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WHAT  TO  DO  WHEN  YOU  FIND  A  STRAY PET

GENERAL ADVICE: First, be sure to notify your county dog warden and your local shelters about the stray that you have found.  (See below). Some people may be reluctant to surrender a stray to a shelter for fear that it will be put down before the owner can reclaim it, but this is the obvious place where the people who have lost a pet would look, and a simple written report might escape notice. So it may be advisable or even necessary to surrender the stray to a shelter.

Most shelters will allow you to take the pet back if it is not reclaimed or adopted out. There may be some fees involved so please ask first.  If at all possible, try to trace the owner yourself. Dogs especially can travel many miles and may end up far from home. By making an effort to find the owner, you may be sparing someone, a family, perhaps a child, the grief of losing a companion animal and maybe never knowing what has become of it.

Almost all shelters have limited resources and are sadly overburdened. There is probably not enough help to do all that could be done to trace the owner and animals cannot be held indefinitely. By statute, in the State of Ohio, dogs need only be held for three days before they are put to sleep. If they have current tags, however, they must be held for fourteen days. There are no such statutes protecting cats. They may be put down immediately.

What To Do When You Find The Owner
Be cautious before you surrender the animal to someone who claims to be the owner!
If and when you are contacted by someone who claims to be the owner, it is best to ask for some proof, such as a veterinary receipt or a photograph. In the case of dogs, you can ask to see the license or rabies certificate. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous and heartless people around who collect animals and then sell them to labs or use them in dog fighting or for other abusive purposes. It is difficult for anyone who is fond of animals to comprehend such cruelty, but you must be aware of these practices in order to avoid becoming an unwitting accomplice by giving a lost pet to the wrong people.

Before surrendering an animal under your protection, you should ask for a picture ID, like a driver's license. Be sure to note the person's vehicle registration number. If they balk at being asked for identification, or if the license plate is not legible, it is possible that they are bunchers, people who gather up animals to exploit them for their own profit, Do not be overly trusting because they are accompanied by a child, which is a common ploy.

Be wary if someone contacts you offering to adopt the pet you have found if you cannot trace the owner. We have had reports of "bunchers" trying to acquire animals to sell to labs in this way

If possible, when someone calls to claim the animal you have found, try to ask them for details about the animal that your notice does not reveal: some particularity of coloring or behavior perhaps. But be aware that people may honestly not remember that their dog has two white toes on his left paw, for example. However, if someone is able to furnish this kind of information, you may be confident that they are "legit".

What If You Do Not Find The Owner
If you are unsuccessful in tracing the owner of the pet that you have found, and/ or you are unable to keep it, go to the Contact Information page for information about the shelters in your community and their policies. Some shelters do not routinely practice euthanasia. If you prefer to find a home for the animal yourself, you should download and read the Best Friend's guide on How to find homes for homeless pets. It's chock full of tips and ideas on how to find the best homes, how to reach people, and even how to screen potential adopters! You can also check our Free Classified Ads page.

Twelve Steps To Take In Tracing The Owner
Ideally, there would be a single centralized registry to pool information from all sources about lost and found animals. PET FBI aspires to serve this purpose, but it is not known to everyone, and many people do not even understand how to use the Internet. Therefore it is indispensable for you to seek and spread information about the animal you have found in as many ways as possible. Here are eleven steps to follow:

  1. For quick and easy information, search  the Lost Reports on the Pet FBI Database. There have been many speedy, happy reunions because both finders and losers used the Pet FBI web site right away.  Do not neglect to post a Found Report.  If you are reading this advice page, you may have already done this.
  2. Contact your community animal control department, sometimes also called the "dog warden". Often this is the first place people call when they realize their animal is missing. Ask that they keep a written record that you have found a certain animal. (For phone numbers, see the Dog Warden page, also the Contact Information page for your county.
  3. If you find a dog with a license or rabies tag, to find out the name of the owner, contact your county dog warden. In Ohio, county Auditor's offices also have this information.
  4. Other means of identification are microchips and tattoos.
    Tattoos: Look for a series of numbers on the inner right hind leg, on the belly where the hair is thin, (you may have to brush the hair aside to see), or sometimes the ear. If the number looks like a social security number call the National Dog Registry to trace the owner at 914 277-4485.
    Microchips: The American Kennel Club also sponsors a nationwide companion animal recovery system that involves the use of tattoos or microchips. The microchips are implanted under the loose skin on the scruff of the neck, but the only way to detect an identification microchip is with a special scanner. The local dog wardens, and most shelters and veterinary offices have the necessary equipment. To report a found animal with a tattoo or microchip, or to review the American Kennel Club's database of lost pets, email found@akc.org or call 800-252-7894.
  5. Contact the various local shelters to see if anyone has reported such an animal and to request that they keep a written record. For a master list of shelters and humane societies in Ohio go to our Shelters and Humane Societies Page For information about the various smaller shelters and rescue groups that foster animals go to the Contact Information page for your county. (Also titled "Where to Call").
  6. Call the offices of neighborhood veterinarians.  People often leave lost and found reports with them.
  7. Prepare a flyer with a picture or description of the animal, date found, and how to contact you. Be sure the letters are large enough to be visible from a passing car, especially the phone number.  
    You can click on this link, key in your information and it will automatically format a printable flyer.
    Have copies made on bright colored paper. Post the flyers in conspicuous places like utility poles, intersections, nearby schools, etc. Post the flyers in a 20 - 30 block radius. It is equally important to post the flyers at some major intersections in other parts of town. Dogs and cats often end up miles away from where they were lost. Also, of course, be on the lookout for Lost Posters.
  8. Speak to people familiar with the area where you found the animal: letter carriers, meter readers, school bus drivers, neighborhood children, etc. Take a photograph and show it to people in the area to see if they recognize the animal. Hand out cards or flyers with your phone number. 
  9. At least one PET FBI user reported finding the owner of a cat that had been living under her deck for months by calling everyone in the vicinity. She got the names from her county property tax web site, looked up the numbers in the phone book and called a few every day.  
  10. Check the Lost and Found classified ads in your local papers. For a list of these papers and phone numbers for their classified ad departments and also, in some cases, for links to their ads online, go to our Contact Information Page (Where to Call). Check the ads regularly because it may be some time before the owner decides to place one. If it appears that the animal has been lost for awhile, try to check the ads from back issues.
  11. Regularly check community bulletin boards in pet supply stores, supermarkets, laundromats, cafes, groomers and kennels.etc.
  12. Continue to check the Pet FBI database. It may be awhile before the stray's owner hears about the Pet FBI database.

BEWARE OF LOST AND FOUND SERVICES THAT CHARGE A FEE.  THERE ARE MANY SCAMS.

This page last updated 10/5/2009