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Found a Dog: What Should I Do?

Updated on August 29, 2012

If you have found a dog the recommended course of action varies from country to country, but at all times it is important that you remain safe and minimise risk to yourself and your own dogs. In the UK according to ‘The Environmental Protection Act’ the finder of a stray dog must return the dog to the owner or contact their local dog warden or dog pound. Failure to do this is an offence for which you could be fined.

Found a Dog in the UK

If the dog is aggressive or causing traffic disruption for example, by running along a motorway, contact the police. Do not attempt to deal with these situations yourself because you could get injured or inadvertently cause an accident. Otherwise:

  1. If it has a collar and a tag – which is a legal requirement in the UK – you should phone the owner first.
  2. If you can’t get through to the owner or the dog does not have a tag you could go to step 3 or take it to a local veterinary practice. They should be willing to scan the dog for you to see if it has a microchip. Do not expect them to offer to take the dog in. If it is chipped you can then contact the owner.
  3. If the dog has no means of identification then you must contact the local dog warden service of the area where you found the dog. They will collect the dog from you, but this could prove problematic if you live miles away from where you found the dog and have taken it home. Unfortunately most dog warden services operate 9-5 Monday to Friday, so if you find a dog outside of these hours you may end up keeping the dog for a night or for the weekend.
  4. If it is out of hours for the dog warden, your local council’s dog warden web page should have details of the kennels which they use as the official dog pound. If the information isn’t there contact a local dog rescue centre who will probably know the address of the dog pound for your area. (Do not expect them to take the dog in themselves). You then have the option of taking the dog to the pound yourself.
  5. If you want to keep the dog yourself you must still inform the dog warden that you have found a dog and supply details of it. If the dog warden considers that you are a suitable person to keep the dog they will inform you in writing that you must keep the dog for at least one month unless it is reclaimed by the owner before then. After a month, the dog is considered to be yours and you can keep it, re-home it to someone else or try to get it a place with a dog re-homing charity.

I have found four lost dogs within the last five years and by following as many of the above steps as necessary successfully reunited them all with their owners. I have equally been extremely grateful to someone else for following those steps when I lost my own dog, Nettle, overnight.

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People Not Responsible for Stray Dogs in the UK

The Police no longer deal with stray dogs. Do not contact them unless the dog is aggressive or endangering the public.

The RSPCA (and other dog re-homing centres) are not responsible for taking in lost dogs. Kennels have to be licensed by the council to do this and are then only legally obliged and paid to keep the dog for 7 days. Do report details of a dog you have found to your local RSPCA but do not expect them to take it in.

Vets are not responsible for taking in lost dogs. If the dog is in urgent need of immediate veterinary treatment they will help. They also usually keep a list of pets reported as missing so you can contact them with the information. Do not expect them to take the dog in.

Lost dog in the pound
Lost dog in the pound | Source

Found a Dog in the USA

The precise regulations vary from state to state and even from county to county. You need to be a bit cautious given that you do not know if a stray dog is up to date with rabies vaccinations, however if you do opt to take in a stray dog the following is a general guide:

1) If there is a name tag contact the owner.

2) In the absence of a name tag you could ask your local veterinary surgery or animal shelter to scan the dog for a microchip.

3) If there is no identification contact your county or city animal control officer, they may collect it from you (but not necessarily on the same day) or you can take it down to the pound. Some pounds, such as Oklahoma City Animal Shelter, have drop off cages where you can leave a dog even if it is out of hours.

4) If there isn’t an animal control officer for your area contact the local police or sheriff’s department.

5) Rules about whether you can keep the animal straight away vary for example Davis County, Utah’s dog laws indicate that it is illegal to keep a stray animal and you must inform the county’s animal services within 72 hours of finding a stray, however you could adopt the dog if the owner doesn’t come to claim it, whereas in Oklahoma city you can keep the dog at home an just submit its details online to animal services so that they can try to match it with lost dog reports.

The US Humane Society recommends that stray dogs are kept by the pound for a minimum of 5 days before euthanasia, but this is a recommendation rather than a law. The length of time that a stray dog has to be kept by animal control or the pound varies for example, in New York dogs are kept by animal control for 72 hours and will then be evaluated for re-homing after which it could be euthanised. In Cleveland Ohio, animal control keep the dog for three days to allow the owner to collect it. On the fourth day it could be passed to a re-homing organisation but if no space is found for it it can be euthanized on the 5th day. In Florida generally dogs have to be kept for six days not including the day it was found (but there are exceptions to this) and they can be collected by the owner throughout or rehomed to someone else on days 4-6.

Found a Dog in Australia

Laws about what to do with a stray dog vary from state to state. If you have found a dog in New South Wales the ‘Companion Animals Act’ 1988 dictates that anyone who finds a stray animal must return it to the owner or hand it into the local pound as soon as possible. You can be fined for not doing this. Some local councils have rangers who will collect the animal from you and take it to the pound.

The pounds will hold microchipped dogs for at least 14 days and un-microchipped dogs for 7 days before attempting to rehome them. If they are deemed unsuitable for re-homing or there is no no space at the pound a dog may be euthanised after that time.

Latchkey dog or lost dog?
Latchkey dog or lost dog? | Source

Is the Dog Lost or a Latch Key Dog?

Latch key dogs have a home but are let out to exercise themselves or escape from their gardens regularly to go adventuring. They return to their homes each day because they want to meet up with their human pack and get food. Providing it is not in immediate danger, you may prefer to report a latch key dog to animal control or the dog wardens rather than taking it in yourself. Its owners are unlikely to thank you for returning it and that could put you in a dangerous position.

If you live in the area where you found the dog, you may well know get to know if a dog is a latch key dog and therefore regularly out alone or if it is usually with its owner and therefore possibly lost. You may also be able to tell from the dog’s behaviour whether it is lost or not. Latch key dogs are usually quite nonchalant and often have reasonable road sense. They will be in quite good condition because they go home for meals. They may hang around you but be reluctant to be caught, because they have had experience before of being caught by strangers and perhaps taken to the pound. Dogs who are genuinely lost are generally either very glad indeed to see someone friendly who might help them out or they are overwhelmed and very frightened and run off. They can be completely oblivious to the dangers of traffic. A dog which has been lost for several days or more will start to look dishevelled and lose weight.


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    • K L Evans profile image

      Karen Evans 3 years ago from Lancashire, England

      A very interesting and informative Hub. I am always picking up stray dogs myself and have been lucky enough to reunite them with their owner on every occasion.

    • bodylevive profile image

      BODYLEVIVE 5 years ago from Alabama, USA

      Hi there, I found a cutie pie at the post office. Someone just put her out and she was at our local post office about to get run over by an on coming car. I just grabbed her up and took her home with me. Her page is here at I Found Love Just In Time.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      It is very sad that there are so many unwanted animals, but it's great that you are making a difference to the lives of the ones you adopt from the pound. Thank you for visiting!

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 5 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @Nettlemere...I found this very interesting, as I wasn't previously knowledgeable on the differences in dealing with lost dogs in the UK and Australia, although I did already realize some of the differences from state to state here in the USA.

      The state of unwanted animals, especially our most commonly domesticated ones -- horses, dogs, and cats -- is indeed sad. I've always had a dog, and each of them was adopted from a pound. Every one of them was a loving creature content to be in human company in a welcoming home.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Very good material, especially in several areas. You did wonderful research, so I voted you awesome and up.

    • kittyjj profile image

      Ann Leung 5 years ago from San Jose, California

      A very informative hub. My daughter and I once found a small dog pacing back and forth by a stop sign that's close by our home. Since there was a name tag with a phone number on it, we called the owner and the owner came to claim her pet in about 20 minutes. My daughter loves dogs and she enjoyed that 20 minutes playing with the dog.

      Voted up and useful!

    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 5 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      very useful hub, great suggestions which are very practical. voted useful, thanks

    • alliemacb profile image

      alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

      This is such a good hub. I once had a dog follow me home as I returned from a walk in the countryside and had no idea how long it had been with me or where it had come from. Luckily I knew to phone the SSPCA and the dog turned out to be microchipped (no collar, though) and it was reunited with its owner. Useful info. Voted up.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Good hub. I am linking to this from my dog laws link.