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Finding a Lost Animal: What Should You Do?

You found a lost/stray animal. What do you do?

There are many reasons you may come across a lost/stray animal. No matter how vigilant pet owners are, accidents happen and animals sometimes escape their yard, home, or break free from their leash or tether. Sometimes they are just let loose or are dumped by their owners or others. Sometimes a stray animal, more specifically a cat, may be a product of stray animals mating. Whatever the reason, when we see or find these animals, it is our natural instinct to help them. Generally you don’t think about what you are going to do with the animal until you have already stepped in to help. So, you catch this stray/lost animal. What do you do now?  

Finding and helping a lost or stray animal can involve a series of steps. Not everyone realizes this until it is you. Below are general steps you should follow that will help regardless of what kind of animal you have found:

  • If you have found a dog/cat or domesticated small animal (ferret, rabbit, guinea pig) try to secure the animal if possible. This could mean keeping the animal in a kennel, getting the animal into a fenced yard, luring the animal into a garage, etc.
  • If you have other animals of your own do not allow them to interact with the animal you have found because the temperament or health of the newly found animal is unknown. 
  • Utilize social media. Take a photo of the animal and make note of where the animal was found. If it was not found at a direct address, try to utilize street signs/businesses to create a description of the general location. Upload any pictures and information you can gather including area found, gender, breed etc. and post to social media. Post in social media groups on Facebook such as “Sam the Parrot”, local animal “Lost and Found” pages, or local community pages (ie. Lorain, OH FB Group). 
  • Report the finding to the correct authorities. (Listed below based on the animal that was found.)
  • Check if the animal has a microchip. 

A microchip in an animal is an identification tool. Many people believe that microchips are a way to track the location of a missing animal but that is false. Microchips are inside of the animal’s body, generally located under the skin, in between the shoulder blades. In order for microchips to be of use, they need to be registered. Once registered, if scanned, the microchip number will display on the scanner. This number can then be used to find the owner’s information such as an address, phone number and name. There is always a chance that the microchip is not registered or does not have current owner information, which eliminates the chance of finding an owner. Microchips can be scanned at the following places: vet clinics, shelters, and some police departments

Some additional steps can be taken depending on what kind of animal you find. Read below to find specific information on what to do when you find a dog, cat, domesticated small animal or wildlife:

I found a stray/lost dog, what should I do?

As described above, most of the steps listed should be first on your to do list if you have found a stray dog. Only secure the dog if it can be done safely. Most stray animals, including dogs, are scared and confused. This either prompts one of two responses: flight or fight. Flight is the term for a nervous dog who is hard to catch because of their desire to constantly run away from those trying to catch it. Fight is the term used for a fearful dog looking to “fight” those who are trying to catch it, whether that be growling, snapping or biting. 

If it can be done safely, you should secure the dog with a tether or place it in a fenced area or garage. (If you are unable to confine the dog, you can still report the sighting to the local shelter/dog kennel and post photos on social media.) 

Be careful with your own animals and don’t allow the stray/lost dog to interact with them due to the unknown temperament or health issues of the dog you found. 

Take a photograph and note the address or closest intersection to where you found the dog. The photos and information you obtain can be reported as described below or posted on social media.

Next, you need to call the local Police Dept. and your local dog kennel. If the dog kennel is closed, follow the directions on their outgoing phone message. Most counties will have you reach out to the County Sheriff or local police department. They, in turn, will dispatch a dog warden to you.

If you secure the dog and it seems to be nicely behaved, you can also walk the dog around your neighborhood, or the neighborhood where you found it. See if anyone knows the dog and where it lives. Ask the mailman and delivery drivers you see in the area as they may know many pets on their routes.

You may also drive the dog to the local dog kennel if you wish, but please remember the flight or fight term we mentioned above. You need to be aware that putting the stray dog into your car can mean they may defecate, urinate, or vomit in your car, or they may chew on parts of your car. Liability is on you at this point and the dog owner (if found) will not be made to pay for damages. 

Some pets have microchips (see footnote). Microchips may be a means to locate an owner, if the chip is properly registered. Places like the local dog kennel, the APL, other shelters, vet offices and some police departments have microchip scanners. You can take the animal to any of these places to have the dog scanned for a chip.  This information can help you find the owner. 

I found a stray/lost cat, what should I do?

As described above, most of the general steps listed should be first on your to do list if you have found a stray cat. Only secure the cat if it can be done safely. Most stray animals, including cats, are scared and confused. It can be difficult to determine if a stray cat is actually feral. 

Feral is a term used to describe an undomesticated cat that is not accustomed to human interaction and cannot be easily caught, or handled. An easy indication of whether a cat is feral and living outside is to see if they have an ear tip. This is something veterinarians do after they fix a feral cat. That way those looking to control the outdoor cat population can easily determine if a cat has already been fixed or not. If you see an outdoor cat and are confident it is friendly and not a feral outdoor cat you will want to follow the below steps.

If you can safely confine the cat, please do so. You can house them in a garage, a pet carrier, a screened in porch or in your home. Be very careful as a feral or scared cat can also have a flight or fight reaction, and will likely bite/scratch. Cat bites become infected very easily.  Seek medical help as soon as you can if you are bitten. 

You should take a photograph of the cat, noting the closest address or intersection.  Upload your photograph to social media and call your local animal shelter and report the found cat. Posting flyers around the area also is helpful. You can ask to be put on the surrender wait list at that shelter when you call, in case an owner is not found. Be prepared to have to make an appointment and wait for some sort of appointment to bring a cat into a shelter as most shelters cannot take animals in the same day due to limited cage space. If you are unable to confine the cat safely you can still report the sighting to the local shelter and post a photo on social media. 

If you find a cat and the cat appears to be injured.

If you are able to secure the cat, take the cat to the nearest veterinarian clinic or shelter. You will not be held accountable for medical bills if you communicate that the cat was found as an injured stray. 

Keep in mind that county kennels for strays are only for dogs, they do not take in cats. That is why you need to reach out to local shelters for an appointment to bring the stray cat there. 

I found a stray/lost domesticated animal, what should I do?

This can include: bunnies, ferrets, hamsters/guinea pigs, pigs, chickens etc.

Again, confine the animal if it is safe to do so. Call your local animal shelter and they will direct you on the best course of action depending on the species of the animal. If you are unable to confine the animal you can still report the sighting to the local shelter and post a photo on social media.

I found a wild animal, what should I do?

First things first – do not touch the animal.

If you find an injured wild animal or a wild animal you feel is in an area where it could become injured, you need to leave it alone and call your local nature or wildlife center. If you cannot locate one of these places, call your local animal shelter. They will be able to point you in the correct direction. In the State of Ohio, it is ILLEGAL to possess, own, control, restrain, or keep any wild animal without having the proper wildlife rehabilitator permits. The purpose of the law is to protect wild animal populations and to protect people from disease and injury. It is always best to call the professionals and allow them to help these animals. 

In conclusion:

Always be very careful with stray/lost animals. They are almost always scared and confused. Scared and confused animals are more likely to flight or fight. Go slow and do not run after/chase the animal as it will likely run away from you and could dart into traffic, putting yourself and the animal at risk. If the animal is running from you and it is becoming a risk to catch, it is better to stop and report it to the proper authorities and allow them to handle it. 

If the animal is injured you may choose to take it to the vet for help. If you determine a vet is needed, call your local police department’s non-emergency number, explain the severity of the situation and they will guide you as to where to take the animal or they will come to get it from you (depending on the city).

Things you CANNOT do with a found animal:  

Rehome the animal. 

Keep the animal. 

Euthanize the animal. 

Do not tie the animal to a tree/post and leave it. 

If the animal has a leash and collar on, DO NOT remove it.  

You MUST report the animal to the correct authorities:  

For Lorain County:

Lorain County Dog Kennel – 440-326-5995

Friendship APL – 440-322-4321

Lake Erie Nature & Science Center – 440-871-2900

French Creek Nature Center – 440-949-5200

Lorain County Metro Parks – (440) 458-5121

Friendship APL

Friendship APLWe are a private, independent, non-profit humane society founded in Elyria, Ohio. We proudly own and operate the largest animal shelter in Lorain County.

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