What to Do If You Find a Loose Dog or Cat


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Found a dog?

If you find a dog loose outside, the dog may be a lost pup rather than a stray, and someone could be frantically searching for her. Dogs get loose for one reason or another and may end up lost. If a lost dog has been on the run for weeks or months, she is probably going to be dirty and skinny, even if she escaped from a wonderful home. Missing Pet Partnership developed its Think Lost, Not Stray campaign to dispel the assumption that every roaming animal is unwanted.

Most missing pets are found close to home and they are much more likely to get back home if we take a few simple steps to help the owners find their pet. The reclaim rate by pet owners is typically low when lost pets go into a shelter.

Found a cat?

Most cats that you notice outdoors aren’t actually lost. The cat may be someone’s pet and have an indoor/outdoor life, or he may not belong to anyone and may simply live outdoors. If the cat seems comfortable and confident outside, he’s probably doing just fine and doesn’t require your help. However, if he seems ill, injured or stressed, he may indeed be lost. You can use the tips given below to help find the cat’s owner. You’ll also find information below on what to do if you see a cat who’s missing the tip of one ear or if you find kittens.

Tips to find the lost pet’s person

Check for pet ID tags and microchips:

  • If the dog has no ID tag, put a temporary one on her. Include your name and phone number so that if the dog gets lost a second time, she will be returned to you.
  • Take the animal to be scanned for a microchip. Your veterinarian or local shelter likely has a scanner to check for microchips. In some communities, the local firehouse may have a scanner. Also, check the animal’s ears for a tattoo, which is sometimes used as a form of pet identification.

Reach out for help in your community:

  • Leash up the dog and walk her around the neighborhood. The owner could be out looking for her, or a neighbor may know where the dog lives. Other folks, such as mail deliverers, may also help crack the case.
  • Notify your local shelter that you have found the animal. There are different laws in each municipality regarding lost or stray animals. In some communities, finders of lost animals are legally required to either surren¬der the animal to the animal shelter or to report it to the shelter. Check with the animal control or animal services department in your city to find out what your legal obligations are.
  • Even if you’re not legally required to notify the shelter, you’ll still want to let the staff know that you have found the animal and provide a photo and relevant information about the pet. If the owners of the animal are look¬ing for their pet, they will most likely call¬ the shelter, so it’s very important that the shel¬ter knows that you have found the pet.
  • If you do take the pet to the shelter, and you wish to adopt him if he’s not claimed, be sure to let the staff know that. After the stray hold period is up, you will have adoption privileges. It is a good idea to call the shelter daily to let the staff know that you are interested in the animal’s welfare.

Look outside of your neighborhood:

  • Check the lost-and-found section in local newspapers and in the newspapers of nearby towns. Lost pets sometimes travel some distance (either on their own, by hitchhiking on a vehicle, or by being rescued and then lost again in a new location).
  • On NextDoor.com, search for lost-pet postings for various neighborhoods in your community.

Spread the word about the pet you’ve found:

  • Create flyers. Take a good photo of the pet, write a basic description and then access the free, easy-to-use flyer-maker program at petbond.com to create your flyers.
  • Post the flyers on your social sites; neighborhood sites like NextDoor.com; sites like Petco Love Lost and PawBoost; and lost-and-found pet groups on Facebook. You can also post a free listing in the Community > Lost and Found area on your local Craigslist site.
  • Print out copies of the flyer and post them throughout your community, especially in the area where you found the pet. Attach the printed flyers to brightly colored poster board and write “FOUND DOG” (or cat) in large letters across the top, to ensure that the flyers are noticed. Missing Pet Partnership has some additional tips for creating highly visible flyers.
  • Email the flyers to your friends, family members and other contacts in the surrounding area, and ask them to alert others.
  • Place an ad in the lost-and-found section of local newspapers. A typical ad describes the type of animal, where she was found, coloring and other distinct characteristics. You might want to leave out one characteristic about the animal, so that when a person calls claiming to be the owner, you can verify that the animal really belongs to that person. Don’t forget to put your phone number and times you can be reached in the ad.

If you find a cat missing the tip of an ear

If the cat appears healthy and has an “ear tip” (the tip of one ear is missing), it means that he is a stray or outdoor cat (aka community cat). Ear-tipping is a surgical procedure performed under anesthesia by a veterinarian and it’s done to indicate that the cat has been sterilized and vaccinated against rabies through a trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) program.

Some community cats are friendly, others are unsocialized to people. It’s not necessary to bring a community cat to a shelter because he is most likely being looked after by people in the area. Please leave ear-tipped cats who appear healthy right where they are. To learn more about community cats, watch the video below.

If you find kittens

If you find a litter of kittens outdoors, don’t assume they’ve been abandoned by their mom. In most cases, mom will be back soon and the kittens do not require help from humans. In fact, taking kittens to a shelter puts them at risk because most shelters don’t have the resources to provide the intensive care that young kittens need. The kittens’ best chance for survival is staying with their mother.

Learn more about what to do if you find kittens.

Here are some additional resources:

Found kittens poster by Kitten Lady

Kitten aging chart by Kitten Lady


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