What to Do if You Find a Lost Dog

A few weeks ago, we got a call in the Outreach Office about a found dog, and the woman who found her didn’t know who to call. Since it was close to the office I decided to pop over to the park and help her get the dog on a leash. I ended up taking the dog to get scanned, and luckily she was chipped. Sweet Sage was reunited with her humans within the hour!
But this got me thinking – are there other people who would be similarly unsure of what to do if they found a dog without a human? I used to pick up lost dogs a lot when I lived in Salem, so I’ve learned a few tricks as well as the best practice when it comes to reunited dogs with humans, so let’s discuss!
First, check around to see if there is a human paying attention to the dog, even if it isn’t on a leash. While it’s not allowed most places, some people will take their dogs on off-leash walks and if this is the case, then there is no need to intervene.
If there doesn’t seem to be a human around that the dog belongs to, try calling it using typical pet names like Buddy, bud, sweetie, etc. Try to get photos in case you are not able to catch the dog, you can use these to post on Facebook, NextDoor, and other sites that help reunite dogs. Note your location so you can help people looking for the dog know where they were last seen.
It’s important to prioritize your safety as well as the dogs. Pay attention to the dog’s behavior and don’t create a situation where you could get bitten. This is bad for both you and the dog. This might mean leaving the dog alone or letting it run away from you. You don’t want to chase the dog as this could cause it to run into traffic or another unsafe environment.
Some tricks I’ve used is showing the dog a leash or opening my car door. Some dogs have been trained to sit when presented with a leash, or will jump in a car even if they won’t let you grab their collar. I’ve also “faked” a treat when I didn’t have one on me by grabbing a leaf off the ground and holding it in my hand like I would a treat. I also always keep a spare leash and some dog treats as well as a water bowl in my car in case I see a lost dog. This is only safe if your car is empty! Do not invite a strange dog into a car with your children or other pets as you have no way to predict their behavior.
If you aren’t able to get the dog, call your county’s animal services and share as much information as you can. They will send professionals out to look for and hopefully pick up the dog.
If you are able to get the dog, check for tags and contact info and call any numbers immediately. If there are no numbers or you can’t get a hold of anyone the next step would be to take them to a vet to scan for a microchip.
It would be best for the dog if you can hold onto it until it’s reunited with its owner, but if this is not possible check with local rescues or other animal businesses. Vets usually can’t hold onto animals for you. If you’re in the LO area you can definitely call POOCH! If it’s the weekend then a direct message on Facebook or Instagram is the best way to get a hold of someone.
Whoever ends up holding onto the dog should file a “found” dog report with the local county shelter, and create found fliers and ads to post around the area the dog was found and on websites. Good sites to post on are Lost and Found Animal pages on Facebook, PawBoost, Lost and Found Pets, the NextDoor App, and Craigslist.
If there is no luck finding an owner for the dog, they will need to go to the local county shelter. They can certainly be released to a rescue or person eventually, but they will likely need to be held for a certain period of time to allow an owner to come forward. It is not legal to keep a dog you find, you have to do your best to find the owner before you can adopt the animal, and this involves taking it to the shelter.
If an owner does come forward, be sure to verify they own the dog! Obviously, if they call you from the number on the tags or associated with their microchip they are the owner. But if they reach out based on a found poster or ad on the internet, ask them to describe the animal or provide a photo of them with the dog. There are some people who will try to claim a dog that isn’t theirs, or are looking for a dog that looks similar to the one you found, but is actually a different dog. If it is their dog you do have to give it to them. If you find yourself concerned about how they treat or care for the dog the best course of action is to call public animal services for the county and report your concern.
Comment below if you’ve reunited a dog with its owner! How did it go, what would you do differently? What worked for you?