It has happened to all of us: you’re driving to work, school, or the gym, and you see a dog or cat wandering by itself. What do you do?! Well, it’s not exactly a black and white answer. We’ve put together this list to help you figure out what to do!
1. Consider whether you are the animal’s best option.
Your first instinct may be to pull over and help the animal. But you may not always be the best option for that animal. Use your best judgement by asking yourself the following questions.
Have I seen this animal before?
If you repeatedly see the same animal wandering around without a collar, it could be a stray. In this case, it is best to get the animal into the care of a shelter who can help them find a forever home. You may be able to get the animal into your car and take them to a shelter, but if that’s not easy or possible, call your local Animal Control center. They are equipped to safely pick up stray animals and file the appropriate reports. Your safety is the #1 priority!
Does this animal live in the neighborhood?
If you recognize the dog and think you know where it might live, try to contact that person. Many animals also know where their home is, and they can find their way back. Their owner may also be frantically searching for them, so if you pick them up and immediately take them to your house or to animal control, the owner will not find them. If the lost dog or cat is in an area with houses, your best option may be to leash the dog safely (if possible) and walk around keeping an eye out for anyone who may be searching.
Can I safely leash this animal without getting myself or the animal injured?
If you chase an animal with a leash, they may become scared. They may be so focused on getting away from you, that they don’t see an oncoming car. A frightened animal may also bite you. If you get bitten by an animal you have leashed or attempted to leash, alert animal control and seek medical attention immediately.
Am I prepared for the level of responsibility that comes with picking this animal up?
The reality is that if you pick up a stray or lost pet, you are considered legally responsible for the animal until a municipal animal shelter, humane society, veterinarian, or rescue accepts the animal from you. Make sure you have the time and willingness to do what it takes to get this animal home.
If you’ve covered these questions and need to take further steps, keep reading!
2. Check for a microchip.
There is nothing more important to a potential lost pet than an up-to-date microchip! A microchip will be found under a pet’s skin near their shoulder blades. This is the fastest way to get them back home if no collar or tags are present. One out of every three pets will get lost in their lifetimes, and unfortunately, only 10 percent without a microchip will make it back home. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, this statistic rises to 52 percent for dogs who have up-to-date microchips, and 38 percent for cats!
To scan for a microchip, take the lost pet to the nearest veterinarian’s office or animal shelter. They will likely have a scanner there, and can contact the person who is registered to the chip. If the information is not up-to-date, take down the microchip number and move on to step two!
3. Contact your local animal shelters.
If you find a lost pet, it is likely that someone is looking for it! After checking for a microchip, the next suggested step is to reach out to your local humane society or animal control facility to file a report stating that you found a lost animal.
If you find an email address, make sure you send over a thorough description of the pet that is in your care. The following list is the right information to provide for a lost pet report!
- Date found
- Major cross streets
- Sex (spayed or neutered)
- Image of the pet
- Collar description
- Breed (your best guess will do fine, but here is a handy dandy breed guide for dogs and cats!)
This information will help the shelter staff make a match when, or if, the owner of the lost pet calls to file a lost report! Attaching an image is very important. Make sure the picture is clear and you make note of any distinguishing characteristics or markings on the pet (scars, fur patterns, tail size, etc.).
4. Use Social Media.
After you’ve filed your found report with your local animal shelter, you will, of course, already have a picture ready to go! Log into your favorite social media site and post the same description as a status on your personal page, and make sure it is public. Ask your friends to share the post and reach out to anyone who lives in the area or is missing a dog. In addition, search Facebook for a local page, such as Lost and Found Pets of Pima County, and repost your status on there!
This is great way to spread the word quickly. Also, there is a good chance that the owners have already posted their own status to social media!
You know the idea of six degrees of separation? That chain gets much smaller when you’re posting to a social media page that is specific to your location!
5. Make a flier.
Making a flier for a lost dog or cat is easy, and we’ve got you covered! Download our template, insert the picture and information from your found report, and post around the area where you found the lost pet! Make sure to keep your phone nearby, in case the owner tries to contact you!
6. Research intake facilities to request a pet pick up or to drop off a lost pet.
Okay, so you can’t find the owner of the pet you found. It happens, and it can be heartbreaking. If you do your research, your experience with surrendering a pet into the care of an intake facility can be a something you feel good about!
The Humane Society of Southern Arizona is a no-kill facility with a live release rate of 96%. To maintain this live release rate, our organization is a managed intake facility. This means that people from the public cannot just walk through our doors with a stray dog or cat (or bird, or rabbit) and leave it with us. An appointment and fee are both required when surrendering a pet into our care, even if it does not belong to you. This process ensures that every single animal in our care has the best possible chance at life.
If the stray animal in question is extremely sick, at all aggressive, or you feel in danger, please contact an animal control officer to deal with the situation. If you live in Tucson, contact Pima Animal Care Center.
7. Give yourself a pat on the back!
The truth is that this can seem like a lot of work for an animal that doesn’t belong to you. However, many lost pets have loving homes and owners that are trying frantically to find them. You’ve done a great deed by taking the necessary steps to get them into the care of their owner, or, in the case of a stray, into the care of a shelter that can help them find a forever home. Accidents happen, and pets get loose. Being an advocate for a lost pet can be the difference between life or death for that pet.
Now you have the tools to do the right thing. Cheers to you, Good Samaritan! Have you ever found a lost dog or cat? What did you do? Let us know in the comments.