What To Do if You Find a Lost Pet

We live in a busy city, full of people and pets.  I spend a good amount of time each day walking my own dogs, and every once in awhile during one of our walks we'll happen upon loose pets.  In many cases a concerned owner won't be far behind, chasing after Fluffy or Fido after he/she bolted out of an open door.  Once in awhile we'll find a lost pet with no owner in sight, which always presents us with something of a dilemma.

GizmoThe cute little dog pictured to the left was one such pet.  Kitsune and I found him during one of our walks.  Dancing dangerously close to city traffic, with no owner to be found, we had to decide what to do with the little guy.  Luckily he was very friendly and we were only about a block away from our house, so I scooped him up and home we went.

It was pretty obvious that he had a home.  He was sweet, seemed pretty well trained, and was well groomed (if not a bit dirty).  We gave him a bath, a meal, and he promptly jumped on the couch to take a nap.  Who knows how long the poor little guy was out running the streets.  Luckily his stay at Hotel de Paw Print didn't last long.  His owners were out looking for him.  We found out that his name is Gizmo, and I still see him and his owners walking every once in awhile.

That wasn't my first time finding a lost pet, and I doubt it will be my last.  To some people it may seem like common sense, but if you've never had to help a lost pet find its way home before, what steps you should take might be unclear.  These are the steps I always take...

  1. Capture lost pets with care.  If you come across a stray or lost pet, use caution when trying to capture him/her.  Lost pets may be, understandably, stressed out - especially if they are hurt.  Stressed animals are more likely to lash out and possibly cause injury.  If you have pets of your own, and you are unsure of the health of the lost pet, it would probably be best to contain the animal away from your own pets.
  2. Check the pet for ID.  If the animal you find has a collar or harness with an ID tag attached, you're in luck!  If not, bring the pet to a vet ASAP to get him/her scanned for a microchip.  Most veterinarians will scan a found pet free of charge, and since it can be done by a tech right in the waiting room, you shouldn't need to make an appointment.  However, it's always a good idea to call the vet clinic in advance.  Most animal shelters will also scan a found pet as well.
  3. Call your local police station.  Call the non-emergency number of your local police station.  The pet's owners may have reported the pet missing.  Even if they haven't, ask if you can leave your contact information and a description of the found pet with the police, in case the owners call looking for him/her later on.
  4. Contact local shelters/vets/animal control. Even if you intend to keep the pet with you while you search for its owners, it's important to notify all local shelters, veterinarians, and animal control offices with a description of the animal and your contact information.  These are often times some of the first places a pet owner will go to look for their missing pet.
  5. What to do if you cannot keep the pet with you, or it is hurt.  If, for some reason, you cannot keep the found pet, or if he/she is hurt and you cannot afford to have it treated, your best bet is to bring the animal to your local shelter.  If you want to, you can ask the shelter staff to keep you updated on the status of the pet.   Keep in mind that, due to the nature of most animal shelters, most of them will only be able to keep the pet for a few days while waiting for the owner.  After a short hold period, found pets may be put up for adoption or euthanized.  Independent animal rescues will usually keep found pets for longer, and be more willing to treat any medical issues, however it can be harder, and take longer, to find one that has the space to accept new animals.
  6. Advertise the found pet.  Post fliers around where you found the pet, inside animal shelters, pet stores, and vet offices.  You can also place adds online on local classifieds websites such as Craigslist, and in your local newspaper.
  7. If an owner is not found.  If you cannot find the pet's owner, you'll have to decide if you want to keep it yourself, find it a new home, or bring it to the shelter.  If you decide to keep the pet yourself, or find it a new home, talk to your local animal control or shelter manager to ask how to do this legally.  Usually you will be required to actively search for the pets owner for a certain amount of time before you can claim the animal as your own.

Your local animal shelter, veterinarian, or animal control officer should be able to help and offer advice if you require any assistance.  Reuniting lost pets with their owners or helping strays can be a very rewarding experience if you are willing to put in the time required to find an animal's home.  Even just bringing a stray or lost animal to the shelter is usually better for the animal than leaving it outside to fend for itself.  The prospect of the animal potentially being euthanized can be hard to come to terms with, but at least it will be cared for until it passes rather than suffering alone.

Have you ever helped a lost pet in need?  So far all the lost animals I've taken in have had families searching for them.  I'm always so relieved when I help a lost pet get home again.  Probably unsurprisingly, animals have a habit of pulling on my heartstrings.  I'm trying hard to maintain my self inflicted no more pets policy, for now, but have a feeling that if I took in a stray pet that didn't have a happy home to go back too we just might end up with a new pack member.

  • Johnny McCarron

    I wasn't aware that you were required to by law to at least search for the owner for a little while before keeping the animal for yourself. However, it makes sense that you would want to do what you can to help the owner find their pet. Do you have any advice about finding a good shelter to give the pet to? I really think that it can make a difference if you try to find a good place that can help the pet find their owner. https://www.animallostandfound.com/

  • Michelline

    Here is your best resource for finding a lost pet: Jamie Katz Pet Detective:

    https://www.facebook.com/jamiekatzpetdetective/