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What To Do If You Find a Lost or Stray Pet

What to do if you find a lost pet At some point or another, many of us have seen scared, lonely, hungry, or sick pets who appear to be lost, abandoned, or homeless. With some skill and luck you may have even managed to lure or catch the pet and placed them into the safety of your car or home. Now what? Here are a few tips on what to do next if you find yourself in the position of playing temporary caretaker to a lost or stray pet.

1. Know your legal obligations.

You may naturally be tempted to keep the pet. However, each municipality will have its own laws regarding what you are required to do if you find a pet. For example, you might be allowed to care for it while attempting to find its owner, or you might by required by law to bring it to a shelter. The municipality can also let you know when you can legally 'adopt' or keep the pet if you're so inclined.

Don't automatically assume that the pet is unwanted or has been abandoned; accidents can happen even to the very best of pet owners (that's why they're called accidents!) and the pet may actually be greatly missed with a heartbroken family searching for it.

Pets who have been wandering lost for some time may be thin, hungry, dirty, or even injured or sick. Again, that doesn't necessarily mean that they have been abused or neglected. Any pet left to fend for itself for an extended period of time is likely to be in rough shape.

If you turn the pet into a local shelter or animal control facility, you could still potentially adopt him if you wish. In this case, make sure the shelter or facility is aware that you are interested in adopting the pet if the owner doesn't come forward to claim him (known as 'first rights' - you get the first chance to adopt him if no one claims him), or if the pet is about to be euthanized (known as 'last rights' for adoption). Leave them with your contact information. Call or visit the facility daily to check on the pet's welfare as well as reinforce that you are interested in the pet. Remember that many facilities are large and busy, with rotating staff ... so it's important to make sure that staff are aware of your interest in the pet.

2. Get the pet scanned for a microchip.

Animal shelters and veterinary clinics are commonly equipped with scanners that can detect most microchips in pets. If you're lucky, it could be a quick and simple process to contact the owners for a happy reunion with their pet.

3. Post 'Found Pet' Notices.

Many newspapers allow free 'found pet' notices to be placed in either the printed newspaper, the online version, or both. You can also post ads on local websites, on social media (in particular, search Facebook and Twitter for 'Lost Pets' pages and accounts), and on pet recovery sites like 24PetWatch.

Local animal shelters, rescue groups, and animal control facilities often have social media accounts as well, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. Connect with them there, post your notices, and ask them to share the post (the simple act of asking people to share often results in more people sharing).

Make sure in all ads you clearly state where the pet was found, including the city/town name and the area. This may seem obvious, but a surprising number of ads are posted without this vital information.

Finally, putting up posters can help too. Here are some great tips on creating an effective flyer or poster (this particular article is about lost pets, but you get the idea - make some adjustments to make it fit for a 'found pet' poster). Using brightly coloured poster board can help to catch the attention of passersby.

Remember to hold back a detail or two about the pet, such as a unique physical marking. Doing so will help you determine whether someone claiming to be the owner is truly the rightful owner.

4. Check 'Lost Pet' ads.

Check the same places you post the 'Found Pet' ads, namely newspapers, shelters, rescue groups, animal control, local websites, and social media accounts too. Sometimes pets can wander quite a distance from where they originally went missing (or they're picked up by other people), so expand your search to surrounding areas as well.

5. Provide a temporary tag.

If the pet is staying with you until the owner is located, you'll want to take precautions just in case the pet gets lost again. While this may seem unlikely, there are many stories of foster dogs running off while in the care of their new families. A temporary tag with your contact information will help to ensure that the pet finds its way back to you in the unlikely event it goes missing again.

6. Get proof of ownership.

A happy reunion with the pet's owner is a wonderful outcome, but how do you make sure the person claiming the pet is the real owner? Here are some things you can do:

  • Ask questions. Remember leaving out some information in the 'Found Pet' ads you posted? Well, now's the time to ask the person about this information to see if he has the answers.

  • Ask the person to bring a photo (or three). Most pet owners will have taken photos of their pets at some point, and should be able to show you at least one.

  • How does the pet react to the person? If the pet doesn't appear to know the person or doesn't seem to want to go to him or her, you might want to get more proof.

  • Ask for the name and number of the pet's veterinarian. Call the vet and tell them that you are trying to verify the owner of a pet that you found.

Ask for the person's name and contact information, just in case you later need to get in touch.


"We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals." (Immanuel Kant)

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