What to Do with a Found Dog

By Elizabeth Wasserman

What to Do with a Found Dog

An old hound dropped off at the Hopalong Animal Shelter, a foster-care based shelter in Oakland, Calif., left a lasting impression. The dog had no tags but was clearly someone's beloved pet that had gotten lost and couldn't find its way back home. The shelter staff scoured the lost-and-found ads in the local newspapers and on websites. They also reviewed posters for lost dogs collected by area shelters -- all to no avail. After staying at the shelter for a few months unclaimed, the dog was facing possible euthanasia.

"One of my board members just loved that hound," recounts Sarah Cohen, Hopalong's executive director. The board member searched the lost-and-founds one last time. The effort paid off: the dog's picture was found on an old "lost dog" poster from a nearby community. Dog and owner were reunited. "The message for people is to never give up looking," Cohen says.

Not all lost-dog stories have such a happy ending. A study published in January 2007 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) found that only 71 percent of lost dogs were recovered during a four-month period in Montgomery County, Ohio. In other communities, the reunification rate is even lower. So what should you do if you find a lost dog? According to experts, there are steps you can take to improve the odds of bringing a family back in touch with a pooch who went astray, or to help it find a new home.

Contact a shelter or animal control agency While your first impulse may be to catch that stray dog you find wandering into your yard or in a parking lot, experts caution to first call local animal control authorities. If you're not sure there is one in your community, call the city or county clerk, or even the police, and ask what to do. "Getting bitten is a major concern," says Kimberley Intino, director of animal sheltering issues for the Humane Society of the United States. "I know people want to help, but they should always contact the animal control professionals first." The study reported in JAVMA, conducted by researchers from the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, found that the chances of reuniting a lost dog with its owners was vastly improved if the found dog was taken to -- or even just reported to -- a local shelter. Shelters act as clearinghouses for information about lost pets and their main purpose is to reunite lost pets with people. In fact, 35 percent of lost dogs in the study were reunited with owners through calls/visits to a shelter.

Try to help find the owner Another effective means to reunification is to post "found dog" posters in the neighborhood where you picked the pup up. The study found these signs helped recover dogs in 15 percent of the cases. Information on a dog tag or license also proved helpful to reunite dogs and owners. Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a veterinary medicine professor at Texas A&M University, agrees that professionals are best able to handle strays. Under some conditions -- if you know the dog, it seems overtly friendly, or if the dog approaches you with tail wagging -- it may be safe to catch the dog and look at its tags. "Don't frighten the animal," Dr. Beaver says. "The dog may already be scared if it's out and running." Some tags include the owner's phone number. If the dog has a license but no contact information, call the town or city in which the license is registered. If there are no tags, bring the pup to an animal shelter. Most shelters now have the ability to scan dogs for another set of identifying information -- tiny microchips that are increasingly implanted under the skin of beloved pets. A unique serial number on the chip can be read at the shelter to find the dog's owner. It's also a good idea to drop posters with local veterinarians who might know the dog's owner, or may be contacted about a missing pet.

Adopt the pup -- or help it find a home If you're willing to take time and help a found dog, it probably means that you're a dog lover. As such, you probably want to take additional steps to help your newfound furry friend. Many shelters simply don't have room for all the unwanted dogs in a community and often resort to euthanasia after anywhere from a few days to a few weeks -- ask about their policies on this in advance. You can help by scouring the classified ads for lost dogs, both in print and in cyberspace, at such sites as Craig's List, which has localized listings, or sites such as Petfinder, Lostdog or Missingpet. And the power of word-of-mouth -- letting everyone you know about a situation, who will let everyone they know about a situation -- can't be underestimated.

Another way to help is to search for a "no kill" animal shelter; several organizations maintain directories of such shelters, including Hearts United for Animals, Save Our Strays and Nokillnetwork. Another way that Cohen recommends helping is by offering to provide temporary foster care for the dog while the shelter helps search for the dog's owners. Most animal shelters are already at capacity. It just may be, however, that you fall in love with your found dog friend and decide to adopt if the pet remains unclaimed. Be aware that most states have laws specifying a time period that a pet owner has to find a missing dog before it becomes the property of a shelter or can be adopted out. "The big thing is to never assume the animal is just abandoned," Cohen says. "You need to go through steps, taking it to a shelter, posting a notice at a shelter and asking what the legal time limit is."

Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.

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Posted on November 21, 2007

Rosalyn Jirge says: Our late standard poodle (he passed away last April) was picked up as a stray. He was a pure-bred, but he languished at the SPCA shelter in Oakland, CA. for 2 months. I cannot imagine why his owners did not check with the obvious places to find him. He was only about 2 years old when he joined our family. He was a typical 2-year-old standard poodle: wild and wonderful. He matured into a most amazing dog. In a way I am very grateful his original owners never found him, but I can well imagine their distress at losing their beautiful dog. Help for a lost dog is as close as your heart. The article you wrote covers so many of the needs of shelters and lost pets. I hope it will inspire people to contribute what they can afford to support the shelters and, hopefully, make it possible for them all to become "no kill" institutions.

Posted on November 30, 2007

John Jones says: Great article! I am glad that I stumbled upon your web site.

Posted on December 27, 2007

sonya Nicholson says: I lost my dog on nov16 and found out after posting signs in neighborhood and calling local animal control that someone had given him to someone and they stated that my pet was dead after the original finder took the pet to the vet for a checkup and nothing was wrong with him. what can i do to make the person that has the pet to return my pet....???

Posted on January 3, 2008

Linda Rosenquist says: During a snowstorm a dog became lost and wandered into our yard, so we gave it shelter. Of course it had no tag, but we put an add in the paper requiring them to describe the dog. When she answered to the name Lady, we knew that they were the owners. Dogs should ALWAYS have identifying tags!

Posted on January 4, 2008

Linda Rosenquist says: My own comment about identifying your dog just became a reality today when a man who lives a block away called and said he found my whippet running up the street. I still have no idea how he got out of the yard with my husband and myself both at home and the gates closed. Possibly a door wasn't completely closed in the house. (There's a doggie door.) Anyway, I was very glad he had his ID tag on! He also has a microchip, which is really important for sight hounds, since they have such a prey instinct.

Posted on February 11, 2008

Amita Amin says: I live in Irving and lost my 20 yrs old Buster (Pure bread Shih t Zoo) who is blind & deaf. We have contacted animal shelter & have put Posters with reward on it but no luck. He was lost on February 7th around 1:30 pm. He is very old and do not have name tag on him since he had neck tumor operation. Also he is partially Vegetarian. Please help me Thanks

Posted on February 24, 2008

Mir says: I cannot stress enough the importance of tags, and microchipping. For 20 bucks, you get piece of mind that your dogs will be returned to you if lost. MAKE SURE TO KEEP THE CHIP INFO CURRENT! I dread the thought of loosing my dog, as he's a greyhound and will just chase anything he comes by, including a car. Make sure your dogs tags are always current, and chip them! My dog also has emergency vet coverage on his chip in case he gets hurt.

Posted on March 22, 2008

reedel brashier says: we lost my white stardard white poddle male 2 yrs old /in rock springs wyoming we live right on intstate 80 .. soo he was most likly stolen. we have lots of pictures. we bought him for are mother after are dad die of cancer. he was a god send to her .and how she sad all over again .we have looked every where here .posted pictures. he just gone. he made her laugh again. he knjows lots of tricks and he was only her dog soo hes heart broke too,if you have any info please let uis know it would be good to see her smile again /thank you

Posted on June 14, 2008

Kathleen Goguen says: Willy got out yesterday on Farmington Ave. in Unionville, CT. Neighbors said he was "bumped" by a car and went yelping and running away very fast. We've searched the area. The Farmington River (Yodkins Park area) is his favorite place. He may be hurt. He's a small black mini schnauzer with a long tail named Willy. He's an agility dog and my heart and soul! 860-673-4478

Posted on May 1, 2009

teresa says: been caring for 2 dogs for 5 months owner in jail was abrandon 1 had puppies now the owner brother wants then dose he have right or are they mind

Posted on June 2, 2009

David says: I have a problem.....To start with I found a german shephard that had been hit by a car and left for dead this all happened right around the time a hurricane came through so things were very hectic here....anyways I took the dog in because there was no room in the vet's office and they asked me to keep him till the next day so I did and the next day when I took him to the doctor she was saying how neat it was that a smart dog like him became attached to my family, also that the dog had been starved and close to death....Now then 8 months later the owners show up out of the blue saying they were looking everywere. Now on a side note there was never any signs up and the vet where they supposedly took there dogs we had a sign up and no one ever called. This dog has heartworms and possibly cancer. But we have spent the money to make him part of our lives....What I want to know is what rights do I have as the person that has put there heart and soul into helping to save this beautiful dog and he is a part of my family also my daughters and my femail dogs love him...Someone please tell me I have a legal grounds to be able to keep my dog...Any help is appreciated.

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