What To Do If You Find a Lost Dog
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
Living in a populated suburban area that consists of mostly subdivisions, we have frequent occurrences of dogs who are lost or found by local residents. Fortunately most of us are connected through our neighborhood Facebook groups and most of the lost dogs are returned to their owners rather quickly, but as much as it seems that everyone is on Facebook 24 hours a day, there is still a large part of the population who does not embrace social media as a regular part of everyday life.
It also seems that many people are reluctant to contact animal control, take the dog to the local animal shelter or contact the police department. This stems from a fear that taking a found dog to the local animal shelter means one thing: certain death. This is not necessarily true, though. In fact the local animal shelter will be one of the first places that a dog owner whose dog has been lost should check and the sooner the dog is taken to the shelter the sooner the owner can find it, potentially saving hours of angst and worry for both the owner and the dog.
It is important to remember that the lack of a collar or tags does not indicate whether a dog has a home or not. Collars can fall off or break as can ID tags. Some dog owners do not leave collars on the dog when the dog is in the house because they can cause injury to a dog who is crated or when multiple dogs are playing and rough-housing. It is quite feasible and common that a well cared for and much-loved dog without a collar can slip out the front door or from a collar and leash and become lost.
More and more dogs are getting microchips at puppyhood or when adopted out through rescue organizations, but a chip is only good if it is scanned. As we discussed in the blog Pet ID Week: Understanding Microchips and Pet Trackers, microchips are not GPS units. They only work when scanned by a RFID scanner. The shelter will scan the dog to see if it has a microchip. If they do not do this automatically, make sure you request that they scan for a chip. A veterinarian’s office can also do this and some police departments now have scanners for this purpose.
Keeping a dog because it is not wearing a collar or because of the risk of being euthanized at a shelter is not fair to the dog or the owners who will likely be worried sick over their missing family member, no matter how good the intentions or motive of the person who found the dog. I cannot imagine the anguish in the hearts of anyone whose dog is missing, not knowing if their dog is alive or not, and that anguish being extended because the person who found the dog was not aware of the proper protocol.
In recent years a friend of mine lost their elderly Yorkie and were desperately searching for him on social media, with the police, at the local shelters. Many people went out searching for him for hours each day. A neighbor who they did not know had found him and was keeping him “safe” at their home while my friend spent days searching, sick with worry and under immense stress to find her beloved dog, not knowing if he had been hit by a car, attacked by a coyote or picked up by someone with ill intent.
Here are the steps I recommend if you find a lost dog:
- If you come across a stray dog, do not chase it. If the dog comes to you willingly and you recognize its body language as welcoming and unafraid, err on the side of caution and keep the dog away from your own dogs or children. You do not want to put your own dogs at risk of bites, fleas, parasites or other illnesses.
- Check for a collar and tags and call the phone number on the identification tag. If the dog is in your car you can drive to the address on the tag to see if the owners are home. Finally, you can look the owner’s name up on Facebook to see if you have any mutual friends if you live in the same community.
- Contact your local animal shelter and the police. This is a good contact to add to your phone before you need it, along with your police department’s non-emergency number. Procedures can vary by area and they can tell you what to do next and how to get the dog to them.
- Post in your neighborhood Facebook groups that you found a dog and that it has been turned over to the shelter or police, whichever applies to your situation. This will let the owner know that their dog is safe and they can go there to pick it up.
- Add a post to any applicable lost/found dog social media pages. For example, here in Illinois we have Lost Dogs Illinois where owners can post information and photos of lost and found dogs.
- Share a post in your local Nextdoor network. If you are not a member of Nextdoor, it is a website/app for neighbors to share information. There is not the social aspect of sharing pictures or what you ate for dinner last night, it is strictly informational.
- Print posters and post them in your area in case the owner is not on social media. Include information letting them know that the dog was taken to the local shelter for them to claim.
- When sharing via social media, consider that dogs can easily travel across county lines or state lines, so if you have access to Facebook groups in nearby areas, post to those, too.
Unfortunately there are some unscrupulous and just plain evil people in the world who may try to claim a dog as their own even when they are not the owner. I believe that the shelter is better equipped to weed out these people than the average resident, which is another reason to ensure that found dogs are put into the hands of trained and experienced individuals. This applies to dogs who do not have contact information in the form of a tag and collar or microchip.
Finally, as much as people with loving intentions may bond with a dog who they find or want to keep the dog for their own pet, it is morally the right thing to do to take all steps possible to get the dog home to their owner. A lost dog does not mean a bad owner, there are plenty of great dog owners whose dogs slip away out of a leash or an open gate. If you have room in your life for another dog and find that you want to keep the particular dog that you have found, please work with your shelter and ask them to contact you if nobody comes forward to claim the dog and he or she becomes available for adoption.
Tomorrow we will discuss what to do if you lose your dog on the Love, Laugh, Woof blog as we continue to discuss Pet ID Week.
In addition to this blog, here is some information from the Missing Pet Partnership and The Whole Dog Journal that you may also find helpful.
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