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What to do if you find a lost or stray dog

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What to do if you find a lost dog
Photo: Lost Dog

Even the most obedient of dogs can get lost which will be very distressful for the owner and the dog.  If you come across a dog that appears to be lost or a stray the first thing you should do is stand quietly at a distance and observe it just to make sure it is not injured or terrified. If you approach too quickly, the dog may bolt, or worse may become aggressive towards you.

Slowly and quietly approach the dog making reassuring noises and see if you can put it on a lead. If the dog appears to be afraid or injured, do not get too close, just check to see if you can block off any escape route.

If the dog readily comes to you and you have the time, wait for a while to see if you hear anyone calling or whistleing for it. Check if it has a collar with an identification tag on it, there may be a phone number for you to call. If not, then take the dog to your home and give it water and see if it is hungry.

If the dog is unapproachable but you have managed to block exit routes,  put down a bowl of water and some morsels of food, the dog may have been lost for a while and be scared and thirsty. Keep your distance but make sure it can see you. 

If you are unable to block exit routes try and stay nearby and watch until help arrives. Do not give any food to the dog as the wardens may need it to be hungry to entice it to them.

Who should I contact when I find a lost/stray dog?
If you are able to, first check and see if the dog has a collar with identification tag as there may be a number on there for you to call. If not, then you need to report it found and get advise on what to do.

If you are in the UK call your Local Authority or Council's Dog Warden

If you are in USA contact your Local Animal Shelter

They will need your name and contact details and you may be asked if you know the breed of dog, sex, size and state of mind.

Keeping a lost or stray dog that you find
It is a legal requirement for you to contact the owner or dog warden if you find a lost or stray dog.  If you do not, you could be accused of stealing the dog, which is a criminal offence.  You are able to keep a lost or stray dog temporarily in your home while trying to contact the owner or the dog warden service.

It may be possiblefor you to adopt the dog if  the original owner is not traced or they don't claim the dog within seven days. If you are interested in adopting the dog, you should mention this to the dog warden or shelter. However, if you do adopt a lost or stray dog you should be aware that the legal ownership of the dog is never transferred to you. This means the original owner could claim their dog back at anytime, even if you've had the dog for several months or years.