Pets 101

Finding Fido

What to do when you find a lost pet

By Lauren Lewis

Hauling home a stray animal has always been a pretty common occurrence in my family. When we were kids, my sister came home from her summer lifeguarding job with Lil’ Bit, a small yellow-haired mutt with no identification who had been begging for food each day. My dad and I took care of Duke, a black Collie mix, who hung out on our property in the country, and one time my mom, although allergic, even rescued a mother cat and her litter of kittens from a hiding spot under the air-conditioning unit at my elementary school. Just as my family has a great affinity for helping out a furry friend in need, Tails knows that our readers do too, especially when it becomes an opportunity to successfully reunite a lost pet with his or her guardian. Here are some tips for what to do the next time you spot a roving Rover or a wandering Whiskers.

Approaching the animal

“The first thing to remember is that any strange pet who is wandering is more apt to be afraid, confused, and wary,” says Ray Little, Director of Volunteers and Foster Care at the Pennsylvania SPCA. “Always maintain some distance until you have determined if he is friendly and do not chase him if he tries to get away as this may cause more danger to both the dog and the rescuer.”

Little suggests that you entice the animal to approach by making yourself appear non-threatening. For example, try crouching down, turning to the side, and averting your eyes to appear as friendly in dog or cat terms as possible. Slowly offer the pet the top of your hand to smell, but be careful not to attempt to grab him, advises Little, “He may interpret your actions as aggression.”

After letting the animal get to know you, slowly turn around and say in a very upbeat way “Let’s go.” According to Little, it helps if you can offer him some reward for following. “But be careful,” he says. “If a dog is too food driven he may attempt to force you to turn over your lunch.” Keep in mind children should never approach a strange dog or cat and no one except a professional should try to actually “capture” a stray.

Alerting the authorities

If the pet is friendly, you can bring him to any animal shelter or vet clinic and have him scanned for a microchip, says Steve Kaufman, Director of Operations at the Animal Protective Association of Missouri. “Even if the pet does not have on a collar, he still could be microchipped.” He adds that if the animal appears unfriendly or aggressive, it’s best to call your local animal control office.

According to Little, surrendering the animal to the local city-run shelter is usually your best bet. “[It] will be the first place his [guardian] is likely to visit when searching for him,” he says. “Many shelters have a holding period during which they will not place the pet for adoption in hopes of reuniting the pet with his or her family.”

After the official waiting period, the shelter may allow you may take the pet home, but be prepared to return the pet to his guardian for up to a few months or more, says Little.

Finding the guardians

Some people argue that holding the animal at your own home might be a more effective plan of action, particularly if the local shelter or animal control is not a no-kill facility. Whether or not you choose to turn the pet over, do your part by checking online lost and found databases and the local newspaper. If no one shows up, place your own ad for the lost animal—most of the time this service can be done at no cost. In addition, it’s a good idea to post flyers throughout the community—include a general description of the animal and a phone number or email. Never include your address or full name, and be sure to leave out some details about the animal so that you can ask the right questions to be sure that whoever shows up to claim the animal is the rightful guardian. The last thing you want to do is hand over a beloved pet to someone who plans on selling him to a dog fighting ring or a laboratory.

Vet offices, groomers, pet-related businesses, and community bulletin boards are great places to leave your flyers. Animal shelters often have a lost pet board as well. Be sure to talk to the staff—they just might know the animal or the guardian.

Searching for the pet’s family, even if you might want to keep him yourself, is the right thing to do—even if that means a little more work. It would be a great disservice to the pet and the family if you didn’t. Just imagine if the situation were reversed.

Says Little, “There is no better feeling that a shelter worker can have than when a frantic pet [guardian] finally spots a lost cat or dog.”

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