What to do if you find a lost or stray animal needing help.

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What to do when you find a lost or abandoned pet.

First of all we’d like to thank you for your compassion and stopping to help a stray animal in need.  Rescue groups receive hundreds of calls and emails a day from caring individuals such as yourself hoping they can take an animal in.  Unfortunately, rescues can't take in every homeless animal.  But even though they cannot take them in, some will still assist and support those of you who want to help a stray or abandoned animal by giving advice and the best ways to find the animal a home.  We know finding an animal can be stressful when trying to figure out how to find the owner or what to do with the dog or cat while a new loving home is found but please believe us when we tell you that in the end, when you see that dog or cat reunited with his/her owner or safely in a new loving home, it is all well worth it.  

Step 1: Determine if there is an owner

First check to see if the dog or cat has a tag and if so, contact the owner immediately.   If the there is no tag, legally you need to take the animal to the shelter nearest the location of where the animal was found or report to the shelter that you found the animal.  

The shelter is the first place the owner will look for a missing pet so if the animal has a loving family, this is a good way to help reunite them.  The shelters will also scan for micro-chips and contact the owners if there is one found.  Many people don’t want to take the animals to the shelter for fear that they will be euthanized and we completely understand this concern.  If you do take an animal to a shelter there are things you can do to help ensure that the animal gets out of the shelter safely if no owners are found. 

If you turn over the stray to the shelter, thoroughly check all of the “Lost Dog or Cat” books they have available at the front desk.  Also continue to look for “Lost Dog or Cat” signs in and around the area in which you found the animal.  Craigslist is another good place to check.

Once at the shelter, there is a legal hold period in which the animal is still considered the property of the owner.  That hold period differs depending on if the animal has proof of possible owner (micro-chip, etc) or not so be sure to ask the date in which the animal’s hold period is up.  That is the date the animal is available for adoption but also able to be euthanized.  The shelters do not like to have to euthanize any animal but due to over-whelming number of animals turned into the shelter, they have no choice when they run out of room.  (If you live in the Los Angeles area, our shelters are over-crowded so the animals have very little time once there).  So during that hold period it is important that you continue working on a safe place for the animal to go if an owner is not found.  

Make sure to get the animal’s “impound number”.  The impound number is how the shelter identifies the animal in their computer system and on their website so it’s essential in keeping tabs on and networking the dog or cat during it’s hold period.  Network the animal to friends, family and rescue groups for adoption and help in getting the word out about him.  It’s important to include pictures of the animal when networking so people connect with him and put a face to the story.  Include the impound number and picture which should be on the shelter website (if there is no picture on the shelter website you should contact the shelter about this and ask them to get a picture up asap because time is of the essence.  Some shelters' might have different rules and might not post pictures but if it's possible it's important).  It’s also good to take a few pictures yourself before the animal is impounded.  If the stray you found seems to be pure bred or close to, make sure to contact breed specific rescues for help with networking and to see if they possibly have room for the animal.  There are breed specific rescue groups for all breeds of dogs and cats so do web searches to find them.  The more people and rescue groups you contact, the better.  Put as much information as you have about the animal in the email to the rescue groups and include pictures.  Again, rescue groups can get hundreds of emails a day about animals in need so giving them all this information is very important. 

Keeping in contact with the shelter during the time is also important so they know that you are working on options for the dog or cat and to also keep tabs on how the animal is doing.   

If you decide against taking the animal to the shelter but still notifying the shelter of the found animal, which is what we would recommend if possible, many veterinarian’s offices can also scan the animal for a microchip.  If no microchip is found, you must place ads in local newspapers and place “Found” flyers in the are where the animal was roaming for at least 10 days before you can legally claim ownership of the animal and try to find it a new home or keep it for your own.  Also bring a flyer to the shelter for the area.  When placing an ad be vague in your description, note the area the animal was found in and your telephone number.  This is to ensure that the people calling are truly the animal’s owner.  Make sure they can give a description of the animal and ask for the animal’s name to see how it reacts when called.  If so far so good, ask to see proof of ownership in veterinary records, dog licenses or a photo of the animal. Most newspapers will place “Found” ads free of charge.  

Step 2:  Finding the animal a new home

You have been unsuccessful in finding the owner and the hold period has expired:  If you would like to find your animal friend a new forever home and are willing to foster, have found a secure foster home or willing to board the animal in the meantime, there are several things to do to ensure a responsible outcome.  First and foremost, get a collar and tag on the dog or cat right away.  Also, for walking dogs on leash, it is essential to get a harness or no-slip collar.  Never attach the leash to the regular collar with the tags because if the dog gets spooked and pulls out of the collar he will have no information on him.  The collar with tags stays on at all times.  Always use the no-slip collar or harness when outside walking on leash.  Do not use retractable leashes.  They have been known to break and do not give you proper control of the dog.
    -All dogs and cats should be be examined by a vet, spayed/neutered, vaccinated and micro-chipped prior to adopting out.  (Visit our blog for low cost vet care for assistance with this).

You can help prepare a dog for adoption by getting to know the dog’s personality and working on some basic training (walking on leash, house training, etc).  

By getting to know the personality of the dog, it will help in finding the right “match” in a new home.  Is the dog high energy and need an active person or household?  Or is the dog more of a couch potato?  Does the dog get along with other dogs?  Cats?  Kids?  Information like this necessary in making a good match for a new home.  This helps with cats as well...  for instance if the cat is outgoing and would be good in an active home or would prefer a calm home.  Responsible rescue organizations get to know their animals before adopting them out so they can make the best possible match for the home and the dog or cat.  This, along with an adoption process, helps ensure the placements last.  If there is behavioral issues such as anxiety or aggression, you can contact rescue groups for advice.  The dog might need to go to a professional trainer and many rescue groups work with ones they can recommend.

You will find the most success when the animal’s face is seen in many places.  You can post websites such as Facebook and place flyers in animal-friendly places of interest.  When making up flyers, we recommend including a story that describes the way the animal was found, it’s temperament, health condition a great photo and your contact information.  Suggested places to post the flyers include dog parks, pet supply stores, vet offices, local businesses like juice bars and coffee shops and perhaps at your workplace.  Many rescue groups will also help by placing a photo and description of your animal as a courtesy listing on their website and let you show the dog or cat at their adoption events when they have room (We are sorry to say that ADLR is not holding adoption events at this time).  There are usually guidelines and protocol for this but it will help and their guidance in placement is important. 

If you are not using the help of a rescue group in finding a home for the animal, when evaluating a potential adopter, ask LOTS of questions. Ask for contact info for references (the family vet, landlord - make sure they are allowed to have pets in their building, etc).  Qualified adopters will readily give you names and numbers for contacts.  Do a home check to make sure everything looks safe and secure.  You may also download the general adoption application and contract below.  We also recommend asking for an adoption donation.  “Free to good home” ads and postings, can attract people with bad intentions such as B Class dealers who are very well practiced on convincing people they are a “good home”.  It is also a good sign that the adopter is willing to invest in their new pet.  Adopting is a big commitment and having an adoption process will assist in showing if the potential adopter is ready for such a commitment.

Allison Lange