What to do if you find a stray pet?

We’ve all seen them: The dogs running around the streets, looking lost, risking their lives on the road, and we’re never sure if we should stop. After all, some dogs may know exactly where they’re going and will find their way home. But some dogs get so stressed that they couldn’t find a pork chop in a paper bag, let alone navigate suburban or city streets to find home. These are the dogs that would benefit from some help, but the question is: What to do with them?

According to Missing Pet Partnership, when you see a dog roaming the streets, you should THINK LOST, NOT STRAY. Wary or scared-looking dogs haven’t necessarily been abused; they may just have a nervous disposition. Dogs that look ragged may also just be having a stress reaction and, depending on how long they’ve been lost, they could be dehydrated and hungry. They may not be abandoned or neglected, their families may be frantic and doing everything in their power to find their furkid.

While it may be tempting to keep the pooch you’ve ‘rescued’, remember 2 things:

  1. The heartache of the family missing their dog
  2. The law

You are legally required to report and relinquish any lost pets you find to the authorities, including animal control, animal shelters or the pound. The first stop most pet parents make when looking for their missing dog or cat is the shelter, if they’re not there then the shelter will take a description of the pet – and a picture – and stay on the lookout. When you bring in the animal you found, they can check it against their reports and contact families with pets fitting that description. Some shelters may allow you to keep the dog or cat on a foster basis, especially if they are full, so you can look after them until the parents have been found.

Here doggy doggy

If you spot a lost dog, the first thing to do is see if you can approach them or encourage them to come to you. It’s easier to catch a lost or stray dog if you have something nice to eat to entice them. But how many people drive around with biscuits or jerky in their cars? You can catch a stray without food, provided you proceed carefully.

Never chase a lost dog, especially if they look scared, because they will run even further away and in their fear may end up even further away from home. Approach slowly and calmly, and when you’re at a safe distance squat down and gently call them towards you. If you have some treats, toss them towards the dog. Don’t try to hold the treat and wave it at them. Dogs have their own version of Stranger Danger and often won’t take food from people they don’t trust. Also, scared dogs won’t eat and they have great difficulty trusting people.

Don’t look directly at the dog – it can be threatening – but position yourself side-on. Wait a while and see if they will come. If you can’t wait for long or aren’t patient by nature, you can call animal control. If possible, stay with the animal until help arrives, but if they run off again, make a note of the street name and direction they were headed so you can inform animal control when they arrive.

If the dog comes to you, you can check to see if they’re wearing a collar and have ID tags. If they do have tags, it’s easy enough to call the number and let the family know that you’ve found their dog. You can arrange for pick up at a safe place.

You can relinquish responsibility to animal control and let them take the lost dog to the pound, or you can take the dog to a nearby vet or animal shelter so that they can scan for a microchip. Again, if they are chipped, the families can be easily notified. If they’re not chipped, find their parents becomes complicated.

You can find shelters in your area here.

Here kitty kitty

Cats more difficult to catch because they are naturally skittish and tend to flee, at speed, when strangers approach.

Your easiest option is to call animal control and let them try to catch the cat, but if you have oodles of patience you can phone a friend and ask them to bring a basket, pet carrier, or crate, put in some food and water, back away to a safe distance and wait for kitty’s curiosity, or hunger, to get the better of her.

If you do manage to catch a cat (congratulations!) you can also check for a collar and ID tag. Fewer cats than dogs wear collars and tags though, so you might have to go to the nearest vet or animal shelter to check for a microchip. If they are chipped, their family will be notified and you can either leave the cat with the vet or shelter staff and let them handle the matter, or you can stay with the cat until her parents come.

If they’re not microchipped (and most cats aren’t), it also becomes complicated.

What you can do to help lost pets

Whether you decide to foster the cat or dog you found, or you relinquish them to a shelter, you can take additional steps to help reunite the family.

Verify parents

It’s very important that you do your best to verify the pet’s parents when people come to claim the animal. Sometimes similar looking pets go missing at the same time, so you could have genuinely concerned parents come to see if you have their pet. Unfortunately, there are also chancers who like the look of the animal on the posters and will come to claim them, or who have less than honorable intentions and are looking for bait animals for fight dogs or pets they can sell to the fur industry.

Make sure you reunite families by:

  1. Asking them to describe their dog or cat in detail. Don’t ask leading questions; rather let them do all the talking.
  2. Asking people to bring photographs of their pet with them, preferably of the two of them together.
  3. Asking them to meet at their usual veterinarian, so you can have a third party verify their claim.

Safety first: Never let people come to your home. Arrange to meet in a public place, like the veterinarian or even the police station, and take someone with you.

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