You Found a Lost Dog – Now What?

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By Jennifer F.

With over 77 million pet dogs in the United States, it’s not surprising that we often encounter lost dogs.  Has this ever happened to you?  If you’re a kindhearted person then you may feel like you have an obligation to try to help a dog when you find one.  However, once you have captured a lost dog, or are indirectly caring for one (most commonly through feeding), the question then becomes what do you do when you find a lost dog?  However much we want to help a dog, we often find ourselves unsure of how to care for him/her, and stay safe while doing so. Below are some tips to help you find a lost dog’s home, or a new home.

Stay Safe

Make sure the lost dog is friendly before you approach him/her. If he/she cowards down, keep your distance. Even more so if the dog is growling. In these cases, never approach the dog. Simply call canine control, they are experts. In the best case scenario, the dog comes running up to you, you stay still and then move slowly: sudden movements can scare the dog. Even if the dog is super friendly, try not to rub him/her that much: stray dog fur can contain anything from fleas to poison ivy to who knows what else. Always wash your hands/change your clothes after contact.

Look for Identification

When you find a lost dog the first thing you should do is check the dog for identification.  See if he’s wearing a collar. The collar may have tags on it or there may be a phone number or address written on the collar itself.  Don’t forget to check inside the collar.  Even if the dog is only wearing a rabies tag the tag will have the name and address of a veterinary clinic on it or the agency that administered the vaccine.  You can contact them for information about the owner by giving them the tag number.  If the collar has the name or address of the owner you should contact them immediately, to let them know that you have found their dog.  If there’s a name or address without a phone number you can look people up in the telephone directory or by going online. Be sure to not let the dog get away from you! But if for some case he does, contact the owners anyways: they probably fear that they will never see their dog again.

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If there is no visible identification you should take the dog to a local veterinarian or to a nearby animal shelter. But, do so carefully! If the dog is reluctant to come don’t force him or her, as dogs can bite when they feel cornered. Keep him occupied and in one place until animal control comes! I also recommend to transport the dog in the trunk if you have a hatchback/SUV, or 2nd row if you have a truck or a car. That way you both stay safe. The last thing you need is the dog crawling all over you once you start driving! Be sure to clean your car after transportation. Once you arrive at the vet or humane society, explain your situation. Vets know that the dog could have a microchip with the owner’s identification and his usual vet’s office. Almost every animal shelter/vet has scanners which can read those microchips.  Once the microchip is found you can contact the owner to let him or her know that there dog has been found.  Make sure that the vet or animal shelter employee makes several passes with the scanner.  It’s not always easy to find a microchip.  Sometimes they move from the place where they were originally implanted.

Permanent Identification

Don’t forget to check the dog for tattoos.  Some people use tattoos as permanent identification.  Look for numbers and letters inside a dog’s ear and on the inner thigh that could be identification marks.  You may have to contact a dog breed registry to find out how to get in touch with the owner if you find these markings.  Tattoos were used for years in Canada to permanently identify puppies before they were sold to their new owners so this has been a very popular method of identification with many people.

 You Found a Lost Dog   Now What?

When the Dog has no Identification

If there is no identification of any kind you should start checking your local newspapers for ads concerning missing dogs.  Look for signs in your neighborhood from people who have lost dogs.  Check the Petfinder.com web site for ads from people who have lost dogs fitting the description of the dog you have found.  You can also call local vets to see if any of their clients have lost dogs.  You can even put up posters stating that you have found a dog in grocery stores and other public places.  In addition, check Craig’s List for owners looking for their dog.  If nothing is there, place your own ad.  They are free — but do not put up a picture of the dog.  If people call you about the dog you should ask them to describe their missing dog.  This is to ensure that the dog is only returned to his real owners.

Hopefully, if the dog’s owners are looking for him, they will see your signs or run an ad trying to find him.  However, you should keep in mind that a lost dog can travel up to 25 miles per day.  You probably don’t know how long the dog was missing when you found him so there is no accurate way of knowing where the dog may have come from.  The dog’s owners may be heartbroken and frantic to find him but sometimes it’s very difficult to find a lost dog, even when both the owners and the person who found the dog are trying very hard to connect.

If possible, keep the dog for as long as you can in the hope that the dog’s owners will contact you sooner or later.  If you turn the dog in to an animal shelter he may be adopted by a new family — or he may be put to sleep if he is not adopted within a short time.  In most cases a lost dog has a loving family who misses him and wants to find him.  Try to give him every chance to go home. But, if he truly was abandoned, be the one to give him a home. He will be forever grateful you helped him.

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