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Estray, in law, is any domestic animal found wandering at large or lost, particularly if the owner is unknown.[1]

Under early English common law, estrays were forfeited to the king or lord of the manor; under modern statutes, provision is made for taking up stray animals and acquiring either title to them or a lien for the expenses incurred in keeping them. A person taking up an estray has a qualified ownership in it, which becomes absolute if the owner fails to claim the animal within the statutory time limit. Whether the animal escaped through the owner's negligence or through the wrongful act of a third person is immaterial. If the owner reclaims the estray, he is liable for reasonable costs of its upkeep. The use of an estray during the period of qualified ownership, other than for its own preservation or for the benefit of the owner, is not authorized. Some statutes limit the right to take up estrays to certain classes of persons, to certain seasons or places, or to animals requiring care.

When public officials, such as a county sheriff impound stray animals, they may sell them at auction to recover the costs of upkeep, with proceeds, if any, going into the public treasury. In some places, an uncastrated male livestock animal running at large may be neutered at the owner's expense.

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  1. ^ "Estray". Retrieved 23 January 2013.