What to do if You Find a Stray

Posted on February 26th, 2013 in Animal Shelters, Cats, Dogs, Pet Care, Pet Information, Pet Safety, Rescue Pets

If you have ever lost a pet for a prolonged period of time, you will know the unbridled joy that comes with being reunited. You will also know that in the majority of cases the main catalyst for returning the pet to its owner are the altruistic actions of the good people who have ensured your animal makes its way back to you safely.

So it follows that if you find a stray animal that is lost, disorientated and hungry, you would, I hope, try to look after it as best you can and return it to its owner.

But often it’s not as simple as just scooping the animal up and taking it back home. As a domestic animal that has been abandoned or lost, it is likely to experiencing significant stress and fear and this may lead it to misunderstand your virtuous actions as a threat. You may actually further endanger the animal (and yourself) by rushing in to help!

If you do come across a stray animal you need to think calmly and rationally to try and ensure that you pursue the best course of action for the animal itself.  So here is a summary of what exactly you should do to help the stray…

Safety First

As alluded to above, your first thought should be about the safety of the situation, both for yourself and for the animal in question. Take note of the environment; if there is a lot of traffic in the area your attempts to catch the animal may end in a dangerous accident.Stray

Recognize the Signs

Secondly, consider the appearance and behavior of the animal itself. If it’s very skinny then coaxing it out with food is an obvious tactic, although feeding it more than a tablespoon of food prior to having it examined by a vet is a bad idea. If the poor critter is very jumpy then you need to be extremely patient, whereas you should stay away and call the relevant authorities if the animal is being particularly aggressive.

Home or Shelter

The next step is to try and restrain the animal and to lead it back to your house or your car. Make sure to talk in a reassuring voice to the animal as you approach so that it does not get the impression you are trying to sneak up on it. If you cannot restrain the animal, you need to call your local authorities.

Here you are faced with two possibilities: to take the animal to the nearest shelter or to take it home and contact the shelter from there to see if anyone has reported the animal missing.

* It is not a good idea to drive anywhere with an unrestrained dog or cat in your car as they may become aggressive and panicked when you start the engine, and may be hard to extract after the journey is over, so make sure that you have spent time with the animal and made sure of its temperament before attempting to move it.

If You Take the Animal Home:

If you do decide to take the pet home and search out the owners yourself, the first thing you should do is read up on the laws in your local area. You may, by law, be obliged to inform the relevant authorities or even hand the animal over

I can’t stress how important it is that if the animal is starved and malnourished, you get it to the vet as quickly as possible.

If you can keep the animal in your house while trying to do your best private investigator impression, here are the steps you should take:

1. Check the animal for any signs of identification such as a collar or take the animal to the vet to have it scanned for a microchip.

2. Take a good look around your local area to see if there are any missing pet flyers up.

3. Make your own posters that explain where you found the animal and where you are keeping it (although don’t give out your address) and your contact information including a phone number and an email. Place your flyers within the vicinity of where the animal was found.

4. Regularly contact your local shelter to see if the animal has been reported missing.

Keep a record of all the steps you have taken so that you can prove that you have taken all reasonable steps in trying to locate the owners. This is important in the event that you decide to keep the animal yourself. If you do decide to take the stray in, stop for a moment to consider whether you are really up to the huge commitment that having a pet entails.

If you manage to reunite the animal with its owner then all the better, but even if you end up taking it in or getting it to a shelter, you have still given it a better chance of living a happy, contented live in the embrace of a loving family.


Louise Blake is a first time mother and writer for pet sites such as Petmeds, who provide pet products and medication to pet owners.

4 Responses to “What to do if You Find a Stray”

  1. C.C says:

    I think getting the pet to a vet or local shelter should always be the first course of action. Its important to get any health concerns out of the way before you make a decision. Just my two cent 🙂

  2. [ Smiles ] I would make it my priority to remember your guidelines given whenever I come across any strays.

    Nice article1

  3. Adrian Meli says:

    Good points-the vet should be the first stop to make sure the animal is healthy and that the owner can be located if the animal is microchipped.

  4. Alana says:

    Hi there,
    I have to agree with Adrian; the first stop would have to be the vet since 1) You don’t know how long the animal has been a stray; this puts you at risk of bringing fleas into your house 2) They might be hydrated or need some antibiotics to help them recover. All in all, great tips; I’m sharing this with my animal-loving friends.

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