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What to Do if You Find a Stray Dog

What to Do if You Find a Stray Dog

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When you find a stray dog, your first instinct may be to run to the dog and try to help. Though well-meaning, this isn’t always the best way to help strays.

There are several different ways to approach and help stray dogs depending on the circumstances surrounding their appearance.

When trying to help a stray dog, it’s important to make sure both you and the dog are as safe as possible at all times.

Keep reading to learn how to successfully and safety rescue a stray dog.

Be Careful Approaching Stray Dogs

If you see or find a stray dog, the most important thing to remember is to exercise extreme caution. 

Even if a dog may look healthy and friendly, they may still act unpredictably.

When dogs are sick, injured, or frightened, it may not always be obvious. However, this can lead them to become aggressive. 

There are many reasons a dog may bite or be aggressive, many of which are perfectly natural

Any sudden or unexpected moves on your part may cause them to become aggressive or run away.

How to Approach a Stray Dog

If it’s safe for you to approach the stray, here are some tips on how to catch them without causing undue stress:

  • Approach Cautiously – When you approach the animal, speak in a soothing manner and make sure they can see you at all times. It may also help to crouch and make yourself seem less imposing.
  • Confine & Restrain – If possible, create barriers to confine the stray to a smaller area. Then, use a leash, length of rope, crate, or other material to restrain the animal and lead them to a safer area.
  • Use Food – If you have any on hand, food is a great positive reinforcement tool. It can calm the dog down, help them trust you, or lure them to a safer area. If your car is nearby, food can help lure them inside.

What to Do if the Dog Is Unapproachable 

There are also other methods to help a stray dog if it’s unsafe or not possible for you to personally catch the dog. 

Calling animal control or another organization qualified to catch stray animals is the best way to handle a dog that you can’t contain. 

If no such organization is available, such as in rural areas, call the local police.

When you report an animal, make sure to give your contact information and specifics about the dog’s location. 

Report street names, mile markers, landmarks, or any other identifying information to the dispatcher.

If the dog seems injured, make sure to report this as well. 

Similarly, tell the dispatcher if you notice any obvious behaviors, such as disorientation, aggression, etc.

You Capture the Dog: What’s Next? 

Once the dog is calm and safe enough to transport, you may choose to surrender them to a local shelter, rescue, or other organization. 

These may be run by local agencies, state employees, or community volunteers.

  • Research Rescues – If you’re considering surrendering the stray, do some research first into which organization would be best suited to take care of the dog.
  • Call First – Before you drop the dog off, call beforehand to make sure the shelter is open, has capacity, and can support another animal.
  • Provide Supplies – If at all possible, provide supplies when you surrender the dog. Even something as simple as an extra leash or toy can hugely help shelters.

Keep in mind, you need to be prepared for the harsher realities of surrendering a stray to a shelter or agency. 

Such organizations are often limited in terms of finances, space, and manpower.

If the stray is badly injured or unable to provide care for the dog, they may choose to euthanize the animal.

Similarly, if the stray develops behavioral problems or aggression later on, employees may also choose to put the dog down.

However, doing thorough research on all the available temporary housing and care options in your area can help limit these unfortunate outcomes.

If You Call an Organization

If you choose to call animal control or another organization to pick up the dog, there are still a few things you can do to help them find their owners:

  • Ask Questions – Ask how long it will take authorities to come rescue the stray. If possible, keep an eye on the dog and send updates to the dispatcher as necessary.
  • Follow Up – Follow up with the organization to find out what shelter, rescue, etc. they house the dog with.
  • Post Online – If there are any local groups on Facebook or other social media for lost and found dogs, post a picture and information on how to locate the dog.

Once you find out where the stray is being held, you can periodically call or visit to get updates on the dog.

Similar to when you surrender the dog, you should be prepared to no longer have control over the outcome of the dog’s care. 

Ideally, you will find a facility or organization that commits rehoming or rehabilitating the dog. 

However, these organizations may make decisions that you don’t agree with.

If You House the Dog

If you’re able to safely and successfully rescue the stray, you may choose to keep them in your home until their owners can be identified. 

In case this is the route you choose, here are some tips on how to make the search as easy as possible:

  • Check For A Collar – One of the easiest ways to find a lost dog’s family is to check for a collar; if they have one with contact information, use it.
  • Microchip Scanning – If you’re able to do so safely, take the dog to a vet’s office; they do not charge a fee to scan the microchip.
  • Put Up Found Posters – Sometimes old methods are still useful; try putting up found posters with the dog’s picture and your contact information.
  • Posting on Social Media – Post the dog’s picture and information on local facebook groups for lost/found dogs. It would also be helpful to search for groups about the specific neighborhood or location the dog was found in. 

Regardless of how you choose to distribute information about the dog, include pictures, a description, where the dog was found, and how to contact you.

If someone contacts you about the dog, you MUST require proof of ownership. Proof can come in the form of pictures and vet references. 

While you’re waiting for the dog’s family to contact you, prepare a space to keep the dog as comfortable as possible. 

Have an area set up to keep the dog in and stock up on dog food, water, toys, blankets, and anything else the dog may need.

If you have any other animals, it’s best to quarantine the stray until a vet confirms they don’t have any communicable diseases, parasites, etc.

You should also be prepared in case no one comes forward to claim the stray. 

Have a plan for how to arrange more permanent housing for the dog, whether that means contacting a local shelter or listing the stray as available for rehoming.

What NOT to Do if You Find a Stray Dog

When attempting to help a stray, here are some tips to keep in mind during the process:

  • Don’t Cause An Accident – If you see a stray while driving, don’t cause an accident. Check before braking, turn on your signal lights, and pull over off the road. Turn off the car completely and put on your hazard lights.
  • Don’t Rush A Rescue Attempt – If you try to rescue the dog on your own, don’t rush the process. Take time to carefully judge the dog’s emotional state and behavioral cues. If the dog becomes aggressive or erratic, back off and reassess the situation.
  • Don’t Form An Attachment – During the rescue and if you choose to house the dog until owners are found, don’t form an attachment. Remember that this dog has a family that may be searching for them, and be prepared to return the dog if they appear.

In case you find a stray or no one comes forward immediately, you also can’t just assume ownership of the dog. 

Nearly every state has a holding period for strays, during which time an attempt must be to find the legal owner.

After this period has expired, you can take steps to adopt the dog if you want.

Again, the most important part of finding and helping a stray is to make sure that everyone remains as safe as possible throughout the process.

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