It can be difficult to come across a stray pet because many of us do not have the heart to call animal control, thinking the pet you just rescued from certain death on the streets will only be killed in the shelter. You reach out to all of the local rescues you can find, only to be turned away because of space limitations or policies to not take in strays. So what exactly are you supposed to do now?

The Rescue Mission

  • Use caution in your rescue mission. You have no idea how the pet may react to your presence. A scared, injured, or sick pet may lash out to protect himself. If you feel threatened, call animal control immediately. Be calm when approaching, and using treats may entice him to approach you. Pay attention to the pet’s body language. If an animal breaks the skin, it is considered a bite – no matter how superficial – and that animal will NOT be placed for adoption at an animal shelter. Protect yourself and the animal. They may be scared and bite out of fear, without normally being aggressive.

  • Before bringing the animal into your home, take steps to protect your personal pets. Keep them separated from your animals, especially if your pets are not current on their vaccinations. Flea treatment is always a good idea, so that your pets do not become infested, and wash your hands before handling your pets. Use caution when interacting with them until you are sure that there are no aggression or food/toy resource-guarding issues.

In Your Care

  • Don’t assume the pet is unwanted. Assume they have a family somewhere, and begin your search:

    • Call animal control. This is always the first place an owner would turn to when looking for a lost pet. Leave a detailed description of the pet in case the owner contacts them to see if their pet has been turned in. If you are unable to keep the pet safe in your care until his family can be found, then you need to take the pet to animal control. Most rescues cannot take in stray animals.

    • Take the pet to a vet or local shelter to have him scanned for a microchip. This is a quick way to identify the owners and their information should be registered to the microchip if there is one implanted in the pet.

    • Post fliers in the area where you found the pet, and at local veterinarians and pet stores. Pass out fliers in the area where you found him. Post the pet to Facebook, lost and found pages, and have your friends share your posts. Note the pet’s ability to be around other dogs/kids/cats. Look in the newspaper for a “Lost Pet” ad, or run an ad yourself for “Found Pet.” Never post the pet “Free to Good Home” on Craigslist or Facebook. These pets are often used as bait for fighting rings, snake food, torture, or sold to laboratories for medical research.

    • Do NOT give the dog away! You can be prosecuted for not following legal procedures. You must report the animal to the proper authorities, and either bring the animal in, or hold them for the legally mandated time before attempting to find them a home or keeping them yourself.

Congratulations, You Found the Owner!

  • Make sure the owner is able to describe any markings not shown in photos, or unique personality traits. Ask for proof of ownership.

  • Try not to judge. It might be hard not to assume that the owner is neglectful, but remember that accidents happen – a leash or collar breaks, an unsecured gate, kids left the door open, etc. A skittish dog may not be abused, but scared at being lost and out of his comfort zone. Matted fur might not indicate neglect, but too long on his own in the outdoors. An intact dog might mean that the owner’s couldn’t afford neuter surgery (in which case, you can kindly educate the owner about low cost surgery). It doesn’t take long for a dog out in the elements to become very thin and ragged looking. They may have had someone searching for months for them.