Features September 2011 Issue

What To Do When You Find A Stray Dog

Five things you should do if you find a stray pet.

I don’t know a single dog owner who hasn’t, at some point (or quite frequently), spent an inordinate amount of time trying to capture a stray or lost dog. I know I’ve caught more than my share in the small town, or its rural surroundings, where I’ve lived for the past five years. I’ve caught burr-covered, obviously lost hunting dogs; dogs whose injuries suggested they’d tumbled from the back of a truck; as well as some fluffy little lap-escapees who looked like they were just out for an adventure.

There is nothing like the moment when a microchip ID is located in a dog.

If the dog is wearing a collar and tags with current contact information for his owner, you’re in luck – and the rest of the information in this article isn’t relevant. But out of maybe 20 dogs I’ve scooped up in the past five years, exactly one was wearing a collar and current ID tag. It certainly seems like the people who keep collars and tags on their dogs at all times are also the ones who manage to keep them safely contained – but accidents can happen to any owner. Here’s what you should do with an unidentified dog.

1) Take him to your local shelter.  Don’t panic; you don’t have to leave him there if you are concerned that your local shelter is unsafe, unclean, or poorly managed. But there are a few things you should do at the shelter (see # 2 and # 3).

If the dog has an owner who is actually trying to find the dog, the owner will most likely come to the shelter to look for the dog. Few people, except the most dedicated owners, think to read the ads in the classified section or on craigslist. 

2) Ask the shelter staff to scan the dog, to see if he has an implanted microchip ID. If he does, the staff should be able to help you track down contact information for the dog’s owner.

This seems like a no-brainer, but it only recently occurred to me that my 14- or 15-year-old cat, who was a stray found by a friend and then given to me 12 long  years ago, was never scanned. I actually took her to my local shelter and had her scanned just the other day; I hate to think I could have returned someone’s beloved lost cat years and years ago. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to check before. (She had no chip, thank goodness.)

3) If he does not have a microchip, and you don’t want to leave him at the shelter, you should at least file a “found dog” report at the shelter. This protects you in case you end up deciding to keep the dog (or you give the dog to a friend); it shows that you made a reasonable effort to find the dog’s owner. If an owner shows up some time later and wants his dog back, you’ll need to be able to prove that this attempt was made in order to protect your rights to the dog.

Some shelters take a photo of the dog for their “found dog” reports and file these online; others simply keep a binder full of the reports, sans photos, on a counter at the shelter. Few people are aware that shelters keep these reports; most people just check the shelter kennels and/or website. It’s uncommon, but reunions have been facilitated through these reports. 

4) Take a photo of the dog and make a “found dog” flier; post it in as many places as you can in the area where you found the dog. Most dog owners look at posters for lost or found pets, and many of us are more familiar with our neighbors’ pets than their owners! This way, you are recruiting a small army of people who might be able to help reunite the dog and his owner.

5) If you bring the dog home, take immediate steps to protect your pets.  Check to see if the dog is infested with fleas; if he is, you’ll want to use some sort of potent flea control product immediately, before the fleas can populate your car or home. If your dogs are not fully vaccinated, or are immune-suppressed, you may want to keep the stray dog as far from your dog as possible for at least a few days, so you can make sure he’s not sick with anything transmissible. Wash your hands well after handling the stray, and clean up his waste immediately.

You also need to protect all of your family members from being attacked by the stray, until you’re certain that no attack is forthcoming. When your own dog is great with kids, cats, and your parakeet, it’s easy to forget that other dogs may be highly predatory.

Don’t take anything for granted; be careful at feeding time, and the first time he finds a nice chew bone or toy that he likes, because he may have resource-guarding issues. Keep the dog on-leash, or control his access to certain parts of the house with baby gates until you have a chance to see what he’s like.

Comments (17)

good points, except the scanner in the picture will only read THREE chips out of 10 or so now on the market, never mind the ones from around the world.

Posted by: 2k9kidz | February 3, 2014 5:55 PM    Report this comment

We found a Yorkie on Sunday and put him in a crate away from our dogs. We reported him to the police and local animal shelter. (Both veterinaries were closed.) We took a photo and posted it to our town's "lost and found" page on Facebook. Almost immediately, the owner contacted us and was able to describe two markings not shown in the photo and his reaction to hearing his name was definite. Happy reunion for little Koda!

Posted by: NIKKI R | October 8, 2013 8:06 AM    Report this comment

Here in Genesse County Michigan most people, including my self will not take dogs to the shelter if there is any other choice. Its a death sentence, especially to pits or anything that could kind of maybe look like a pit. Putting up flyers in the area the dog was found, grocery stores and super-centers (Walmart, Meijer) and pet stores has always helped me find the owner for a dog I picked up. I have yet to see a loose dog with a collar and have not come across one that is chipped - though I always check.

My dogs have 2 collars when we go out. 1 for tags, 1 to clip a leash to and all are chipped. I have many times seen collars break or dogs slip out leaving their ID behind.

Posted by: KATE S | February 3, 2013 4:43 PM    Report this comment

I wish more people would think about scanning a pet they find. Ever since my little doggie went missing in July 2011, I've tried to educate people about checking for a chip. My girl had a collar and tags on, plus was chipped. But no one ever contacted me. Don't know if they didn't care, if she might have lost the collar and they didn't check for a chip, or what. Never got her back though. But I learned about LOTS of ways to find your lost pet, or notify people that you've found a pet. Besides the ideas listed in the article, you should place an ad in the local paper (most Lost & Found ads are FREE), you should post on Craigslist, PetFinder, PetHarbor, FidoFinder, and any other site like this that is available to you, put up flyers around the entire area you found the pet (plus if anyone calls you and thinks they've seen your missing pet, you should put up flyers in that neighborhood, too), and most local shelters also have a website that you can post a lost/found pet on. If your pet is lost, by all means include a photo of your pet. If you've found a pet, you should post a more vague description, and then ask any callers to give you info that could verify that the pet is actually theirs. And concerning your own pets, ALWAYS make sure that their chips are currently registered, because many found pets have chips that are not registered, or the info is out-of-date, and the owners cannot be located. I'm still hoping that my little Lima will turn up some day. I kept all her flyers, posters, postings on sites, etc, posted all the time for an entire year.

Posted by: DeborahH | February 2, 2013 6:52 PM    Report this comment

I agree with BarbB. A sign in the yard has worked for me as well. I have also found that a call to my dogsitter helps as she seems to know a lot of the dogs in the community. She has helped me return a lost dog and a lost cat.

Posted by: DESMA W | February 2, 2013 5:10 PM    Report this comment

I believe some dogs that are never recovered are not actually found by somebody and brought/kept in there house. But are actually found by unsavory "human beings" that grab them and sell them to places that use dogs for animal testing. It's sad.

Posted by: Andrea J | February 2, 2013 1:58 PM    Report this comment

One of the most effective ways we have found to restore lost dogs to their owners is simply to put a "FOUND DOG" sign in our own front yard. What's the first thing you do when you realize your dog is lost? You walk or drive around your own neighborhood looking for it. Although dogs do sometimes travel long distances, usually they are found within a few blocks of home, and a yard sign has worked the last 2 times we found an unidentified lost dog.

Posted by: BarbB | February 2, 2013 1:36 PM    Report this comment

I think using a photograph on a poster IS important, and necessary - you can still conceal some identifying aspect of the dog (sex, approximate age, etc) for the caller to identify. But someone driving around looking for a dog only has seconds to see a poster, and a photo will catch their attention MUCH better. Photos also are more effective in triggering the memories of neighbors or other people who may know where the dog lives.

Posted by: BarbB | February 2, 2013 1:33 PM    Report this comment

In our case, I'm glad I never found the owners. Be aware that the true personality of a traumatized dog doesn't necessarily show for some 2-3 months. I found an injured collarless dog, took him to my vet to check for a microchip (none), advertised at Animal Control, Craigslist, other online "Lost and Found Dogs" websites as well as put up many posters in the area that I found him. The correct owner never responded. It turned out that his injuries were a result from severe kicking, and so I'm glad to have never faced the quandary of returning the dog to a bad owner. He is now a very sweet and smart but reactive dog, who is fearfully aggressive towards men, but not women, and not other dogs. In the months that I've had him we have worked hard on this issue, and there are clear signs of improvement. My life has changed dramatically because of the care I put into rehabilitating him.

Posted by: Karen W | February 2, 2013 12:30 PM    Report this comment

One more thing to consider before walking up to the dog, see if there is a red tag on the collar. A friend, not wearing glasses captured a stray, took him to her car, put on her glasses to discover a red tag on the dog warning he was a dangerous animal. Needless to say, after she drove to the local shelter, THEY removed the dog from her car....

Posted by: GAYLE GOLD | February 2, 2013 12:15 PM    Report this comment

I have always been told NOT to use a photograph on a found dog poster- leave something out of the description so that the caller can describe the dog and you know 100% that the dog belongs to the caller. There are far too many shady people looking to capitalize on lost dogs and possibly use them for things I don't want to think about. :(

Posted by: PegK | February 2, 2013 12:08 PM    Report this comment

After a thunderstorm, I found a pitbull and a Rottweiler. Some neighborhood kids said the dogs looked familiar but didnt know where they lived. I put choke chains and leashes on the dogs and started walking them thru the neighborhood, all the while telling them, Lets go home. They walked up to a house, I knocked on the door, and the owner said he didnt know his dogs had escaped. Yes, he was appreciative I returned his dogs [who were both VERY friendly] This could also be a possibility, as most dogs do know where they live :-)

Posted by: DAWN L | November 28, 2012 12:26 PM    Report this comment

"Shelter" is a very general term. In the Northeast it is important that you contact ANIMAL CONTROL. They are the central base for stray/lost animals. Most shelters are private and don't take strays. YES, you should tell all your shelters, vets, groomers, etc that you have found this dog but informing animal control in many surrounding towns is very important. Remember dogs don't care about boundries. A dog found in town A might have wandered from town X so please contact many surrounding ACOs and vets, etc. Also, please don't shorthand a description......lab mix, etc. One man's lab is another man's poodle.......objective info and photos are best. Don't estimate weights, people suck at that. I have known owners who ignored FOUND info from a shelter because the staff put the dog's weight on the poster, owner never thought that their dog weighed that much!! Ridiculous, I know but it happens!!

In the animal world we hear about lost dogs all of the time, thanks for writing something from the other perspective, what we should do if we find a stray. Also, try not to be TOO judgemental, sometimes stuff happens and people lose their dog, even good people. Most responsible owners will have a collar, tag AND microchip in their dog, but not all.

Posted by: PupQuest | July 6, 2012 3:31 PM    Report this comment

We are on vacation and just yesterday I found a stray Boston wandering in the yard of our rented cottage. Thankfully he did have a tag on with a phone number. I left a message, but ultimately found his owners just by snapping a leash on him and walking around the neighborhood. Thanksfully a little kid recognised him. Something I do with my own dogs is to put "I AM LOST" with 2 phone numbers (my cell, and that of a friend who often watches my dogs) on one side, and "I AM LOST" and my street address on the other. The "I AM LOST" lets people know my dog should not be running loose. No one needs to know the dog's name since that doesn't really matter. I think an address is important since, as in yesterday's find, the dog could just be walked home easily if no one answers a phone right away.

Posted by: Wade K | July 6, 2012 10:31 AM    Report this comment

If you are going to post a pic be sure to ask the 'recovering' family to bring a picture of their dog. Too many scammers out there trying to scoop up 'lost' dogs. A family should have pictures of their dog that they are willing too share with you so you can be sure the dog is going to it's true home.

Posted by: cltls | July 6, 2012 9:00 AM    Report this comment

Please bring or send a picture to the shelter. We help distraught owners every day who have lost dogs and never find them. Where do all these much loved dogs go?? I guess you have all been keeping them or taking them to private shelters. Very sad for the owners who are looking.

Posted by: Concerned | September 15, 2011 5:59 PM    Report this comment

If you don't feel comfortable taking the dog to a shelter, you can take the dog to a veterinarian to have him scanned for a microchip.

Also, I am not fond of the idea of photographing the dog and posting it. There are folks out there just looking for a free dog. Personally, I would post something a little more vague like, "Found: small black dog near 4th and Jackson. Call to ID."

Posted by: CHERRY P | September 7, 2011 9:12 PM    Report this comment

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