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I Found a Stray Dog on the Street — What Should I Do Now?

Advice from a dog psychologist and others who’ve helped wandering pups find a home

Parenting a pet, no matter what kind, can be a frustrating and bewildering experience. Animals can’t tell you what they want and need (directly, at least), so we’re here to help you answer any questions you have about your favorite companion — whether they be furry, slimy, feathered, scaly or anything in between — with insight from the experts. This is “Basic Bitch,” an advice column for pet parents who just want the best for their best friend.

The Very Basic Concern

So I was driving down the road, minding my own business, when I saw a small dog running between traffic. My dog dad instincts kicked in, so I pulled over and helped the little guy make it to the sidewalk using some crackers I had in the car.

He looks to be in fine shape, albeit a little spooked, but a collar and potential owners are nowhere to be found. I refuse to leave him alone in the streets, however I also have no idea what to do with him. Should I bring him home? Should I post pictures around the neighborhood? Or should I call my local animal shelter?

Basically: What should I do when I find a stray dog?

The Expert Advice

Linda Michaels, dog psychologist and author of Do No Harm Dog Training and Behavior Manual: Be aware that a frightened, cornered dog might bite, so trying to help has inherent risks. As such, you need to develop trust with the dog. Take it very slowly: Don’t just grab the collar or try to pet the dog by putting your hand over its head. Also, don’t lean over the dog, and know that direct eye contact may be perceived as a threat. Don’t make sudden movements. Use high-value food, such as cheese bites or hot dogs, and toss them toward the dog, and then toward the ground closer to you. When you feel safe, leash the dog and check for identification tags.

If you don’t find tags, if practical, keep the dog close to where you found him or her for a greater chance of someone recognizing it. Also, post the dog’s photo and information in your neighborhood group using the Nextdoor app to see if someone claims the dog, recognizes the dog or knows who to contact. You could also try taking the dog for an on-leash walk to see if he or she might lead you to their home or neighborhood. Then, post photos wherever you can near where you found the dog.

If none of the above options are successful or safe, call the Department of Animal Care and Control. They may be the only organization that can reliably check for a standardized microchip identification in an effort to contact the pet parent.

From there, we encourage you to check for updates on the dog daily. Overcrowded shelters, although labeled as “no-kill,” may euthanize dogs when they run out of space. So if you’ve fallen in love and no one has claimed your stray dog, adopt!

Morgan Kaye, a woman who recently reunited a stray dog with its owner: My boyfriend and I were driving down Abbot Kinney in Venice, California, and we had our puppy in the backseat. I thought I saw a dog run across the street, and my dog mom instincts immediately kicked in, so we turned the car around and went looking for where the dog went. He actually ran into the USPS parking lot, so I approached the dog while my boyfriend asked the people working there to close the gate so it couldn’t escape. We realized quickly that the dog had no leash and no name tag.

It’s difficult in this situation: You want to approach the dog nicely, but you also want to act quickly. They’re scared and lost, so their instinct is to run. Luckily, I was able to grab his collar. But my next fear was, is this dog going to get along with our dog, who’s patiently sitting in the car? We put our pup in the front seat with me and put the stray in the backseat, since we at least wanted to ensure that he was safe and not going to run.

After that, we drove around for what seemed like two hours, asking people if they’d heard about anyone losing a dog. Our dear friends at Blue Bottle Coffee said that the coworking space next door found a dog earlier in the evening, but it had escaped. Putting two and two together, we went to the coworking space, and there was a gem of a girl there who offered to take him in and find the owner.

At that point, we’d already called the vet to check if the dog had a microchip, but of course, they were closing in five minutes, so we needed to wait until the next morning. So we had a good handshake with the girl — we gave her our dog’s leash, and brought her some food and supplies to take care of the dog. In exchange, she took the dog to the vet the next morning, and luckily, it had a microchip and the owner was contacted. The moral of the story here is to help dogs in need. Also, if you’re a dog owner, get a microchip and always put a tag on your dog’s collar.

Trish Landrito, a woman who provided a stray dog with a new home: I was coming home, and as soon as I got out of my car, I saw a small terrier, which was super random. I tried to get the dog to come toward me. I didn’t have a treat or anything like that, but he walked up to me, and let me pet and hold him. He didn’t have a leash, tags or anything, so we called him Roamy, since he was probably just roaming around the neighborhood.

We took him to my parents’ house and tried to find the owner: We posted him on our personal Facebook pages, local dog shelter Facebook pages and other Facebook dog groups in the area, but nobody claimed him. He was at my parents’ house for a good two or three weeks. We took care of him, and found out he was potty trained and pretty good mannered — he hardly barked, slept on his dog bed and was overall a good house dog.

When we didn’t find the owner and nobody claimed him, one of our family friends took him in for good. They renamed him, he had babies with another dog they already had, and we actually have a puppy from his litter. We named the puppy Mr. Wilson.