What to do if you find a lost puppy

Can you imagine the heart ache, not to mention the panic, of finding out that your 4 month old puppy has gone missing? It can happen surprisingly easily, even to the most conscientious of puppy parents. All it takes is some persistent digging under the fence while you take a quick phone call and poof - pup’s gone! Or you could be at the park and look to see if your kid is still playing football with his friends, you look back at where you pup was and she’s not there.

So if you find a puppy on her own, don’t assume that she’s been abandoned and make her a new addition to your family. Rather do everything you can to reunite her with her parents and return her to a happy home.

(Note:If no one claims her within a certain period of time – the length of which differs by state – you can then adopt her.)

Catching puppies

It’s far easier to catch puppies than it is to catch adult dogs. This is because puppies have a naturally trusting nature and are generally curious about everything and will respond to any excited or softly spoken word. Older dogs have more baggage.

Check to see if the puppy is wearing a collar with ID tags. If she has tags, call the number and inform her parents that you have found her. Let them know that you will stay with her until they come to pick her up, or you can arrange to meet them somewhere.

If she doesn’t have a collar or tags, don’t assume that the parents are irresponsible and don’t care about her. She may still be very new to the family and they haven’t finished buying all her paraphernalia. She may have chewed through her collar, the collar may have been caught in a branch, the tag may have fallen off … any number of things can result in a lack of ID.

Take her to a veterinarian or animal shelter where she be scanned for a microchip – and given a quick physical exam to make sure she isn’t injured or sick. You can then report her missing and let the animal shelter take her in, advertise her and reunite her with her family, or you can take her to your home on a foster basis and look after her until her family can be found.

Remember: If you are going to take her home you need to make sure that your property is secure and puppy-proof. That means she can’t dig under your fence or squeeze through a gate and escape again, or fall off a balcony, etc. You also need to make peace with accidents in the house and some chewed belongings. If you can’t bear the thought of pee on your rug or a slightly chewed up leather couch, then pup will be better off in the shelter.

If you already have pets, you need to be sure that they are going to be ok with an intruder and that you can manage all interactions to keep everyone safe and happy. This is a very critical point in the puppy’s life and any negative interactions with other dogs or people may scar her for life.

Get the word out

By this stage you’ve probably contacted at least one animal shelter or veterinarian, but you need to spread the word further. Contact all the shelters in your town or city and report the missing puppy. Follow up any phone calls with an email that includes a photo of the pup. Shelters usually make Found posters and distribute them to local stores and they place found pets on their social media profiles, especially Facebook. Some even have dedicated Lost & Found pages.

AnimalShelter.org will help you find shelters in your area.

Staying online, there are plenty of websites that help reunite lost pets with their families, both on a national and local level. Simply post a picture of the puppy with your contact details and where you found her. Sites to use include:

While you’re doing all of this posting, you should also be checking the sites and Facebook pages to see if the puppy has been reported lost. That way you can contact the parents immediately.

If you want to go the extra mile, you can make found flyers and distribute them in the neighborhoods around the spot where you found the puppy. You can also put them up in public places like the library, supermarkets, community centers, pet shops and veterinarians, etc.

Meet the parents

Puppies of all breeds have similar features; short muzzles, floppy ears, fluffiness and chubbiness. So don’t be surprised if you get calls about the puppy from several people. Most of them will be genuine cases, just trying to find their baby. Some may be unscrupulous, but it’s best to work on the assumption that they’re all genuine and simply weed out those who are definitely not the found puppy’s family.

Ask the people who call to describe the puppy, in detail. Don’t just ask for a physical description; see if they can describe her character too. Let them do all the talking and resist the temptation to prompt them with leading questions.

If you’re satisfied that they could be the parents, you can arrange to meet them. A good idea is to go to their veterinarian, so you can have them verified by an independent third party. Reluctance to go to a vet may be a warning that all is not as it should be.

You can then arrange to meet them somewhere public, like the police station, and bring a friend with you for added security. You can leave pup in the car and talk to the people first so that you feel sure you’re handing the puppy over to the right people.

Some puppy parents may be so relieved to have their baby back that they want to give you a reward. It’s up to you whether you want to take it or not. It’s worth noting that most pet insurance policies cover the costs of searching for missing pets and that includes a reward, so you won’t necessarily be taking money out of their pocket.

Still, you may feel that it was more of an honor to share your home with the puppy for a little while and consider your time together gift enough. (Although, you may need the money to recover your couch and replace your rugs.)

Don’t get too attached

Easier said than done, right? After all, there aren’t many people who can resist the cuteness of puppies

Hold onto the belief that she’s going back to a great home where she is a much-loved member of the family.

If you find that the puppy has left a hole in your life, you can always fill it by going back to a shelter and adopting a puppy of your very own.

This website is intended for informational purposes only, and does not replace consulting an animal health or training expert.