According to the World Health Organization, there are over 200 million stray dogs in the world.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates about 3.3 million dogs enter animal shelters in the U.S. every year.
According to National Rehoming Survey by ASPCA, pet problems is the most common reason why pet owners rehome their pets, accounting for 47% of rehomed dogs.
The most common pet problems include problematic behaviors, aggressive behaviors, unmanageable health problems, and pets growing larger than expected.
These stats indicate dog homelessness is a real issue and finding a lasting solution will not be a mean task.
However, there are a few things you can do to help when you find a stray dog. Below we will focus on important things you need to know, including:
- Who to call to pick up a stray dog
- What to do with a stray dog at night
- How to approach a stray dog
- Safety precautions for keeping a stray dog
- Whether you can keep a stray dog you found
- How to adopt a stray dog (step-by-step guide)
Who do I call to pick up a stray dog?
You should call your local animal control center. Dial 411 and ask for the closest agency to report the stray dog. In most cases, animal control officers will respond immediately or as soon as they can depending on the urgency of other calls. You can call the police in case you’re in a rural area.
Reporting to animal control is important for a few reasons. One, someone who loses a pet will most likely turn to animal control in the hopes of finding them. Secondly, in most locations, keeping a stray pet for more than 24 or 48 hrs without notifying animal control is illegal.
Apart from animal control, you can also report a stray dog to animal shelters, local rescue agencies, the police department, veterinary offices, dog daycare & boarding facilities, the city clerk’s offices, or local TV & radio stations.
Local veterinarians, animal shelters, boarding facilities, and the city clerk may compare the dog’s description to registration and medical records to identify the owner. The presence of an identification tag, microchip, or a personalized dog collar will make it easier to identify the owner.
TV networks and radio stations may maintain lost and found reports. On the other hand, social media platforms have proven helpful in reuniting stray pets with their owners.
In case you’re interested in keeping the dog, inform the animal control when you turn him over. They typically keep hold of stray pets for up to 2 weeks to give the owner a chance to come forward and claim. If the owner does not show up then you may have “first rights” and be first in line to adopt the pet.
What to do with a stray dog at night
If you find a stray dog at night, you should be cautious about how you approach and contain him. If you manage to contain the dog, call the non-emergency line of your local law enforcement agency for help.
Keep in mind that animal control centers and shelters run with limited staff and after-hours and weekends are only reserved for emergency cases rather than healthy stray dog intake.
If you can’t take the dog to an animal shelter, you can choose to take him home with you for the night. Make sure to keep him in a separate, dog-proofed room overnight before taking him to an animal shelter or reporting to animal control.
Remember, keeping a stray dog for more than 24 or 48 hrs without notifying animal control is illegal in most areas. That’s why you should report the matter as early as possible or take the dog to a shelter facility.
CAUTION: Do not approach a pack of stray dogs at any time, be it daytime or at night.
How to approach a stray dog
You should be very cautious when approaching a stray dog. The aim is to be safe and keep others nearby safe while you contain the dog. Being cautious reduces the chances of the dog running away or bolting into traffic and causing more trouble.
As you approach the dog, keep your body low, talk gently, and avoid eye contact. If he seems he may run, stand still and remain silent. You may choose to sit down, remain still, and stay quiet. This may prompt the dog to approach you.
If the dog seems playful and darts away each time to get closer, do the opposite and dart away from him. He will feel you’ve joined his game and will run after you. This will help calm the tension between you and the dog.
If you have a car, open the hatch or backdoor of the vehicle and the dog will hop in ready for a ride. You can then proceed to the nearest animal shelter if the dog seems comfortable being in a moving car. If the opposite is the case, just contact animal control and they will come and help.
Keep in mind that running after a nervous dog will not help. First, you can never outrun a dog unless he’s injured. Secondly, you may create a dangerous situation and if you’re near a busy road then the dog could get hit by a moving vehicle.
Other useful tips when approaching a stray dog;
- Do not reach near the dog’s head or lean over his body. This can prompt them to react fearfully and bite
- Trick the dog to come to you with dog treats or by offering dog-safe food
- Create a slip leash with your belt or a piece of rope and use it to contain the dog
- Be extra cautious if you manage to get the dog inside your vehicle. Anxiety and fear can make a dog’s behavior unpredictable
- Contact a local animal control or rescue center if you feel the task is more than you can manage
Safety precautions for keeping a stray dog
If you choose to keep the dog for the night, taking precautionary measures is advisable because the pet is strange to you and there are a lot of things you still do not know about them, such as behavioral issues or health problems.
Some health and safety precautions to take with a stray dog include:
- Keep the dog in a separate room from children and family members
- Keep the dog separate from other pets such as cats, other dogs, and birds
- Wash your hands after handling the dog
- Do not let the dog kiss your face at all
- Check him for fleas and ticks before you take him inside
- Give him a bath if he is calm and agreeable
- Feed the dog moderately to avoid stomach upset (vomiting/diarrhea)
Can you keep a stray dog you found?
In some cases, you are allowed to keep a stray dog you found but only after reporting to animal control, which you are supposed to do within 24 or 48 hrs depending on your state or local laws. You can still keep a stray dog by choosing to adopt him, which happens if no one comes out as the owner.
Remember, being the finder of a stray dog does not make you the owner, at least not until you have satisfied certain state and/or local pet adoption requirements. In most states, the stray dog will be kept for a specified holding period allowing the owner to come and claim him.
If, as the finder or the dog, you have tried to reunite the pet with its original owner and you have taken the necessary steps to obtain vaccinations, license, collar, and identification tag for the dog, you will be eligible to become the new owner.
How to adopt a stray dog
If you wish to adopt a stray dog, here is a simplified step-by-step guide to help you.
1. Make your intentions known
While dropping the animal at a local shelter for the mandatory holding period, you should let them know you wish to adopt him. You should also inform animal control of your wish when they are taking the stray dog away. This may give you more legal protection in the event the previous owner shows up to claim the dog once you have adopted him.
2. Know the length of the holding period
The “holding period” is the time given to owners to claim stray dogs before they are put up for adoption. The holding period varies by state and municipal ordinance. Take your time to know how long you will have to wait before you start the official adoption process. This gives you time to prepare and get everything set in case no one claims the dog as their own.
3. Assess the dog’s temperament
You need to take time to assess the dog’s temperament. An overly aggressive dog is not suitable for life indoors, especially around kids and other pets. It’s ideal to adopt friendly and sociable pets or young puppies. A dog could be a stray dog because the previous owner found him too aggressive for family life, so do not make the mistake to have such a dog around your family.
4. Assess the dog’s health condition
Once you’ve ascertained that the dog is friendly and sociable, getting to understand their health condition is the next thing you should do. Another reason most pet owners get rid of their pets is due to incurable health conditions taking a toll on family finances. Be sure the dog is in good health before you proceed with the adoption.
5. Prepare your home for his arrival
You should choose a specific room where the dog can stay as they get used to a home environment. Grown dogs that have been on the street for a while and puppies adopted from a pack will display a tendency to go outdoors regularly.
For this reason, you should ensure they have enough space to play and hang around. You should also ensure to stock up supplies of food and other dog items such as a bed, blankets, water bowls, collar & leash, brushes, soap, shampoo, toys, and treats. You should also get rid of objects that may tempt your dog to chew on or pee on is also important.
6. Set up a routine
It often takes time for adopted stray dogs to adapt to an indoor lifestyle. Be gentle and consistent in reinforcing a routine, such as going for walks, mealtimes, putting him on a leash, or grooming. Ensuring there is a consistent way of doing things will make it easier for them to acclimatize themselves with domestic life.
7. Basic training
Training will probably be one of the most challenging tasks, especially with a stray dog. Make sure not to use any form of dog training as a punishment but instead as a way to make both your lives better. This includes crate training, leash training, and obedience training. It will take time but the results will make it worth your effort and sacrifices.
8. Physical exercises
Regular physical exercises play an invaluable role in keeping the dog healthy and happy. Dogs love to play, run, wrestle, and keep themselves busy almost all the time. Take time to play with your dog or let him play with other pets. You can also buy them interactive toys to keep them busy when you’re away.
9. Love and affection
Pets are not just animals but part of our beautiful families. They need love and affection too. Take time to show love and affection to your dog in whichever way you can. This can be by having fun together, rubbing his ears, or snuggling together.
We all have a role to play in helping stray dogs. If you cannot adopt one, make sure to help them find good animal shelters or report to animal control if they seem aggressive. Your little contribution goes a long way in keeping them off the streets.