What to Do If You Find a Stray CatLosing a pet can be a traumatic experience for a pet owner. If you find a stray animal and you think it could be someone’s pet, it’s important to do all that you can to reunite the animal with its owner. Here is a list of things you should do if you find a stray animal.

  • Approach with Caution – A frightened, injured, or feral animal may act aggressively or bolt away. If the animal looks threatening or makes you feel uneasy in any way you should stay away and notify your local animal control center. If you do decide to approach the animal, speak calmly and warmly and make sure you are clearly in views.
  • Assume there is an Owner – Although the pet may seem afraid, this may be his natural behavior, even at home. His appearance may also be deceptive – if he has fleas, seems malnourished, or has an injury, it may simply be because he has been lost for some time. It’s best to assume the animal has an owner until all measures to find that owner have failed.
  • Take the Animal to the Shelter – The animal shelter is often the first place pet owners will look for their lost pets, but the last place where people will take a found animal because they fear the animal will be euthanized. Many shelters will let you shelter the animal if you fill out a found report with a description of the animal, the location you found it, and your contact information.
  • Check for ID – Many pets will have ID tags on their collars or a tattoo on the inside of an ear or leg. You may also want to have the animal shelter or a veterinarian search for a microchip embedded under the animal’s skin with identification.
  • Go for a Walk – Something that often works well for adult dogs is to put a long leash and secure collar on the dog, then tell him to “Go Home!” Many dogs will be familiar with their own areas and will lead you right to its home. However, don’t release the dog to anyone unless you are sure that you have found the rightful owner(s).
  • Look for LOST Signs – Look in a one-mile radius around the area where you found the animal for LOST PET signs. Keep in mind that signs may not appear right away if the owner was on vacation or has a disability, or if the animal was lost relatively recently. Don’t assume there is no owner if you don’t see signs – keep checking for signs whenever you can.
  • Make FOUND Signs – Make large, brightly colored FOUND signs with a few descriptive words such as “SMALL BROWN TERRIER” that can be read from far away, along with your contact information or the number of the animal shelter. You may also want to take a picture of the animal for the poster. Then you should put a poster near the spot where you found the animal, as well as a few others nearby where they can be seen by many people. You may also want to consider putting signs at animal shelters, pet supply stores, and animal rescue centers.
  • Check Other Sources – Periodically check the “Lost & Found” section in your local paper for an ad about the lost animal–you may also want to place a “Found” ad in this section. You may also want to look on the internet for local lost pet websites, as well as online classifieds like Craigslist.
  • Make Sure You’ve Found the Right Owner – If you receive a call from someone claiming to be the owner, have them give you a full, detailed description of the animal. Don’t ask leading questions such as, “Does the dog have a brown spot on its back?” but you could ask something like, “What does the dog’s fur look like?” Leave it to the caller to give you a full description. If you agree to deliver the animal, bring someone else with you and let someone know where you are going.
  • If You Cannot Find an Owner – Check with your local animal control for what the legal requirements are for when you’ve found a stray pet. Some cities laws require you surrender the pet to them for a certain number of days to give an owner a chance to reclaim their pet, before they can adopt it to you or anyone else.

If you cannot find an owner, and have checked with your local animal control about the laws, you can decide if you want to adopt the pet yourself, or want to help that pet find a new home. Please read Adopt-a-Pet.com’s “How can I find a home for a pet that I’ve rescued or found?” for helpful tips!

Ashley Porter is a pet lover who writes about various topics including pet health issues and is the owner of the site Guide to Becoming a Veterinarian Technician.