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Lost or stray dogs sometimes come into our lives when we least expect them. Obviously, we want to help lost dogs, but what steps should we take?
We created the Shadow app because we understand the importance of reuniting a lost dog with their family. Not just for the family, but for the dog as well, who’s likely confused, afraid, and anxious to see their best friend once again. That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive guide for how to help a lost dog, which outlines every step you should take to be as helpful as possible.
If approaching a lost or stray dog, make your safety a priority. Even dogs typically friendly to strangers might be wary after being on their own for a while. As always, use your best judgment and don’t hesitate to call animal control if you feel it’s necessary.
When taking in a lost or stray dog, it’s not uncommon for the dog to be in bad physical shape or mistrustful of humans. Try not to let this color your perception of the dog’s owners. The dog may have been on their own in the wild, which can have a profound effect on appearance and mood, if only temporarily.
Step One: Check for ID Tags or a Microchip
The first thing you’ll want to do upon finding a lost dog is check them for identification tags (either attached to a collar or harness). These will often have the dog’s name and their owner’s phone number on them. If there are no tags, then your next best move is to scan the dog for a microchip.
A microchip is a very small implant that’s sometimes embedded underneath the skin of a dog in case they go missing. Scanning the chip will retrieve a registration number and the phone number for the company that created the chip. Just call the company, give them the registration number, and in exchange you’ll receive the dog’s owner’s name and contact information.
As for where to scan a chip: almost any vet office, animal control center, police station, humane society, pet supply store, and shelter will scan microchips free of charge.
Step Two: What to Do With the Found Lost Dog
Assuming you’ve checked for tags and a microchip and still don’t know who the dog’s owners are, what are your next steps?
1. You can foster the dog temporarily while searching for their owners.
2. You can reach out to a friend or a community member to see if they can foster the dog. If no one in your network can help, try posting the dog online and asking people to share it.
3. You can bring the dog to a nearby rescue or humane society. These groups will likely do whatever they can to locate the dog’s owner, and if no owner is found, they’ll find the dog a new forever home. Regardless of the outcome, you can be sure that the dog will be safe.
4. You can bring the dog to your local shelter. Keep in mind, most shelters in the U.S. have a stray-hold policy in place (which usually lasts between 48 hours and seven days) so their owner can retrieve them after they’ve gone missing. After the stray-hold is over, it’s possible the dog could be adopted out to a new family. Unfortunately, due to lack of space and resources, their safety cannot be guaranteed after the stray-hold.
Step Three: Spread the Word
If the lost dog is still with you, or even if you just want to help, the next thing you’ll want to do is get the word out. After all, how can the dog reunite with their family if no one knows you found them?
First, you should notify your local animal control, shelters, and vet clinics that you have the dog in case their owners come looking for them. Provide any details you can about the dog—their breed (or likely breeds), their coloring, any unique markings, whether they’re male or female, and so on.
Next up, social media. By posting the dog’s story in the appropriate spaces online, you can spread the word far and wide without ever leaving your house.
If you live in Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, or the New York City (including Long Island and New Jersey) area, we recommend you download the Shadow app and create a listing for the found dog with pictures and details about them. This is especially important because the dog’s owner may have already created a listing in the app. Using Shadow’s photo-matching technology, the two listings can quickly be matched with a reunion soon to follow.
Other places you should post the found dog’s story and picture:
- Your own Facebook page
- Your neighborhood and/or town page on Facebook
- Local lost & found pet pages on Facebook
- Craigslist lost & found (in your area)
- Nextdoor (in your area)
If you’re using the Shadow app, you can even share the dog’s story directly to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more.
However, if you don’t have a social media account, that’s okay! Just ask a friend or family member if you can use their account or if they can post the dog’s story for you. Trust us—it’s a really important part of the equation.
Step Four: Post Flyers
Not every dog owner is on every (or any) social media platform. For this reason, it’s still a great idea to post flyers of the found dog. If you’re using the Shadow app, it will automatically create a flyer with the information you’ve provided.
We recommend printing 200 flyers to start, on which you should include the following items:
- A color picture of the found dog
- The words “found dog” underneath it
- Where you found the lost dog
- A phone number to reach you
Make sure to hang these flyers around all the major intersections near where you found the dog, as well as heavily foot-trafficked areas and the bulletin boards of nearby police & fire stations, grocery stores, dog parks, veterinary clinics, pet supply stores, laundromats, etc. Keep an eye out for the owners who might be posting flyers in the same area. In the past, we’ve had some wonderful impromptu reunions.
Note: Keep track of where you’ve hung flyers so you can coordinate with anyone helping. In the Shadow app, you can even mark the portions of the map where you’ve flyered and share that information with friends, family, and Volunteers.
Step Five: How to Verify the Dog’s Owner
It’s very possible that the dog you found could be reunited with their owner in a relatively short period of time. Which is great!
But before you agree to meet with someone who claims to be the owner of the dog—preferably at a neutral location like a shelter or police station—it’s a good idea to request some evidence to prove their ownership. Don’t worry, it’s very unlikely that a person would want to steal the dog. However, if more than one dog of a certain breed go missing in the area, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve reunited them with the correct owner. Vet records, adoption records, and photos of the dog with their owner will all go a long way toward putting your mind at ease.
Step Six: What Happens if You Never Find the Owner?
We’ve seen a lot of dog reunions in our day–over 3,000 and counting. But it can take a long time to find the owner. Sometimes these people are older and don’t have an online presence. Sometimes the dog traveled a good distance from their home. Whatever the case, try not to give up hope after just a few days or weeks.
However, if months have passed since your search began, you may feel obligated to move on. If you’re in a place where you can bring a dog into your family, contact your local shelter to get the ball rolling. Otherwise, you can continue fostering the dog until you find them a new home, you ask if someone else is able to, or you can also take the dog to a rescue, humane society, or shelter.
Need More Help?
As tough as it is to be the person who lost a dog, it’s not easy being the person who found them either. Hopefully, this guide gives you a better grasp of your situation but if you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-866-400-4001.