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What to Do If You Find a Stray Dog

Updated on August 29, 2016
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Marissa is the writer of ThePracticalMommy and the blog Mommy Knows What's Best. She is a stay-at-home mom to four and was a teacher.

I Found a Dog : Now What?

What to do if you find a lost dog, cat, or pet
What to do if you find a lost dog, cat, or pet | Source

What do you do if you find a stray dog or cat?

Every year, many pets are lost by their owners. Some of these pets escape yards, houses, kennels, parks, or even cars. Their owners may search frantically for them, as those pets were like members of the family.

What do you do if you find one of those pets?

Families of lost pets will want to get their pets back home as soon as possible. Learn what to do if you find a lost pet, specifically a dog, and what steps you should take to try to find its owner in a timely manner. If the owners do not come forward for their pet, learn what you can do about legally adopting the dog as your own pet.

Flyer for a Lost Dog

A flyer for a lost dog who was found
A flyer for a lost dog who was found | Source

Microchips for Dogs

Quite a few owners today choose to microchip their dogs so the dog can be identified if lost. If you find a dog, ask the local shelters for free scanning of microchips or visit a veterinarian who can do the same. It's just one more way to try to find the owner.

What to Do if You Find a Dog

If you find a dog, or the dog finds you, here are the steps you should take:

  1. If home: Carefully approach the dog. If it seems aggressive or skittish, move slowly and with caution, Make note of any injuries the dog might have. If the dog seems approachable and willing to go with you, bring him onto your porch or into your home, being mindful of any kids or any other pets. Give the dog some water and a quiet place to rest. The dog may be thirsty from roaming around and tired from wandering. If you have a room with a door or a safety gate, use it to keep the pet secure within the room.
  2. If in car: Don't get into an accident! Be mindful of other traffic around you. Stop your car in a safe spot. Carefully approach the dog. If it seems aggressive or skittish, move slowly and with caution. Make note of any injuries the dog might have. Try to keep the dog from roaming into traffic if possible. If you have a blanket in the car, you can try to carry the dog to your car (assuming it's a smaller dog). Try to contact the local animal control authorities or contact the police for assistance. If you think you can transport the animal to a shelter, do so. If you decide to take the dog home for care, you still need to contact the local shelters and/or police in case someone is searching for their dog.
  3. Check for a collar and any identifying tags. Most pet owners put collars and tags on their dog to identify them if they were to get lost. They may also have the rabies shot tag with an ID number on the collar. If so, call any phone numbers or look up the ID tag number online.
  4. Call the local authorities or animal control to let them know you have the pet. If you can keep the pet in your home, let them know of your intent and leave a phone number to reach you.
  5. Call the local shelters, giving the same information. If you intend on surrendering the pet, ask the shelter about its policies. If you can keep the pet in your home, let them know of your intent and leave a phone number to reach you.
  6. Make “Found Pet” posters and post them in your neighborhood, in veterinarian offices, pet hospitals, etc. Post the pet on lost dog forums or on sites like Craigslist, etc.
  7. Check the classifieds. Sometimes dog owners will post their lost dog in newspaper or online classifieds.
  8. Put the dog on a long leash, and tell it to 'Go Home!'. While this may or may not work, it may give you some idea if the dog is from your neighborhood. Also, while you're walking the dog, the owners might be looking for it at the same time and could spot their dog.

Lost Pets

Would you take a lost pet home or take it to a humane shelter?

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Reporting a Lost Dog

If you are reporting a lost dog to the authorities or shelters, you should leave the following information in case the owners are looking for their dog:

  • Your name
  • Your phone number(s)
  • Breed or characteristics of dog
  • Size of dog

Note: When making flyers or posting information online, leave a few details out, like a stripe of color on the tail or on the paws. Also, ask the person who contacts you what name the dog responds to and try it out. The real owners will know these details. Those who just want to take the dog will not. Do NOT release the dog to anyone until you know it is the rightful owner.

Finding a Lost Dog

Becoming Attached to a Dog

If the dog you find is friendly, clean, and nice to have in your home, you may quickly get attached to it, as may any kids in your house. Be wary of becoming attached since it may be found soon by its owner.

If you have kids, try to keep them separate from the dog and avoid making it seem like it's a great thing to have such a nice dog in the house. If you think it'll be hard for you to let go of the dog, wait until you see kids try to let go of a dog they got used to!

Your first goal should be finding the owners. If a lot of time passes and no one steps forward for the dog, you can consider adopting the dog.

Adopting a Dog You Find

Depending on your state's or local laws about adopting pets, it may take some time before you can adopt the dog you found. Usually it's about two weeks before you can adopt the dog, but you'll have to contact your local animal control or animal shelter for more details. In the meantime, you still need to do everything in your power to try to find the owners by following the suggestions above.

Adopting the dog is legally different from simply keeping the dog and is highly recommended. If you do not go through the appropriate steps to adopt the dog after an allotted amount of time and the owners discover you have the dog, you could be accused of stealing the dog. Adopting the dog through a local shelter can protect you and your family from a legal struggle.

Keep in mind that it may cost a bit of money to get the dog's shots, tags, and possibly have the dog spayed or neutered if you decide to adopt it if no one comes forward. It will also cost money for the food, dog house, leash, collar, etc. that you may need to buy if you intend to keep the dog. Also, if the dog has an illness or injury, you may need to pay for the veterinarian bills as well.

It's a huge decision to make, but if no one comes to claim the dog, it might be one you need to make. If you're not able to care for the dog, you will most likely need to surrender it to a shelter (preferably a no-kill shelter) or try to find someone who will be able to care for the dog.

Lost and Found Dogs

Helping a lost dog find its owner is a great task, but when you see the relief on the owners' faces when they find their beloved pet, you'll know you did the right thing.

Remember: think safety first when approaching a lost animal, and make the best decisions for you and your family. If you know you cannot care for the pet, take it to a shelter where it can be cared for. If you can care for the pet, try to find its owners first, and think about adoption later.



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