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Finding a missing pet means you need to do everything you can to ensure they make it back home safely. You might want to take action if you find a dog or cat alone outside. However, you should always be cautious when approaching an unknown animal. Dog and cat anxiety can cause lost pets to become fearful and display aggression or be unwilling to come to you, but you should be able to determine the best course of action based on their behavior.
If possible, you should safely capture the animal and take steps to help them find its way back home. Finding a lost pet can be stressful and dangerous, so if you're unsure whether it's safe to approach a pet, you can contact the local authorities or animal shelter to help. Of course, doing everything you can to help a stray can save a life and ensure pet parents reunite with their furry friends. If you're wondering what to do if you find a lost pet, you've come to the right place. Let's discuss the steps you can take to ensure a lost pet returns home.
- Safely Capture The Pet & Contain It
- Check For Identification
- Contact The Authorities
- Check If The Pet Has A Microchip
- Pets Without Identification Should Be Taken To a Shelter
- Post A Notice About The Missing Pet
- Work With The Neighborhood
- Stay Updated
- Final Notes
Safely Capture The Pet & Contain It
You've found a lost pet. Now what? If you see a lost pet outside, you can safely capture it to ensure no further harm will come. Of course, not all cats and dogs will approach you or let you approach them. If you choose to capture the pet on your own, you should approach them slowly and cautiously. Remember, lost pets are likely frightened, so they may bite or scratch you if you're not careful.
Don't chase animals if they're running away from you because this could put them in dangerous situations, such as running into traffic.2 However, if the pet allows you to approach them, you can pick them up, slip a leash over their head, or try to lure them into a pet carrier, depending on their size. For example, if you have high-value treats or safe human foods like cheese, you can lure a dog into a crate.
When approaching a lost pet, pay close attention to their body language. If they're relaxed, you can slowly walk toward them while speaking in a gentle tone. Once you get close, you can squat down and let them approach you. However, if the animal becomes aggressive, don't try to grab their collar (if they have one) or restrain them because they could bite or scratch you. Instead, try to keep them calm and be prepared to call a local shelter or animal control if they try to run.
Once you've captured the animal, you must keep them contained. Cat and dog anxiety may set in during this time, so expect them to be fearful. You can offer them treats to help them stay calm, but don't feed them from your hand as they might bite. The best way to contain a stray pet is with a crate or pet carrier, but you can also put them in a small room in your home away from your pets and children. It's crucial to keep a lost pet away from your household pets because they could carry diseases or illnesses, including everything from fleas and parasites to rabies.
Check For Identification
If the pet has a collar with an ID attached, you can usually find its owner's contact information, including a phone number and/or address. You can contact their owners immediately to let them know you've found their beloved pet. If the owners don't pick up the phone immediately, you can hold onto the pet for a few hours to wait for a call back.2
However, you should still file a report with your local animal shelter to prevent possible legal trouble later. For example, a pet owner can claim you stole their pet if you don't file this report. Filing a found report will also provide local shelters information if the owner calls them looking for their pet.2
Contact The Authorities
Knowing who to call if you find a lost pet is crucial and can prevent serious harm from coming to you or the animal. If you can't capture the animal yourself or the animal is displaying fearful or aggressive behavior, you can contact the local animal shelter or police. Many animal shelters have services to capture stray animals and take them back to the shelter.
Unfortunately, it can take time for the authorities to arrive, so you should try to give them the exact location where you last saw the animal.2
Check If The Pet Has A Microchip
Unfortunately, not all lost pets wear collars, so they might not have IDs. However, you can take them to a vet or animal shelter to have them scanned for a microchip. There, staff will scan for a chip. If the animal has a microchip, the shelter should be able to find the owner's contact information in a database or by calling the company where it's registered.2
Pets Without Identification Should Be Taken To a Shelter
If you find a lost pet without an ID and a vet confirms that they don't have a microchip, the best course of action is to take them to a local shelter. You should never keep the pet unless you've contacted the owner and are waiting for them to return your call or they've told you a time when they plan to pick their pet up.
While laws vary by state, you should always report a lost pet to the authorities within 48 hours because keeping a stray without a report can be considered theft. However, once you report it, you may choose to keep the pet in your care if local shelters are unavailable or you're worried about their welfare. However, in most cases, it's usually best to take them to a shelter where they can be properly cared for.
Post A Notice About The Missing Pet
Even after you take a missing pet to an animal shelter, you can still do everything you can to help it find its owner. You can post on social media, community groups, and message boards, letting the neighborhood know you've found a missing pet. If possible, take a picture of the pet while it's still in your care to help find the owner.
Your post can include information about the pet, where it was found, and at which shelter the owner can find it.
Work With The Neighborhood
According to a recent study, 70% of lost dogs who get reunited with their owners were found less than one mile from their homes.1 This is why it’s so important to work with the neighborhood if you find a lost pet.
While social media can be helpful, talking to your neighbors can help determine if anyone recognizes the pet. You can post fliers around the neighborhood to gain visibility or go door-to-door with a photo of the animal. Most lost pets don't travel too far away from home, so someone in your neighborhood may know who they belong to. Talking to neighbors is a great way to help a lost pet find its owner quickly, even if they don't have an ID.
If you find a lost pet and take them to a shelter, you may choose to stay updated on its health and status. Most pet parents will call all their local animal shelters to find their pets. Even if a shelter doesn't currently have their pet, they'll keep a description of the pet on file and review it when a new animal comes in to ensure they can help them find their owners.
Unfortunately, some lost pets aren't pets. Some pets may have been abandoned by their owners for reasons ranging from high pet ownership costs to behavioral problems. Whatever the case, shelters can't always find a lost pet's owner. However, if they comply with laws and regulations, they can put the pet up for adoption after a certain period.
When dropping the pet off at the shelter, you can ask them for regular updates or call them every so often to find out if they've been claimed. Also, you can ask that the shelter call you if the pet is put up for adoption to give you the first opportunity to get to know them and determine if you want to add them to your family.
Knowing what to do if you find a lost pet could be life-saving. If possible, try to capture the dog or cat and check for ID before taking them to a local shelter. Depending on local laws and regulations for lost pets, you may even be able to care for the pet yourself. First, however, you should always file a report and notify shelters in case the owner is looking for them.2
Of course, lost pets can be injured or have health issues, so the best thing you can do for them is to take them to a vet or shelter where they'll have access to professional care. However, you can consult a Dutch vet if you believe a lost pet you've found is injured or experiencing pain. Our licensed vets can provide advice to help you care for a lost pet.
Hass. “New Study: Most Lost Dogs Are Found Less than a Mile from Their Homes.” HASS, 22 June 2021, https://www.humananimalsupportservices.org/blog/help-get-more-lost-dogs-back-to-their-families/.
"If You Find a Lost Pet." American Humane, 8 July 2022, https://www.americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/if-you-find-a-lost-pet/.