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What to Do When You Find A Lost Dog

A missing dog is terrible ordeal for any owner—an experience no one wants to go through if they can help it. Unfortunately, sometimes pets go missing even with all we do to prevent it. When you come across a dog that may not be a stray, but someone’s lost pet, it’s critical to do everything within our power to reunite the pet with their owner. Of dogs lost, 49% of owners were reunited with their pets by searching in their neighborhood, with 15% of the dogs being recovered because they were wearing some form of ID or had been microchipped. Only 6% of dog owners with lost animals were reunited with their dogs at a shelter.

Do you know what to do when you find a lost dog, to give it the best chance of being reunited with its owner? 

Assume the Dog is Lost

While a dog may seem afraid or wary of people, this is normal behavior for any lost animal, or may even be normal behavior for the dog at home. Appearances can also be deceiving. If the dog appears malnourished, has fleas or ticks, or is injured, they may have been lost for a longer period of time. It’s always best to assume the dog has an owner until all steps to find that owner have failed.

Capture with Caution

If you can manage to do so in a safe way, catch and contain the dog. Your own yard or home is the most ideal situation for keeping the dog, since you’ll be doing most of the leg work. If the dog is aggressive towards you or too skittish to be caught, it’s best to call authorities—like animal control or a rescue you trust that deals with strays—and let them take over from there.

Check for an ID or Microchip

If the dog is not wearing ID tags, your next option is to see if they have a microchip. Any veterinarian can usually perform this check free of charge. If they have no microchip, some dogs will have an ID tattooed on the inside of their ear or leg from the shelter they were adopted from. The shelter will keep records of the dog’s adoption history, based on this unique number.

Contact or Visit Your Local Shelter

While many animals are not reunited with their animals at shelters, it’s often the first place people look for their missing animals. Many shelters will have you fill out a “found animal” report with the dog’s description, the location where it was found, and your contact information.

Look for Any Lost Pet Signs in Your Area

Check for signs about lost pets in a one mile radius where you found the dog. Signs may not be up immediately, so keep checking in while the dog is in your care. Local libraries, coffee shops, and meeting spaces are also good places to find any signs that may have been posted.

Make Found Pet Signs

Signs advertising a found pet should have a short, easy to read description such as “Found: White & Tan Pit Bull”in large print. You can give more description in smaller print and include a picture of the dog. Include your contact information or the contact information of the organization holding the dog, if you needed to get professionals involved.

Check or Contact Other Sources

You can periodically check the ads in your local newspaper, if you receive one, or look at placing a “Found” ad in the paper yourself. In our area, many neighborhoods collaborate together using Nextdoor, and it’s been a great resource for reuniting pets and owners. However your community reaches out to one another, go and meet them where they are and spread the word about the lost pet.

Make Sure You’ve Found the Right Owner

While it’s exciting to be contacted by the lost dog’s potential owner, it’s important to make sure they are who they claim. Ask for a description of the dog so they can give you any details themselves, or ask something like, “what was the dog wearing when it went missing?” if the dog had a collar or other identifier.

If You Can’t Find the Owner

When all efforts to find a dog’s owner have failed, it may be time to look at finding them a new home. Some city laws require an animal be surrendered for a certain number of days before it can be adopted by anyone else. If not, you can choose to adopt the pet yourself or look for a rescue you trust to give the lost dog a new lease on life.


Have you ever found a lost pet? What did you do to help reunite them with their owner?

Lucy Bennett

Lucy is a writer, artist, and Hufflepuff currently living in Atlanta, Ga. When not making things, she enjoys costuming, tabletop games, and digging in the dirt.

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2 Comments

  • Good Sit

    We love that more blogs are posting this. Such an important topic.

    June 4, 2016 at 8:38 PM
  • Karen G

    I recently found a young boxer, no collar in my front yard. Took to nearby vet to scan for microchip. No chip. Long story short, I did locate the owner by posting signs in Neighborhood & online Neighborhood Lost Pet websites. My own dog has a tattoo, but the vet never didn’t attempt to look for a tattoo on the lost dog. This led me to have my dog microchipped too. Few people wish to inspect an unknown dog’s hindquarters. Chip your animals!

    July 7, 2016 at 6:25 PM

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