What to do when you find a lost dog

What should you do when you find a lost dog? Taking the right steps will ensure he ends up in the right hands.

It’s a beautiful day and you’re setting out on a walk or bike ride around your neighborhood. The outing goes well until you suddenly notice you’re being followed by a dog. He looks thin, his coat is dull, and you can’t tell if he’s wearing a collar. Is he a stray, or does he belong to someone? You stop, wanting to help this lost dog, but you’re not sure exactly what to do or how to go about it.

To the pound or shelter?

Your first thought might be to catch the dog and either contact the pound or take him to a shelter before he wanders away or gets hit by a car. Good idea, but you first need to know the difference between these two types of facility.

• A pound is run by animal control services, which receive dogs that have been seized by an animal control officer. The lost dog is then defined as a “pound animal” and can be detained, maintained — or disposed of — according to the municipality’s bylaws. Pounds only keep seized dogs for a minimum of four to five days as part of their claim period.

• A shelter is usually run by a Humane Society or private animal rescue organization. The dogs in a shelter generally come from members of the public, either as strays or surrenders. Shelters, on the other hand, are run differently. Most endeavor to keep animals as long as possible, providing they have the space and the animal is in good health. So the length of time a stray may be kept at a shelter is determined on an individual basis.

Catching the dog

The Humane Society of the United States recommends using care when approaching an unknown dog. Some may react with fear or aggression, running into traffic or biting those trying to help them. Walk slowly towards a stray or lost dog, speaking calmly and using a tasty treat to lure him. If the dog still reacts negatively, don’t risk spooking him or getting bitten. Call the police or an animal control officer for help.

If the dog is friendly, look to see if he has a collar and ID tag, and secure him with a leash as soon as possible (even a rope will make do in an emergency). If he has no tag, take him to the shelter; staff there can check him for a tattoo or microchip. Keep in mind that some dogs may become fearful in moving vehicles, so have someone go with you to control and comfort the dog while you’re driving.

If the dog is clearly sick or injured, you should take him to a veterinarian. Be advised, however, that you will most likely have to pay the bills for his care.

Finders keepers?

Sometimes, finding a lost dog isn’t as straightforward as just turning him in, especially when you look into those lost eyes begging for attention and friendship. What should you do if the dog has no visible ID and you’d like to keep him?

If he’s in good health and condition, then he’s most likely an accidental escapee with a worried family in hot pursuit. If you take the dog home with you, be sure to alert local shelters and animal control services that you have him, so his family can find him. You can also try to find the family yourself by placing ads in the local paper or online, and having the dog scanned for a microchip at a shelter or vet’s office.

Legally speaking

If you’re taking the dog home with you, it’s also a good idea to check with local animal control services or the Humane Society and ask if there are any municipal or state/provincial requirements surrounding found dogs that you need to be aware of.

According to the Animal Law Legal and Historic Center, dogs are still simply considered personal property or “chattels” of their “owners” and are afforded no more rights than, say, a piece of furniture. So if you find a stray, it’s like finding someone’s missing property. You should make a valid report to a shelter and then wait to see if someone turns up to make a claim.

Another alternative is to take the dog to the shelter and ask for the first chance of adoption if he isn’t claimed. According to what’s called the common law rule, once a report is filed by the finder of the lost dog, then after a period of time when the dog is designated abandoned, mislaid or lost, the finder can then keep the dog.

If you don’t want to adopt the dog but are simply concerned that everything works out well for him, you can keep checking at the shelter to see if anyone has claimed him, or failing that, is interested in adopting him. Either way, you’ll have peace of mind about the stray dog that happened to cross your path that fateful day.