Maybe you find a dog in your yard one morning when you go to get the paper.
One might find you when you’re taking a walk. Perhaps she follows your child home from a bike ride. But one way or the other, you have a stray dog on your hands.
The dog approaches you and rolls over belly-up in a submissive pose, tail wagging. You rub her tummy. She rolls over and nuzzles your hand. Now what?
Is the dog wearing a collar? If so, you know she has (or at least, had) a home somewhere.
Are there any tags? If there is a name tag, call the owner. If there is no name tag, but there is a rabies tag, call the vet’s office shown on the tag. The vet’s office can track down the owner by the license number on the tag and have the owner contact you.
Be sure to secure the dog in a fenced-in yard, garage, by tying her up or some other way so she doesn’t wander off while you’ll looking for her owner.
If there are no tags, the next step is to decide if you might want to keep the dog.
If you don’t want to keep the dog:
Take the dog to an animal shelter as soon as you can, or call animal control to pick her up and take her to the shelter for you. The shelter will scan the dog for a microchip. If the dog is chipped, the shelter will contact the owner.
Even if the dog isn’t chipped, most owners will contact local shelters to find their dogs. The quicker the dog arrives at a shelter, the better the chances she will be reunited with her owner.
Try to find the owners first:
Make a genuine effort to find the owners of the dog. Just because a dog doesn’t have a collar on when you found her doesn’t mean she’s a stray. She could have slipped her collar or lost it some other way while she was on the run. She may have owners who are worried sick looking for her.
Contact your neighbors. Describe the dog and see if they recognize it. Better yet, text them a picture of the dog. They might know if someone’s looking for a dog—or they might tell you about an owner who moved away and left their dog.
Many radio stations and TV stations will run found dog announcements. If you have a local station that does, add the dog you found to their announcements.
Run a newspaper ad in the lost and found section of the personal ads in the paper for at least two weeks.
Post a picture of the dog to your social media accounts. Be careful about posting too much personal detail on those accounts, but you can at least say when you found the dog and the city where she was found.
Post fliers with a picture of the dog, brief information on where she was found, and how you can be reached. You can post these on telephone poles (if legal in your community), on community bulletin boards, on bulletin boards in grocery stores, etc.
If you don’t hear from anyone in the first few days, take the dog to a vet for a wellness check. The vet can scan for a microchip; if there is one, you can reunite her with her owner. If you live in a small community with a limited number of vets, there’s even a chance the vet will recognize the dog.
The vet can check for any problems (for example, diabetes) that require medication. You can find out the dog’s approximate age. You can also find out if she has a medical condition that requires constant care or a financial commitment that would make it impossible for you to keep her. You want to find that out before you and other family members become too attached to her.
All else fails, plan to keep the dog:
If, after the trip to the vet, you still would like to keep the dog, start getting your home ready. Get a food and water bowl, a collar, a leash, a dog bed, and a few toys. If you don’t know the dog’s name, you can also start teaching her a new name.
If she was well-fed and well-groomed when you found her, even if she wasn’t wearing a collar or chipped, chances are her owner will find her within a week or two.
If she was skinny and her coat was coarse and tight to her bones, she spent more time on her own. She either ran away some time ago or was abandoned. In that case, the chances are slim an owner will appear.
If, after a month, you haven’t heard from anyone, start considering the dog yours. You could still hear from an owner after that amount of time, but the odds are you won’t. You have made every reasonable effort to reunite the dog with her owner and her past life: now it’s time to start building a new life with your dog.