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Let's Talk About...Finding Strays

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

What should you do when you find a dog (or cat)? Keep reading to find out the best steps to take when you happen across a lost canine.

Stray Dog
A dog who wondered up at work; I made him comfy until I could get him home.

I'm sure it's happened to all of us: you're driving along or sitting on your porch and into your peripheral creeps a lost, scared little (or not so little) furball. You love animals and don't want to see it get hurt, but you also aren't completely sure what to do. There are a few steps you can take to help the lost pet find its way home.

Before we begin, have a reality check with yourself. Make sure you are ready to take on a stray and the sometimes-stressful job of finding its owners. Ask yourself if you are ready to make the hard decision to surrender the animal to a shelter that may euthanize it. If you don't want to do that, great! However, don't get upset when you have trouble finding a rescue to take the animal. Everyone is packed to capacity right now, so you may be stuck caring for the animal until something can be figured out.

If you're ready to start the journey, read on!

Step 1: Make sure it's safe

Before approaching the animal, make sure it's safe to do so. You can't help them find their way home if you get hit running into the road to grab them. Also, not all animals are safe to be around. Sometimes, it's safer to call the professionals, whether it's animal control or a local rescue organization who has the proper equipment and training to catch a fearful animal. Watch for snarling, flashing teeth, or growling. These are all signs that the dog could attack you out of fear. Also, if you are nervous, the dog will pick up on that and be more likely to attack. If you can't catch the dog calmly, don't try to catch it all. Remember, it can take hours to catch a nervous dog. I sat outside in the Texas heat for two while I convinced Bella that it was safe to approach.

Step 2: Check for ID

Once you have the dog safely in your possession, check for ID. Don't stop at tags. Tags can come off. Many people have taken to stitching contact details on the inside of collars, so be sure to check for that. If the dog doesn't have a collar or the collar doesn't have information, check for a chip. You can take the dog to a vet's office, shelter/rescue, or check it yourself if you have a scanner of your own. I carry this one with me and check chip numbers here. Don't worry, microchip checks are free. If there's a registered* chip, great! You can contact the owners and get the dog home safely.

*Many people think all they have to do is get their pet chipped by the vet. This isn't true. Once your pet is chipped, you have to register your chip (regardless of brand) on a site such as HomeAgain ($20 annually), PetLink ($20 one-time fee per pet), or 24PetWatch (free). If you don't register the chip, it won't matter how many times it gets scanned, no one will be able to contact you about your pet.

Step 3: What if the chip isn't registered?

If the chip isn't registered, you have a decision to make: keep the dog and try to find the owners the old-fashioned way (flyers; door-to-door; etc.) or contact a municipal shelter or rescue. If you go with the latter option, be sure you are contacting a municipal shelter (one run by the city or county) and not a private shelter. Private shelters are not allowed to take stray animals; they can only take owner surrenders and animals that are transferred from a municipal shelter after a stray hold. Rescues can take any animal they want to, but they may not have the space at that time. If they don't and you are willing, ask if you can foster the dog for them while they try to get it adopted out.

Give Yourself a Round of Applause for Helping a Stray

If you made the decision to help a lost animal, you are officially a good person! Take the time to feel good about yourself. Whether you ended up getting the animal home, getting it to a rescue, or keeping it, you helped save a life. Hopefully, these tips helped you to do so.

Have a rescue story? Share it in the comments!

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