I found a lost dog. What should I do?

You’re walking out to your car on your way to work when you see a scruffy dog trotting down the sidewalk. Unable to look the other way, you crouch down and call to her, and she runs up to you. Looking around, you don’t see any other people, so you pick her up and put her in your car. She’s safe from the perils of running loose, but now what are you supposed to do?

When you find a lost dog, you should do the following:

  1. Check for visible ID
  2. Scan for a microchip
  3. Go door to door
  4. Post on local social media
  5. Post found dogs signs
  6. Call animal control
  7. Foster at home or bring to shelter

Following these steps will give the lost dog the greatest chance of being reunited with her family.

1) Check for visible ID

Is the dog wearing a collar? Are there attached ID tags? Many dogs will be wearing a standard engraved tag with the owner’s phone number. If it is hard to read, try taking a picture with your phone and enlarging it. Some collars have an ID plate flush with the collar itself.

Some dogs will be wearing QR code ID tags. You should be able to read it by simply pointing your phone camera at the code. A URL will pop up on your screen and when you click it you will be directed to a page with the owners contact info. Some QR code tags will also give you the option of sharing your location with the owner so they can easily find you and recover their dog.

Note: worn out or scratched QR code tags can be difficult for the camera to read. If this is the case, try downloading any QR code reader app and using it instead.

Some dogs may have license or rabies tags. If you can read the number and the name of the veterinarian or animal control authority you can call for information.

2) Scan for a microchip

If visible ID doesn’t pan out, it’s time to search for invisible ID. You will need a special scanner to check for a microchip, so try calling your local veterinarian. Other locals may have a scanner (like the author) because they do pet rescue or lost pet recovery. This can be helpful if the veterinarian is closed or far away.

If the dog has a chip, that’s great, but now you need to find the owner info. Start by entering the chip number into Pet Microchip Lookup. This tool will tell you if the chip is registered and with which registry. Now you can call the registry or go to their website to get in touch with the owner.

3) Go door to door

Many dogs are found quite close to home. Because of this, immediately whisking them off to a shelter that may be 20 miles away is not the best way to find the owner. Putting the found dog on a leash and walking around the neighborhood can be a quick way to find out where the owner lives. If you see anyone outside, you can ask if they know the dog. If you feel safe, you can knock on doors and ask residents if they have seen the dog before or might know who the owner is. Proactive animal control officers do this with some success.

4) Post on local social media

If no owner is to be found at home or in the neighborhood, the next step is to post on local social media. Local is the key word here, as a general Facebook post will be shown to random people all over the country. Nextdoor is a great place for lost dog reunions as it is so hyper local. Facebook community pages and groups can also be helpful as they are populated by people who live in the dog’s neighborhood and are often vigilant about community service needs.

When posting, include a good photo and the exact location where the dog was found. Provide your phone number for folks to call, and be sure to indicate your intentions for the dog. If you are going to call animal control or take them to the shelter, make a note of that. Alternately, you may be fostering the dog until the owner can be located. Check back on your posts and respond quickly to any replies.

5) Post found dog signs

If you’re in a hurry, you may need to save this step for later. Posting online takes a few minutes, but printing physical signs takes a bit of time. However, it is recommended even if you send the dog to a shelter. Not everyone is online or in the forums where you posted, and they may not become aware of what happened to their dog until they see a sign.

There are several websites where you can quickly design and print signs and flyers for free. Like the online posts, keep it simple: photo, location found, date, your contact info. 8.5 x 11 flyers are good to hand out or to post on bulletin boards. Larger signs made into posters can be put up at key locations around the neighborhood. Be sure to follow laws and homeowner’s regulations about posting or you may find your signs taken down the next day!

6) Call animal control

If you don’t find the owner yourself, you should call animal control. Don’t know who handles animal control in your area? Start by calling the local authorities you are familiar with, like police or sheriff. They can advise you.

If you intend to foster the dog till the owners are found, you will want to make a found report and to see if anyone has filed a matching lost report. If you are unable to keep the dog, the animal control officer can take her to the shelter. Be sure to get an impound number or some other identifier that you can pass along to anyone who thinks this may be their missing dog.

7) Foster at home or bring to shelter

If you can’t locate an owner by the end of the day, the dog will have to go somewhere to be cared for. To increase the likelihood of reunion and to reduce overcrowding, many shelters encourage residents to foster dogs they find if possible. If this is feasible for you, great, but don’t jeopardize the safety of your own family and pets. If the found dog is at all aggressive with people, other dogs, or cats, it may be best to take her to the shelter.

Make a plan for the dog if she is not claimed. Do you want to keep her? Do you have contacts with a rescue group that will take her? Will you surrender her to the shelter after a period of time? Be aware that some shelters consider a dog to belong to you after a certain period of time, so if you wait too long they will not accept her as a stray. Shelters have limited hours, especially in the post-covid world, so be sure to call before going there, and don’t wait till too late in the day before making that call.

Thank you for caring about lost dogs!