curly dog looks down empty rural road

I Found a Lost Dog, Now What?

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Is That a Lost Dog I Spy?

Have you ever found a lost dog on the side of the road and wanted to help…but you weren’t sure what to do? This is a guide for you. There are certain steps you need to take to have the best chance at reuniting this dog (or cat!!) with her owner.

Safety First

Be safe when trying to catch an unfamiliar dog or cat! They could be injured, aggressive, have a communicable disease such as rabies, or be scared and run from you right into traffic. Here are some tips if you found a lost dog:

  • Use a calm voice and have a calm demeanor
  • Walk calmly and slowly toward the dog or cat and crouch down to her level
  • Use some tasty food to lure the dog toward you
  • Grab a leash (or a belt or rope if you don’t carry leashes in your car like I do). For a cat, you may want to consider using a cloth bag, blanket, or pillowcase to catch it. You don’t know if a strange cat has claws and is willing to use them.
  • If the animal appears to be too aggressive, don’t put yourself at risk. Call a rescue group, shelter, or friend that may be willing to come out and help.
  • LAST RESORT: Call animal services or police ONLY if you must. Their involvement means the animal will likely be euthanized within a week if they are unable to contact or find the owner.

Please, Let There Be an ID Tag


Volunteer with homeless dog in animal shelter, closeup

Now that you have successfully leashed the unfamiliar dog, you should first assess her to see if she seems injured, and check for ID tags.

Finding ID tags is your best-case scenario. If you do find ID tags and the dog seems healthy, here are three possible outcomes:

  • You call the owner, he answers and thanks you from the bottom of his heart, and you meet up (in a public place) and return his beloved dog.
  • You call the owner, and he does not answer. You leave a message and decide to take the dog to your home for a while to wait for his grateful return call. (More on how to bring an unfamiliar dog into your home later.)
  • You call the owner, and he does not answer. You leave a message letting him know you found his dog and you are taking it to a specific no-kill shelter or rescue group to anxiously await his arrival. (More on this and resources later.)

If you found a lost dog and they ARE injured, then you have three options:

  • You were able to contact the owner right away and he is going to meet you at the vet! Perfect!
  • You were not able to contact the owner. You take her to a veterinarian-where you will be required to pay for the medical treatment. If you decide to do this, you should explain the situation and ask if the vet can give you a discount. Many offices will take pity on you and the dog.
  • You were not able to contact the owner. You take her to a local shelter or rescue group that specializes in injured animals. I know that in Memphis, The Humane Society will take in injured animals and treat them while looking for an owner. They are also a no-kill shelter.

Make sure your dog or cat has a pet ID tag of their own in case of emergencies. Read our blog about the importance of pet ID tags.

Shop Hollywood Feed's Custom Pet Id Tags

What If There Is No ID Tag?


slim and hungry street dog

This is where things can get tricky and time-consuming. Let’s start with the easiest methods:

  • Maybe there is no ID tag, but there is a rabies vaccination tag. There should be a phone number on the rabies tag that you can call, and you can trace the owner through the specific number assigned to that tag/dog.
  • Maybe there’s a microchip. You won’t know unless you take the dog to a nearby veterinary office or shelter. Most places these days will have a scanner they can use to check for microchips. If the dog has one, you can contact the owner.
  • The dog could possibly be tattooed. This is becoming more popular (and more permanent than a tag that can pull off a collar). Check the dog’s ear, belly and inner legs. The tattoo could be the owner’s phone number, or it could be a code assigned through a registry. You can contact the registry and get the owner’s information from there.

There is absolutely no way to identify this dog! Now what do you do? If you’re willing to keep the dog in your home while you search for the owner, you can:

  • Check online resources, such as to see if the owner is looking for his beloved dog online. You can post found pets on this website, too.
  • Check the area you found the dog or cat in for lost posters the owner may have posted.
  • Put up found posters in the area in which you found the dog-just remember that the dog may have traveled far from home, or been lost while he was away from home with the owner.
  • Post fliers at local veterinary offices, pet supply stores and shelters in case the owner comes looking.
  • Call local veterinary offices, rescue groups and shelters and report that you found a dog, give a description of the dog and the area in which she was found. This way if the owner starts looking around for the dog, the vet or shelter will be able to contact you.


Image shows the proper way to greet a dog. Offer the back of your wrist to the dog to smell.

If you’re not able or willing to keep the dog or cat in your home, call local rescue groups and shelters, VERIFY THAT THEY ARE NO-KILL, and see which of them may have room to accept the lost dog. This may require several phone calls, but be persistent!

Should I Keep This Dog at My House While Searching?

If the lost dog or cat you find is uninjured and not aggressive, then you may consider having her stay at your home while you search for her owner. There are a few things to consider:

  • She may not get along with other animals
  • She may have a communicable disease
  • She may have separation anxiety that results in chewing up everything in your house
  • She may not be housebroken
  • You may feed her something that does not agree with her sensitive stomach or GI tract

To be safe, keep the dog separate from your other animals in case she becomes aggressive or may be sick. Use a kennel to make sure she doesn’t pee in your house or destroy your things. Feed her food that will be well tolerated by most any dog. Also, check around and ask your neighbors if anymore recognizes the dog. This can be through in person, social media, or apps for neighbors to connect easily. Another place to is nearby vets, animal control, and animal shelters to give a description and your contact as these are usually the first place owners check for missing pets.

Verify Ownership


Owner holding her Dog's leash and showing her name tag.

If you are posting fliers and found posters, you will want to make sure you have a way to verify the caller’s ownership of the dog. You can consider not putting a full body photo of the dog on your posters so that the owner will have to describe markings to you. You could have the caller describe the color and pattern of the collar the dog was wearing (if they were wearing one). Or have the caller tell you the dog’s name and see if you get a valid reaction from the dog when she hears you call her by name. Be creative.

Wow, That Sounds Like a Lot of Work

All of this may seem like a lot of effort…I mean, what if the dog is a stray and there is nobody out there looking for it? What if she ran away from an abusive home? Consider that just because a dog is frightened, thin, dirty or matted, it does not mean she is a stray or has been abused. She could just have a naturally skittish temperament, been lost for days in the rain, mud or heat, and gone without food the whole time she has been lost because she is a poor scavenger.

Consider if this was your pet that bolted from the house and you have been looking for her for days. You would want someone to try to find you, right?

Related blogs: Keep Your Pet Safe with a Pet ID Tag, 8 Reasons Why Pets are Good for Your Health, Pet First Aid Necessities

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