It’s Not Your Dog!

Dog shelter for homeless animals and people

Just this week, I’ve run across no fewer than three separate situations in which someone had found a dog and was considering what to do with it. One person was concerned with how well the dog was getting along with her own dog and how the relationship would work out long-term; another wanted to know if anyone was interested in adopting the dog she’d just found, or whether a rescue group might take him; and the third was holding on to the dog while the family decided if they wanted to keep him. Although all of those people were well-meaning, it has to be said: It’s not your dog!

It’s a noble thing to rescue a dog. Taking a dog off the streets can prevent him from being hit by a car, being attacked by other dogs or wild animals, or slowly starving to death. But none of that takes into account the fact that the dog might actually belong to someone. An owner or even an entire family might be heartbroken, relentlessly driving the streets day after day looking for their dog, wondering what’s become of him and imagining the worst. They may be searching their local shelter, which is where most owners look; but they’ll have no luck, because he isn’t there.

Any found dog should be scanned for a microchip. Most veterinary clinics have a scanner and will be happy to help. But even if no chip is found, that doesn’t mean there’s no owner; it just means the dog hasn’t been chipped or, as happens in some cases, the chip has migrated, making it difficult to find. Likewise, a lack of ID tags could mean the tags got snagged on a fence or bushes as the dog went by, and were pulled off. Even a collar could get caught on something or slipped out of, especially if it wasn’t fitted tightly enough. (If there is a collar, check for a phone number printed directly on it. I almost missed this on a stray dog I rescued recently.) A lack of microchip, tags, or collar still does not mean there is no owner. Another common no-owner assumption occurs when a dog not only has no identifying information, but looks bedraggled. Surely the poor dog has been neglected or dumped, right? Wrong! While that could be the case, very often a dog has been on the streets for some time, resulting in a dirty, unkempt appearance.

Look, I understand the hesitation to bring a found dog to a shelter. No one wants to think of a dog being in a loud, frightening, unfamiliar place. Contracting illness is another concern (although the most common, kennel cough, is easily treated with antibiotics). But the most common fear is that the dog will be immediately euthanized. While it’s true that in some areas shelters do have high euthanasia rates, there are laws requiring them to hold a dog for a prescribed period (for example, five days) to give owners time to find their lost pet. If you’ve found a dog and are interested in adopting or fostering until a home or rescue can be found, you can fill out a CTA (Commit to Adopt), which gives you first dibs should the owners not show. And, by the way, the shelter should be the one nearest where the dog was found, as driving the dog to a “nicer” shelter in another area would likely prevent the owner from finding their dog.

If the shelter has a book of Found Dog flyers, leave one there. While the dog is at the shelter during the holding period, take steps to find the owners. Flyers should be posted all over the area where the dog was found. A flyer with a photo should be faxed to area vets and groomers and given to postal and delivery workers, as they may recognize the dog. The flyer should also be posted on social media sites. Most cities and even neighborhoods now have local Facebook groups for lost and found dogs. The digital communities Nextdoor and Ring should be posted to as well. Be sure to include a photo in online posts. Also, most newspapers will allow free Found Dog ads. If someone calls, you can let them know the dog is at the shelter. If you intend to hold on to the dog for a few days before bringing him to the shelter (although you really shouldn’t), be sure, whether in a flyer or ad, to withhold some identifying information such as markings or collar design so that whoever calls must supply it. Unfortunately, there are people who will try to take advantage of an opportunity for a free dog.

Again, no one wants to bring a dog to a shelter, but it is the dog’s best chance at being reunited with his family. Many shelters have an excellent group of volunteers who network with rescues and do everything they can to find dogs homes, so even if the owners don’t show up, many dogs still have a good chance at adoption. And, if no one claims the dog and you do want to keep it, you can rest easy knowing you did everything to find the owner before giving the dog a forever loving home.
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17 Responses to It’s Not Your Dog!

  1. Shelley McKibbon says:

    I have seen posts like that, mostly linked to in dog groups. The assumption seems to be that only bad and neglectful owners ever lose their dog, which is… well, heartless. Thank you for the very useful tips– if and when I see another post like the ones you describe, I’ll provide a link to this!

  2. sarahj44 says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  3. While I agree that should be the first option, sometimes, “take him to the shelter” isn’t viable, especially in sparsely populated, rural, or small-town areas. I know the dog I found was an owned pet because he was neutered and had basic obedience training. He was very socially appropriate towards dogs, people, and he loved cats. He had no collar, tag, or chip. I ran into a couple obstacles when trying to find his owners. 1. The pound asked if it were possible I keep him temporarily, because the dog was found outside city limits and therefore not their jurisdiction. They also do not offer a “commit to adopt” option, because they only release to owners or the shelter. 2. The local shelter would not accept lost pets, only owner-surrender or those pulled from the pound (for liability reasons.) 3. The local rescues also follow that protocol, with the exception for puppy mill seizures. 4. I contacted breed rescue – who could only offer a courtesy posting, not shelter. 5. The newspaper was willing to place free found dog ads – but only for one week, and only for local residents. I had to ask friends to place the ad subsequently. Not every small town has a paper. 6 weeks later, and Not. A. Single. Response. So I kept him.

    • wildewmn says:

      It sounds as though you did absolutely everything you could within the limits of your area’s rules and jurisdictions. That’s really all I’m asking people to do. In some cases, like yours, many things are not possible, but you tried.

  4. C.E.Robinson says: is a community network service that many people sign up for in many areas. In our community Lost Dogs are posted with pictures and contact information for the lost dog owners. This works so many times. Another option, the shelter if no response. 🏡 Christine

  5. A GSD came bounding up to me as I was walking Maggie and rolled over at my feet for a tummy rub. There was no sign of her owner, but she was wearing a collar with a surname and phone number. No mobile then, so I leashed her and took her home rather than have her running loose and possibly under the wheels of a car on the busy roads. I matched the name and number with an address from the phone book, and walked her back as it was only round the corner. A car screeched up alongside me and a frantic woman got out.
    ‘You’ve got my dog!’ she gushed.
    I explained what had happened and that I was bringing her home, and the woman was highly relieved as she’d fallen asleep in the garden and Sasha had decided to open the gate and take herself for a walk!

  6. Joe Paw Dog says:

    Just saw this on the news recently. I wish more people would microchip their dog, either if a dog gets lost or stolen. Since we registered our dog with our microchip, we were able to get a discounted lifetime doggy license too!

  7. Karen Kirkpatrick says:

    Excellent article. It infuriates me to no end to see people do the very things you spoke of. They think they’ve done enough if they’ve posted on facebook that they found it. One thing your article doesn’t point out – and it would be great if you amended your article to reflect that – that believe it or not, there are a LOT of people who don’t use computers, much less have facebook. They should have FOUND posters printed up and post them at area businesses, on telephone poles, etc. within about a 1-3 mile area around where the dog (or cat) was found. There are many groups who will help with the costs of printing the posters and hanging them. Also, don’t feed the stray cats. Just because a cat gobbles food you put down for it doesn’t mean it is starving. Cats are opportunistic cons (I should know…I have a few and foster others). If the cat isn’t in obvious bad shape, by all means give it water, but don’t feed it. If you do, it will keep coming back; it also may be on a special diet and the food you’re giving it could make it ill. If it’s all matted and starved looking, don’t assume neglect. Assume it has been lost from its owner. Veterinary clinics will scan for chips for free. File a FOUND report with the LOCAL shelter, and let them take a picture of the animal or take one yourself to give to the shelter and other places as mentioned in the article. Imagine yourself losing your precious pet…don’t put someone else through the heartache of losing their pet to some greedy person.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Karen, posting Found posters in the area, filing a Found flyer with the local shelter, and that vets will scan for microchips are all already mentioned in the blog. This one wasn’t about cats but thanks for the extra info!

  8. juliabarrett says:

    Our shelter is no-kill, unless a dog is feral or dangerous. And in that case I wouldn’t be trying to catch the dog or put it in my car. But I wouldn’t hesitate to take a dog to our local shelter. We have an amazing shelter with loads of volunteers and great spaces for the dogs. I’m sad many areas do not have such a place, and I know how hard it is if a dog is dumped or lost in a rural area.

  9. James bruegeman says:

    someone either took my raider or is doing what u said he is a black and tan German shaperd more black then tan… tan behind the ears and tan legs and the rest is mostly black and his back hair is like a lions main the pigment in the area around his eyes had gone to white but started to come back to black from mite drops witch I stopped immediately when I saw that he was getting infection from it..sorry for going on about that he’s been missing since August 20th and no way he would ever leave the way he did if u know anything or hear anything please let me know I’m jim he is raider and my life I can breath with out him 509882768

    • wildewmn says:

      I’m so sorry, Jim. Hopefully you’ve posted Lost flyers all over your neighborhood. Also check your local shelter (and rescues) regularly and leave flyers there too, put lost dog info and photo on Facebook (find your local lost and found pets or “about pets” type group), Twitter, Nextdoor, and Ring. Give a flyer to your postal and other delivery people, post in any local papers. Here is a link to a more detailed blog I wrote about this a while back (it won’t have the updated social media info but I’ve told you that here): I hope you get your Raider back safely and soon.

      • wildewmn says:

        Jim, you inspired me to update an older post of mine about how to find a lost dog. Please read it, as it contains a LOT of useful, updated suggestions:

      • James Bruegeman says:

        I wish I could attach a picture somehow the dog is my world my mom passed away three years ago and I got him to help me through it and he did and help me much more Bobby the most human-like dog I’ve ever met it was just me and him literally for three years I talked to him like he was my friend he understands English he would never have left me like you did he might have went and chased a squirrel and got a little too far but he know his way back you can ask anybody I was his life and he was mine he lay by the door and wait for me like most dogs but he’s different now he’s gone in somebody’s backyard

      • thank you for your reply I wish I could post a picture of him so that everybody that read your columns could see him… about 3 years ago my mom died and I bought him to help me through and he did more than anybody would ever know I can’t even imagine replacing him hurt even getting another dog he was special and part of me is not the same and never will be..

  10. Rae says:

    I wish this showed up automatically every time a dog was lost. I have fought with neighbors on nextdoor who found dogs and after looking for owners for 3 days gave up and rehomed the dog. They then blocked me because I told them it was illegal and they needed to continue to look for the owner or turn into Animal Shelter.
    This had happened more than once.

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