems like at this time you are aware that further action can (and perhaps should) be taken to reunite the dog with its former owners, and what’s holding you back is some fear about legal and emotional repercussions. I’m reminded of the call of St. Ignatius Loyola “to give and not count the cost,” and I think the same sort of sentiment applies here. Hard as it may be, try to do what seems right without factoring in the cost of the actions. This doesn’t necessarily mean taking the dog to a shelter (I doubt that the former owners are still looking for her there, and so this move could just end with the dog being given to a third family, which feels a bit unnecessary), but perhaps reposting signs within a wider radius, or taking the dog to your local vet to have her scanned for a microchip. Your efforts could end in great cost to you, but maybe they won’t. Either way, you’ll be doing your due diligence to honor the ownership (and likely love) of the former family.