What to do if you find a lost or stray dog
If you find a stray dog, don’t immediately assume that the dog is homeless, abused or abandoned based on its current condition. Some lost dogs can get injured or lose a lot of weight. They may also act fearful, but this doesn’t generally indicate abuse. Many stray dogs may still have a loving family out there looking for them. Please make an effort to reunite the stray dog with their family! In many states, you are required by law to report the dog found to your town’s Animal Control Officer.
- If possible, keep the dog while you attempt to find the owner. Shelters are often very stressful places for dogs, but they are also the first place an owner is going to look for their lost dog. So only keep the dog if you are going to make sure that Animal Control/shelters know that you have the dog AND you are going to make an extra effort to find the owner.
- If the dog is wearing a collar, check for any ID tags or a phone number embroidered on the collar. See below for information on tracking down an owner through a license or rabies tag.
- If the dog is friendly and looks in good health, they may not have traveled far. Try knocking on some doors and see if anyone recognizes the stray dog. You can always go back later and distribute flyers in the neighborhood.
- Check for permanent identification such as a microchip or tattoo. You’ll need to bring the dog to a vet or shelter to get them scanned for a microchip. See below for more information. Also check the dog for other forms of permanent ID like a tattoo. These are usually placed on the dog’s belly or inner thigh but could also be in the ear.
- If you cannot safely keep the dog, then bring them to your local shelter or animal control. You may be able to find your Animal Control Officer through your town website or by calling the non-emergency number for your local police.
- If you keep the stray dog, call your local Animal Control Officer and/or Police Station to report the found dog.
- Also contact any local shelters or rescue groups to let them know and see if anyone is looking for the dog. Try PetFinder.com for a list of groups.
- Create florescent Found Dog posters and put them up in the area that you found the stray dog and at least 1 mile out.
- Create Found Dog flyers and give them to local vets. Also put them up at local convenience stores and pet-related businesses.
- Post the found dog online. See this page for Online Posting sites.
How to Safely Catch a Stray Dog
Some stray dogs are just out exploring and having a good time and may readily approach you. However, many lost dogs are very scared and wary of all people. NEVER call out to a loose dog or chase after them! This is very difficult not to do because this is our natural instinct, but if you call out to a loose dog or approach them directly, they are likely to run away in fear. In many cases, a fearful lost dog will even run in fear when someone they know calls their name. Calling out to a dog and chasing them can cause them to run in panic and possibly get hit by a car. Instead of calling the dog or approaching them, you want to attract him to you. First try sitting down and not looking directly at the dog (instead watch out of the corner of your eye). Either just sit quietly, sing softly (if you must make noise) or pretend to eat some food (or better yet actually eat something). If the dog still won’t approach, then lie down on the ground. Once the dog approaches you, resist the urge to grab them. Most likely you aren’t fast enough and you risk being bitten. Wait for the dog’s behavior to transition to sniffing at you and tail wagging before you attempt to touch them. The best tool to use to catch a loose dog is a slip lead. You can create your own by taking a regular dog leash and threading the leash through the handle. For more information on how to catch a fearful stray dog, check out this article: Why You Should NOT Call a Stray / Loose Dog.
How to Return a Found Dog to their Rightful Owner or Guardian
If you choose to find the owner yourself, make sure to keep yourself and the found dog safe. Don’t just hand the dog over to the first person that claims to be the owner.
- When someone calls claiming to be the owner, ask them to describe the dog in detail. Are there any identifying markings or unique behaviors? You could even try letting the person talk to the dog on the phone and see if they act excited.
- Prior to meeting, request some proof of ownership such as photos of them with the found dog. If possible, also request to see vet records (e.g. receipts are often provided after vet care that include a description of the pet), adoption papers or town license registration.
- Meet the individual during the day, in a public location and don’t go alone.
- Lastly, pay attention to the lost dog’s behavior. Most likely, they will be very happy to be returned to their owner, but very distressed pets may not show immediate recognition.
- Make sure that the dog is adequately secured with a properly fitted collar and/or slip lead. Don’t just let the dog jump out of the car to greet their owner. The last thing you want to risk happening is having the dog run off again.
How to find a dog’s owner using only the license or rabies tag
Sometimes a dog won’t have an ID tag, but they may have a rabies and/or town license tag. These tags can often be used to track down the owner. For a rabies tag, call the vet listed and give them the number and year of the tag. For a dog license, call the Animal Control Officer or Town Clerk of the town listed on the tag and give them the number and year of the tag. In either case, they will either give you the pet owner’s phone number or more likely ask for your contact information and attempt to contact the owner themselves. Some microchipped dogs will have an ID tag with the microchip number; there is usually also a phone number to call and report the pet lost. If not, see the instructions below on finding an owner using a microchip number.
How to find a dog’s owner using a microchip
First you need to find out if the stray dog has a microchip by bringing them somewhere they can be scanned such as a shelter, veterinary office or vaccination clinic. If a microchip is found, the vet or shelter may be able to look up the microchip information, and help you locate the owner. If they just give you the microchip number, then you can enter this into the AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup to determine where it is registered. Once you know where the microchip is registered, you then need to contact that company and give them the microchip number. They will either give you the pet owner’s number (if they have permission to do so) and/or contact the pet owner themselves and give them your contact information.
Unfortunately, many people do not properly register their microchips or keep the contact information up-to-date. Be aware that you may end up finding a previous owner and not the most recent owner via microchip information. If the found dog has an unregistered microchip or one with incomplete or inaccurate information, you may be able to track down the owner with a little detective work of your own. Check out this article to learn more. Or try contacting Microchip Hunters, a volunteer group which provides assistance in tracking down unregistered microchips or ones with out-of-date contact information.
Microchip Registries and Look-Up Directories
There are many different companies selling microchips and many microchip registries on the internet. Not all registries include all registered microchips. You may need to try several before you can find where a microchip is registered.
AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup – not a microchip registry itself, but allows you to search by microchip number to determine where the microchip is registered. Contains many but not all microchip companies.
PETMAXX – contains links to international lost pet microchip databases
If you cannot find a registered microchip using one of the search tools listed above, this InfoPet page provides information on how to determine where a microchip is manufactured. However, just because a microchip was manufactured by Home Again doesn’t mean that it is registered with that company. It probably is, but it may also be registered on one of many free or paid microchip registry sites.
Most other registries will only bring up pets registered with that particular company!
24PetWatch Pet Protection Services (866-597-2424)
AKC Reunite (800-252-7894)
Avid EuroChip (800-336-2843)
Avid (Canada) (800-338-1397)
Digital Angel (800-328-0118)
Found Animals (855-PET-CHIP)
Microchip ID Systems Inc. (985-898-0772)
M4S ID/PetIDGreen (877-738-4384)
National Dog Registry (800-NDR-DOGS) – also does tattoo registry
Petstablished (855-684-3184 Ext.103)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]