Lost Dogs and Questions Without Answers

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Why do “stray” dogs always seem to appear when you have the least amount of time to deal with them?

In your experience, what proportion of lost dogs run away from people, and what proportion will come to a stranger readily? (In my experience, the runners are about 90%, the stranger-friendly ones are less than 10%.)

Why do so many lost dogs have collars and no tags? (You can just use a Sharpie to print a phone number on a collar, people!!)

Why are so few dogs microchipped when this wonderful technology allows for happy reunions years and thousands of miles away from the original dog/owner separation?

After a nice breakfast and a long drink of water, he makes himself pretty darn comfortable in my office as I post his photo on every local “lost and found pets” page I can find on Facebook.

Why are so many stray dogs reproductively intact? (I actually know the answer to this one.)

Is it just my community, or are there really more stray pit bull-mixes than any other type of dog?

I have a friend who posits that a stray, intact pit-mix is likely to live longer wandering the streets than he will if turned into the average local shelter. This makes me incredibly sad, but I think it might be true in many communities. Is this true in your community?

If he promised not to fight your dogs or eat your chickens, would you host this sweet fellow while your post-COVID-19 local shelter was not taking in strays? (This is not rhetorical.)

Why is the dog you found never one of the lost dogs posted on the shelter bulletin board?

26 COMMENTS

  1. This happened to us two years ago Tuesday. Intact male pit mix (3/4, according to Wisdom Panel), no collar, no nothing. He is, at present, stretched out on a foam dog bed two feet from my office chair. I wish I could post a photo, because his undercarriage is almost exactly like the one who wandered into your life.

  2. I just took a stray in to get him scanned for a chip and was excited when they said “yes, he is chipped”. They gave me the information and I called it in. He was chipped but the chip had never been registered!! The rescue I volunteer with often hears this or that the owner has moved and never updated the information. Please, everyone, register your dog’s chip and keep it updated for your sake and your dog’s.

    • Thanks for that reminder. It’s so exciting to see a microchip number come up on the scanner, and so disappointing and frustrating to learn that it’s never been registered.

      • After working at my local humane society and a veterinarian’s office, I can tell you that there is still a way to find the owner! Microchip companies do have the ability to tell you what shelter or vet clinic purchased the microchip. In turn, the shelter or the vet clinic who implanted microchip likely kept a record of who owned the pet when the microchip was implanted. It may not always lead you to the current owner, but it is a start. And as a former shelter employee, I can tell you, the information that you may find along the way can provide a lot of insight into the pet and owners alike!

      • When microchipping is promoted, they rarely speak of the registration. They need to promote doing that on the spot before leaving the room where the chip was inserted.

  3. It seems I’m always in the car with my own dogs when I spot a stray and I’m afraid of just throwing another dog in the car without proper introductions. What do others do when this happens to them? If I’m close to home, I take my dogs home but of course, by the time I get back to where I saw the stray, they have moved on.

  4. Most of the lost dogs in my area (VT) appear to be newly adopted and escape from their new family. Slipped collars and harnesses, dropped leashes or no leash, open doors or gates seem to be the most common. Many do not even know their name, scared and just want to run. If they are chipped, 99% have NOT BEEN UPDATED. Personally, I think some new families are not prepared for a new dog. We know a newly adopted dog need time to decompress and accumulate to their new surroundings. And new families need to adjust to having another being to care for. Rescues here do a good job at screening the families and do offer classes after adoption. I’d like to see classes BEFORE adoption. Educate the family on the dog’s needs and what they need to do before he/she comes into their home. And before the final walk out the door, make certain the chip information has been updated.

    • Nancy; I agree completely! A required class/or training sessions before the adoption is finalized should be implemented. Then, if the owner has second thoughts about the commitment, the dog stays at the shelter. Far less stress on everyone, especially the dog.

    • I really agree with this. I have rescued 4 dogs, my last is a Pitt mixed with boxer. When he smiles and personality wise you can see the Pit Bull heritage. His boxer side is hyper protective and a squished nose. Every dog except this last one, I scheduled an obedience class ASAP, usually in the first week. This was invaluable, even with a nine year old golden and 8 year old golden collie mix. Using positive reinforcement and constantly “winning” really bonded us. The puppy I adopted from a rescue was in puppy kindergarten the Monday after he said goodbye to his foster mom on the previous Saturday. He was in every kind of class I could find. Bonding! My current cutie had heart worm when we met, and was a year and a half. We had to keep him calm, and he was (thank God!) moved from shelter to shelter instead of being killed for his entire young life, before he rescued us. He is completely heart worm free now, but it was pretty hard to watch that process. To say he is dog reactive is an understatement. He is so smart and we are bonded, NOW, but he is an accomplished escape artist. I finally got martingale collars because his big head and neck made it easy to slip out of buckle collars, quick release collars, and in desperation I turned to one that he can’t get out of in seconds. I wonder if some of the strays who have nice blocky heads and thick necks are also escape artists.

      He is ready to go to school and I can’t wait.. Now if COVID 19 would let go of Michigan we might be able to go to the reactive dog class we had been counseled to wait on, when he is assessed, oh about every 6 months.

      I have always got a slip leash in my pocket when walking, and in my glove box. Happily, not too many strays in my inner city neighborhood, but reactive or not, our animal control gives dogs 7 days before death. Not ok. Our rescues get calls on day 5 and we manage not to have most die, but it sickens me. It is all pittie mixes and chihuahuas at our Animal control. Every mixed breed group has far more pittbulls.mixes than any other breed.

    • I agree about classes before a dog leaves either a rescue or shelter. Our local shelter also has mostly pit and pit mixes. We encountered one on a walk and the girl walking him had no idea that his stance was threatening and got mad when we asked her to get control of the dog so we could continue on past.

  5. Wow…he looks exactly like a “stray” dog that was wondering our neighborhood and my backyard last year. Only this one was not friendly. While out on a walk with my dog, he came charging towards us from between 2 houses on my block. My 120 lb dog was barking loudly at him which briefly stopped him in his tracks. But I had to fend him off for a couple hundred feet before he ran off again. A few days later, my dog was outside in his dog run when this same stray came up behind and startled my dog, then a barking growling war began. Thankfully there was a wire fence between them. I shooed him off of my property but then about an hour later I witnessed him chasing children down the street who were walking to the bus stop to go to school. I suspected that the dog belonged to someone a couple of streets north of us in our subdivision. I called the police and reported it. I told the officer where I thought the dog lived and that I didn’t want the dog to pay the price for his owners lapse of control. He talked with the owners and it was suspected that their kids would let the dog out to wander around the neighborhood while the parents were not home. The officer also informed me that the owners were given a warning that because of his offensive behavior, if he got out again, he would be taken away from them. I haven’t seen him wandering around since so hopefully the parents took control of the situation. Before this incident, I’ve retrieved several strays of all shapes and sizes. All of them were friendly, some scared and freezing cold, (one we found during a snowstorm).

  6. My dogs don’t wear collars. They are all chipped and spayed/neutered. They play and wrestle a LOT. Getting a jaw caught in the collar of another dog is dangerous and could be life threatening to both of them. It’s a catch 22 – bad to not have a collar-bad to have a collar. But having seen first hand what can happen when one gets caught in a collar-it’s not worth the risk. And yes, it was a collar that was supposed to snap open-forget what they’re called.

  7. I can answer the question you posed about collars. I have one dog suffer a near amputation of his toes while he was hanging from the collar of the dog he had been playing with. Meanwhile, her tongue was blue and she was collapsing by the time we got her collar cut off. From that day forward my dogs have never worn collars. I’m part of a huge community of dog owners and there are many who would tell you of dogs they’ve lost due to collar accidents…strangulations, broken jaws, broken necks. Collars are too dangerous to leave on a dog unless you’re holding an attached leash. I had 25 years of dogs who wore collars. It only has to happen to you once and you’ll never leave a collar on again. And breakaway collars sound good, but they often either don’t breakaway, or they fall off too easily and you have to go searching.

    My dogs are all microchipped and chips are registered and kept up to date. It’s the safest way to identify your dog without putting it at risk of injury or death.

    • I’m totally with you on recommending “no collars, but microchip with updated info…” because my dog is absolutely one of those guys who likes to grab other dogs’ collars and drag them around in play — an accident just waiting to happen. I wrote about witnessing one of these accidents with a neighbors’ dogs and it was horrific. https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/care/when-dog-collars-become-deadly/

      OR, use a breakaway collar with ID (*and* a microchip with updated info). But what I always seem to find is the WORST possible combination: collar and no ID.

  8. The last dog I found was an intact male pit, left tied to a park bench and in bad shape. Poor thing had probably been alone all night with rats running around it, wearing a harness that was falling off his body. I couldn’t take it home with me due to my own dog, and being in a tiny apartment, I had no way to keep them separate. It went to animal control and I posted pictures and video of him to help him find a home. The shelter said he was chipped and the info had been updated only two months prior to being found, which they said was incredibly unusual. The owner had updated their cell phone, email, address, but didn’t respond to all their efforts to contact him. For some reason, he was never posted for public adoption after the stray hold and put directly on the euthanasia list, which set off a scramble to find someone to get him since I was out of town. The woman who owns my dog walking service called the shelter, got him pulled from the list and adopted him. He is now living his best life in a big house, big yard, loves kids, even learned to love cats and has turned out to be a fantastic dog. So many intact pits “get lost” in the city, don’t get the advocates that the one I found did, and are never stand a chance.

  9. I volunteer with Missing Animal Response Network–we help people find their lost pets. Unfortunately, we hear so many stories like these, but mostly from the other end of the leash–owners who have lost a dog who doesn’t have any kind of identification. Why that is, I have no idea!!! Why do lost dogs tend to run away from potential rescuers? Often lost pets go into survival mode and they see humans as potential threats. Sometimes this even applies to their owners; hence our use of calming signals and/or our well-trained, experienced humane trappers. There’s a YouTube video of our founder, Kat Albrecht, demonstrating the use of calming signals. If anyone wants more info about recovering lost pets, check out MissingAnimalResponseNetwork.com and email me at terrierpowertracking@yahoo.com.

  10. I joined the “Lost & Found Pets” Facebook group for my town/city of 110,000 about 6 months ago and it has opened my eyes to this world. I too have wondered why so many pit type dogs seem to be lost and/or found and what can be done by animal control about so many repeat offenders (i.e. vouchers for help with fence repair? Higher fees the more times they are picked up?). Regarding chips, I have always had a menagerie of rescues in my home, all with chips from different companies. When I move, it’s a challenge to contact each different company to update the info. I read a blog that gave me a terrific idea to register all my dogs and cats with AKC Reunite for a one-time, lifetime fee of $17.50, so I only have to call 1 company to update their info. They send a free collar tag w/ chip number or you can pay a small amount for one with the pet’s name on it. If I remember, I still try to update the other companies, as well, but always AKC Reunite. I also think rescues/kennels should have new adopters register their chips BEFORE they leave with their new pet or do the registering for them.

    • Where I live, if you adopt from a humane society or registered shelter organization, the chip is implanted in the animal before they go onto the adoption floor and the shelter is permanently listed as backup in case the owner does not update their contact info. The goal is for the animal to never end up at another shelter with an information dead-end as to where the animal belongs.

  11. Can I be blunt? There are lots of stray pits because they tend to attract ignorant people. And ignorant people don’t spay/neuter, and often let dogs roam without a properly fenced yard. Thus, they are able to breed and end up on the streets. Before anyone has a cardiac, this is not a condemnation of the breed. The two best dogs I ever had were pit bull/pit mixes. I lost them both within the last year and it broke my heart. Another dog I helped re-home was an unneutered male pit, he too, had a fantastic, loving, docile personality. Three other pits I stopped for: one growled, one gave off dangerous vibes (so I did not attempt intake on either), and a third came readily, but was so wild we could barely control her. We were able to find her owner, thank God. Percentage of total dogs who ran versus those who came? Maybe 50/50? Hard to say, because we obviously remember better the ones we catch. I have found that sometimes, if you can drive around the block and get out to meet them so they’re coming your direction, rather than being pursued, they may calm down and come to you. I was able to get yet another female pit mix in this manner. God she was sweet. She was running with an electrical cord around her neck (!). Finally, the collar and tag issue is SO important. I don’t understand why there isn’t a nationwide push for this. Yeah chips are great, but you can SEE a collar from your car. If you see what looks to be contact info, people are more likely to stop, because there’s a better chance they can find the owner. It also signals that ‘this is someone’s pet’, not just a stray that I will then be responsible for. I am so disgusted with most of our elected officials. These issues could easily be improved with just a little legislative and monetary help. Instead, 99% of animal rescue efforts fall on us.

  12. This is thecreason we have 11dogs currently. All were found wandering thestreets, no collar, no chip. One was 5 lbs and 4 months old and they just dumped him in the „country“. Most of the ones we found were hearworm positive, so even if anybody had ever come forward, i would not have given the dog back.
    We now have 2 pit bulls, one pit bull/chow mix who is frankly horrible.
    He has lots of fear-aggression, hates our shephard and thus has a muzzle on when they interact….
    Need i go on.
    And, yes I agree with the above assessment pit bulls because of their fierce reputation attract ignorant people who seem to take it personally to have the dog neutered…they don‘t train or socialize the dog and when they get bored with the animal or the dog is now „old“ they get thrown away.
    Most of the shelters in the area will not adopt pit or pit mixes, so no adoption possibility….liability issues. So, yes taking a pit bull or pit mix to most area shelters is an automatic death sentence.
    Do i sound disgusted? It‘s because i am. An acquaintance contacted us over the weekend,they got a english mastiff from a breeder. The dog is now 1 and 1/2 years old, big (duh), intact and he realized that his allergies have gotten worse and his mother-in-law lives with the family and and and would we be willing to take him, because we are dog lovers….
    Made me want to throw up….sorry for the rant.

  13. For a number of years, my Bloodhound and I did searches for missing pets all over Vermont and into New Hampshire and New York. I learned a lot about why dogs and cats come up missing and where they go. Sometimes missing dogs did have I.D. (collar with tag and/or microchip), but more often there was none. Dogs usually are not actually “lost”, they are missing. Dogs usually know where they are and where they want to be. It’s the owners that don’t know the whereabouts of their dog.
    1. Dogs that had an established home and had just “taken off” were often dogs that had “taken off before but always came back home after a few hours or days”. Most of them take a jaunt and then circle back home. When they don’t return, it is usually because they were picked up by someone, or they were injured by a car or by a porcupine, or in a couple of cases they drowned (bull dogs don’t swim well). Some may have been shot or caught in traps set by careless hunters.
    2. Dogs that are frightened by a loud noise and panic (gunshot, fireworks) usually run straight and fast in their attempt to get away from the noise. With fireworks exploding overhead, they can’t get away from the noise and may try to hide. When the noise subsides, they may eventually circle back cautiously. The damage done by fireworks to pets, livestock, and wildlife (let alone the pollution it causes) is horrendous. The stupidity and carelessness of the people involved is horrible, all the pain and pollution just for a couple of hours of “entertainment”. And it isn’t just a 4th of July thing; they get set off for parties, weddings, New Years, or any excuse people can find.
    3. Dogs whose owners were on vacation and had been left with another person or were taken to a different place (relative, friend, kennel) often escaped in an attempt to find their owner or their own familiar home. They do usually know where home is and they head in that direction. They don’t know how far it is, they just know the right direction.
    4. Dogs that were recently adopted often escape simply because they do not yet feel safe or comfortable with their new owner or home. It is a crucial time for new owners to use utmost caution NOT to let the dog run loose. These dogs may wander but usually head in the direction from which they originally came (foster home, rescue, etc).
    Dogs on the run usually hunker down during the day when there are more people to contend with, and then travel at dawn or dusk. Dogs sometimes hide out in garages or sheds, but when possible, will go to farms. Farms are ideal since a dog can find access to water and food (for livestock) and lots of places to hide (in barns, behind hay bales or equipment) and not be noticed.
    Dogs that are confined by invisible fence will sometimes take the shock in order to run but then won’t cross back in through the fence. Dogs that are tied out become frustrated and try to escape. And occasionally, dog are purposely removed from their home or yard for nefarious reasons.
    One of the worst things anyone can do with a missing dog is to try to catch it or chase it. Dogs can run faster than humans, especially when they are being chased. And if a person (even the owner) or animal is chasing a dog, he will run away from whoever or whatever is chasing him, sometimes with a bad ending such as into a road with traffic. The best way to get the dog is to get down low so you appear smaller and less threatening, and have something (food, toy) to lure the dog to you. Remember a dog doesn’t have to see or hear you – he can smell you. Humans have about 5 million scent cells. Dogs have 250 to 300 million scent cells. Their sense of smell rules them.
    There are so many stories I could tell (someday I should write about them), and despite being dragged through woods and thorns and streams and back yards, I enjoyed doing the searches with my Bloodhound. He was fantastic and watching him work was amazing. He was a special boy and the best part of my life. I lost him to cancer and I’ve been devastated ever since.

  14. My dogs don’t wear collars at home. I’ve read to many stories about broken jaws and dead dogs. The dogs are playing one dog gets his lower jaw stuck in the other dog’s collar. Broken jaw, dead dog. My dogs are microchipped/ they wear there colors when we travel

  15. Well, you’ve hit the trifecta of irresponsibility and it’s no wonder a large number ar pit mixes. At least in my area, there is a macho undertone to owning a pit bull. So yes, not neutered. No chip, no tag goes with the fact this dog is running loose. Yard isn’t secure or whatever. There is also a likelihood that if there is no tag it’s a monetary thing. So they don’t want a stray dog traced to them because they won’t be able to pay any fines or fees to get the dog back. Likely another reason the dog isn’t neutered.

    The same can be said of the local chihuahuas.

    To a lesser degree the German Shepherds and Labs.

    This basically means if you adopt from a local rescue or shelter, you’re dealing with a pit mix if it’s big and a chihua mix if it’s small. There may also be some German Shepherd, lab or poodle in there but there will always be pit bull and chihuahua. Sometimes both.

    My own dog from a “lab rescue” is American Pit Bull, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, American Staffordshire Terrier, Collie, Rottweiler and American Bully. 90lbs

    My parents’ dog is Pit Bull, German Shepherd, Boxer, Cocker Spaniel, American Staffordshire Terrier, Blue Lacy Coonhound, Chow, Doberman Pincher, Collie, Rottweiler. 50 lbs.

    Neither have enough Lab on Embarkvet to register at 1%.

    I’ve looked at our local shelter. Even their shepherd and lab mixes show significant bull terrier breeds. Since much of their breed labeling is guesswork I assume it is marketing. Easier to adopt out a lab mix than a pit bull mix. That is just reality.

    The rescue we got our dogs from pulls pregnant females out of high kill shelters and so has puppies to adopt out. It would be a simple matter to DNA test the puppies. By the time they are old enough to adopt out the tests results would be back. They’d only need to do one puppy so $80 for 8-12 puppies is a minimal expense. But it is a two-edged sword. While for many people knowing what their puppy’s breed mix is would be encouraging, for some it would eliminate that puppy due to breed aversion.

    An aggressive spay-neuter program has greatly reduced the stray population and incidences of rabies. However it also means that if you want a dog, even from a rescue, it is going to cost you hundreds of dollars in adoption fees. Even from a shelter unless you are military or a senior. But what you find from a shelter is very limited. The rescues come in and take the puppies, then “sell” them for high adoption fees. They breed specific rescues come in and take anything that vaguely looks like their specialty. The shelters are left with young to adult pit bull terriers, German Shepherds and chihuahuas, most with behavioral issues. And very old dogs with medical conditions.

    What would I do with that stray? He’d get snipped, chipped and tagged and join the pack. Legally mine and try to prove otherwise. And he’d have the best life ever.

  16. I live in Western New York and we get an above average number of Pits and Pit mixes. They don’t seem to have any trouble placing them though you might think with that short coat and our very cold winters that wouldn’t be so. We also get a large number of Beagles, Coonhounds and other hunting dogs that are often hunted in groups. This area receives many dogs from Kentucky, Tennessee and anywhere else that is a kill shelter. So many in the south don’t neuter the males. I’ve heard the owners say foolish things like “Oh let him have a little fun.” Really?

    • If a dog is used for hunting, then it’s better not to neuter. Otherwise, unless you’re responsibly breeding, I absolutely agree! Same for cats. Get them fixed! I recently discovered the extent of the stray cat problem in our area. You can’t even just take a cat to a shelter if you can’t keep one or if you find a stray. I rescued 3 in my neighborhood last year. All got adopted but wait time to get into a shelter was 3-5 weeks!
      For dogs, the country takes all dogs. They used to euthanize more but have a bigger facility now so they euthanize rarely. One dog was listed as being there for nearly a year. Lots of pit mixes here in OH too. Unfortunately, a lot of people are reluctant to take a dog to the shelter because they think it’s likely to be euthanized or not cared for. Education, education, education!

  17. I agree with the above comments that only education (mandatory training) , legislation and aggressive spay neuter programs will help solve the ‘stray’ issue. I feel that ‘backyard breeders’ should be illegal with severe fines/consequences. I put stray in quotes because many times these animals have actually been ‘dumped’ or neglected (allowed to be off leash, left alone in back/front yards) due to irresponsible and/or uneducated owners – or owners that have just ‘lost interest’ in their dogs. For many of these dogs- the owner is not looking for them or wanting them back.
    My sister has volunteered for an upstate NY shelter for many years and found that even stray dogs with microchips are not the complete solution- the owners that have been found do not want them back.
    Yes, in NY many strays are bully type breeds (one reason is that they have been so overbred). I am currently fostering a ‘breeder’ dog from a backyard breeder. She is 11 and was turned in to a shelter- I guess because she outlived her usefulness- she developed mammary cancer. She is afraid of other dogs and the large amount of stray/off leash dogs in most areas of NY (regardless of state leash law) make it difficult to bring her anywhere. But regardless of difficulty- we go out everyday and make the best of it.

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