What to Do If You Find a Lost Dog or Stray

Updated on July 9, 2019
Layne Holmes profile image

Layne has worked in shelter medicine for over six years and likes to share her advice with fellow animal guardians.

What to do if you find a lost dog.
What to do if you find a lost dog. | Source

What to Do If You Find a Lost Dog

Did you spot a lost dog or stray? Does the dog have a collar, but is it too scared to come near you? Has the dog been near your property or in the same area for several days, and is it scared of you? Finding a stray dog can be extremely stressful. You immediately feel responsible for the dog's welfare and find yourself needing to act fast. Sometimes it's not so easy or straightforward. You will want to ask yourself:

  • Does the dog look cared for? It's likely that the dog simply escaped.
  • Does the dog have tags or a collar? The dog belongs to someone.
  • Does the dog look sick, skinny, or unkempt? It's likely a stray.
  • Is the dog friendly or shy? If the dog is shy or scared, you'll need to contact an authority.
  • Is the dog in immediate danger? If the dog is on the freeway or in traffic, call the police.

Safety

Always proceed with caution. Do not attempt to grab a fearful dog. All dogs can bite. Call the authorities if the situation is unsafe.

Spread the word—post online, call local shelters, make flyers if you have time.
Spread the word—post online, call local shelters, make flyers if you have time. | Source

How to Rescue a Lost or Stray Dog

  1. Assess the situation. Every situation varies, and there are several scenarios to look at. If the dog is roaming in the freeway, you need to call the police because this dog is not only at risk of being hit, but it can also cause an accident. The police (in my experience) have been quicker to act than Animal Control in big cities because Animal Control is generally overwhelmed. On the other hand, if this is a dog that just keeps returning to the same place every day in the countryside, you will want to take a different course of action (explained below).
  2. Assess the dog's demeanor. The dog's demeanor will tell you a lot about what needs to happen. If the dog is skittish, injured, or looks like it has been roaming for quite some time and without a collar, you need to call Animal Control. Animal Control often will come out and find a way to professionally retrieve the animal. Yes, some people worry that an animal that is picked up will be euthanized. This is a harsh reality that comes with pet overpopulation, BUT calling Animal Control will give the dog a chance. A dog can be rehabilitated, you prevent unwanted pet overpopulation, and you prevent this dog from getting hit by a car or interacting with wildlife. It's the better choice.
  3. Is the dog friendly? If the dog is friendly, you can do several things. Always proceed with caution as ANY dog is unpredictable and can bite at any time. Say the dog is a small breed like a Shih Tzu and wears a collar. Perhaps this dog is friendly and approaches you. Let the dog sniff you and move slowly, speaking in a friendly voice. If you can access the collar, get a glimpse at the tags and take a picture. If the dog lets you pick it up, feel free to cuddle and carry it to a safe place and call the owners. If you have a spare leash near you, clip it on. You can also make a slip lead (see demo video).
  4. Is the dog shy? If the dog is shy, you can do a few things. If you have food on you, you can try to lure the dog into your yard and close the dog up in you yard until you can contact the necessary agency. If it's a smaller dog and you have something like a spare dog crate, you can try several things. You can leave the gate to the dog crate open and put food in the back. Cover the sides of the crate with a blanket. When the dog goes inside, sneakily shut the gate. Then get ready to transport the crate to a local shelter. This sometimes take patience and ninja-like skills.
  5. Take the dog to the vet or a shelter. This is recommended only if the dog is well-socialized and friendly and can be handled. If the dog is without a collar, you can either go to your local vet's office for a microchip scan (they should have the scanner there and are often willing to help with strays) or you can go to your local shelter and have them scan the dog. A microchip (if registered correctly) will connect the owner and the dog in the database.
  6. Surrender or home the dog. In the meantime, while you are waiting for the owner to make a move, you can house a sweet dog if you have the space (let them sleep somewhere secure like a bathroom with bedding and make sure you pick up anything they can destroy) OR you can surrender them to a local shelter. Some shelters will take purebreds, and other locations like Animal Control have to take all animals in the county that they serve.
  7. Make flyers, post online, and call around. If the owner can't be found but you don't want to give up, create flyers, make posts, and call around (detailed below).

Video: How to Make a Slip Lead With Rope

Making Flyers, Posting Online, and Calling Local Shelters

Make a Flyer

You can create flyers. Only list the description of the dog and leave out one key component so you can truly ID the owner. If the dog has a unisex name, consider leaving out the sex (male or female) OR if the dog has striking blue eyes, leave that out of the description. Ask about this defining characteristic or have the owner verify with a photo before handing the dog over. Something like:

Found: Lucky

Brown Terrier

Blue Eyes

Found near the intersection of Madison and 4th

Call: 111-222-3333

Post Online

Post on NextDoor.com or Craigslist.com. Be sure to exclude one definable trait—even the collar color—to make sure that the owner is truly the owner (or have them verify with photos). This is especially important with purebreds because there is a market for purebreds—so much so that people will steal dogs.

Call Local Shelters

This is especially helpful. Chances are the owner is calling around to local shelters. If you can beat them to it, this is even better. Call around to all local shelters within your area and tell them what kind of dog you found. Leave your number. The shelter will connect you and the owner when the time is right.

Retrieving the dog is in the best interest of the dog and the public.
Retrieving the dog is in the best interest of the dog and the public. | Source

Will the Stray Dog I Found Get Euthanized at the Shelter?

This is a really difficult thought most rescuers have. They worry that if they call Animal Control, the dog will end up dead in a shelter/euthanized because it can't find a home or it's under-socialized. Let's be 100% honest. There are several benefits to reporting a stray dog:

  • the dog may get reunited with its owner
  • the dog may turn out to be social and adoptable
  • the dog will get neutered/sterilized and will be prevented from procreating
  • the dog won't get hit by a car, die, or starve

What About No-Kill Shelters?

No-kill shelters hand-select their dogs. They temperament-test and pick dogs from facilities that are overwhelmed. This is what gives them the opportunity to be no-kill, because they select highly adoptable dogs. Most shelters won't take an animal over the counter. Pets are considered property, so they would be taking a chance by accepting a dog over the counter. Some shelters may take a dog—puppies or purebreds or exceptionally sweet dogs. It all depends on your area.

Video: Woman Spends 3 Years Rescuing a Stray

Can I Keep the Stray Dog I Found?

You are legally required to report the lost dog within 48 hours of it being found. Otherwise, you can be charged with a misdemeanor. Some areas have a 30-day rule. That is, if the dog isn't claimed for 30 days, you can adopt it.

Some people choose to keep the animal they've found. This occurs after exhausting all attempts to try to reconnect the dog with the owner. It's best to contact all shelters and Animal Control and have the dog scanned before deciding if you are ready to keep the stray or lost dog that you found. Many times, you can notify the shelter or the Animal Control center that is holding the dog and let them know that you would like to adopt the dog if it is not claimed. You can likely visit the dog while it waits out its "quarantine." Keep open and direct contact to make sure the facility knows you are ready to adopt once the 30-day period or designated time frame has passed.

Keep in mind that dogs are property. Educate yourself on your local laws.

What Shots Will the Dog Need?

Adult dogs generally have decent immunity, but when a dog has been free-roaming, they pick up all kinds of things. You should take them to a vet for a general exam. They will likely need:

  • deworming
  • flea treatment
  • rabies shot (in order to license them in your area)
  • DAPP shot (combination vaccine)
  • Bordetella (elective but a good idea if you are going to socialize the dog)

Note: Vaccination requirements will vary by area. The vaccine for leptospirosis, for instance, may make sense for you if you live near wildlife or in an area with rodents.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Layne Holmes

    Questions? Please Ask!

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Layne Holmes profile imageAUTHOR

        Layne Holmes 

        4 months ago from Bend, Oregon

        Hi Tommi—great job caring for these fur babies. Really impressed by your history of rescues. I was inspired to write this because I currently have a friend who lives in an area with a lot of escaped dog problems. She gets really upset every time it happens—I don't blame her. Sounds like you have a lot of experience and tips as well. Great job saving lives! Thanks for the read.

      • Tommi Grace profile image

        Tommi Grace 

        4 months ago from Woodward

        Awesome article. I was known as "The Dog Rescuer" in my last neighborhood. I must have found at least 7 dogs' owners. They were all, luckily, friendly. One got out three times in one week, so getting him back home was easy since after the first time I knew where he lived. All but one had collars with tags on them, so it was as simple as calling the vet where the tag was registered and connecting with the owners from there. The one dog or puppy without a collar, I had to keep for several days. I put him on Facebook (a local lost dog finder) but it came to knocking on doors until I finally found the owner. He still gets out even though I am in a different home (just two blocks away from the old one) I see him, all grown up and take him back home. That is one of the benefits of being in a small town. I see a dog wondering around and I decide to do for it what I would want others to do if one of my dogs were to get out. Sneaky little fur babies LOL!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://pethelpful.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)