When someone loses property, typically the original owner never loses ownership of the lost property.The general rule is that the finder of lost property can keep it unless the rightful owner demands it back. Pets are considered property under North Carolina law. If a person refuses to return property belonging to someone else, then the owner may have grounds for a civil action seeking return of the property.
Additionally, when a reward is offered for a specific event, a conditional promise is made and a contract is created when someone performs that conditional promise. So, for example, if someone returns a person's property and a reward is offered "upon return" then the person returning the property is entitled the reward when that promise if fulfilled. If they have not given your pet back, then they have not fulfilled your offer based on the language above. Once they fulfill the offer, however, they may have cause to bring a civil action to recover the reward if it is not paid under a breach of contract theory.
This information is provided for general purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created with the furnishing of this advice. Attorney licensed in North Carolina only.
With respect to the tax implications, I believe the reward is certainly taxable income to the recipient - certainly not a gift since it is lacking in disinterested generosity. And not likely a deduction to the payor, as it is not connected to a trade or business or an income producing-activity. But the more interesting question concerns when the reward is not paid: is there cancellation of debt income to the promisor? I believe that depends on whether or not the obligation was fixed and certain, and whether the debt was subsequently written-off by the intended recipient. Of course, if the dog )security interest) is kept, it would have to be valued, which would serve to reduce the amount of taxable income to the debtor.
Please note that this is not legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such. Always consult with a competent tax professional to discuss your specific situation!
Why would you offer a reward that you knew you couldn't pay? As pointed out by Mr. Rothrock, you made a promise (contract) to pay whoever found your dog $500. Keep in mind that your inability to pay further complicates matters because, theoretically, the finder could not only sue you for the reward money but also for any money s/he spent in caring for your dog (food, vet, etc) as well as a daily boarding fee. I suggest you try and borrow the $500 to pay the reward.
If we do not have a signed fee agreement I am not your attorney and this is not legal advice.