What to do if you find a dog (or cat!)

You're driving down the road and see a dog running loose. What do you do?

Safety first! Always use caution when approaching a loose dog, particularly an animal that has been badly injured or that seems to be aggressive. Remember that even the most even-tempered dog can become aggressive if injured, fearful, or disoriented.

If you cannot (or do not want to) get the dog into your car, call Animal Control (see bottom of this note for numbers) and report the location and appearance of the dog so they can pick it up.


If you choose to pick up the animal but cannot house him for any length of time, surrender him to your local shelter immediately (either by taking the dog to the shelter or by calling Animal Control to meet you for a pick up). Even if you are uncertain of the dog's future at the shelter (i.e., how long he/she will be held, whether he/she will be adopted out, etc.), it is critical that you turn the dog over to the shelter/Animal Control vs. leaving him to fend for himself. Dogs are not meant to survive on their own. Many people resist taking a dog to the shelter, thinking "they'll just kill him." As hard as it is to accept that this dog might not make it out of the shelter, it is far more humane for a dog to live in a shelter, even if he is ultimately euthanized, than it is to leave him to fend for himself where he is constantly at risk of getting injured, hit by a car, harmed by people or other animals, starving, suffering heatstroke/frostbite, etc.

If you are able to hold onto the dog for a little while:

1. First and foremost, as long as the dog will be at your house, it is CRITICAL to keep new dogs separate from any other animals.  It is very unsafe to bring a foreign dog into your home and expose your animals before knowing the dog's temperament or health status. Make a comfortable and secure spot (using a crate, baby gates, closed doors, etc.) in an extra room or an attached, temperate garage where the dog can be protected from extreme weather and temperatures, but doesn’t put your animals at risk.

2. Think "lost" not "stray." Despite the condition of the animal, you don't know how long he has been on his own or what may have happened to him. He may have a family who is missing him very much! If this is the case, reuniting them is the first priority. If they have tags, great! Call the number and set up a meeting. If not, the first step to getting the animal home is to bring him to a veterinary clinic or shelter so he can be scanned for a microchip. Be sure the person who scans the dog scans him all over, not just between the shoulder blades, as microchips can migrate from the insertion point. Also, make sure they have a universal scanner* that will read microchips in all frequencies (125 kHz, 128 kHz, and 134.2 kHz). *If they do not have a universal scanner, an existing microchip may not be detected.

3. If the dog is not chipped, you may want to get the dog quickly checked by a vet tech or trained veterinarian to be sure the animal has no serious injuries or illnesses. We recommend at least getting this dog a rabies shot, just for safety reasons.


4. Next, you will need to file a “Found Animal Report” with the county shelter (if the dog was found near a county line, file the report at the shelter in both counties). You DO NOT have to surrender the animal to file a report, and the report is important! If the owner is looking for their dog, this gives them a way to know you have the dog. This will also protect any rescue that is able to assist you since a shelter or rescue is required to hold a stray dog for 72 hours before they can perform routine vetting or adopt it out. The 72 hours begins from the time the Found Report is filed.

5. Post the dog on the Facebook page Lost & Found Dogs -- North Carolina. To post a pet, please include all of the following: (1) photo, (2) location (city/county/neighborhood) & date lost or found, (3) direct contact info (phone or email), (4) description/details. Please follow up on your post, so they can send out the alert again or close the case. You can post updates right on the wall. They also suggest searching their page for pictures of the found animal to see if you see the pet you found listed under someone else's post.

6. Search Craigslist Lost & Found, Pets & Free sections for picture of the dog you've found. (DO NOT post a dog for re-homing on Craigslist! See below for suggestions on how to re-home a dog.)

If you have done all of the above and still no owner has been found, it is decision time. Are you looking to add some extra love to your life, or do you need to find this dog a home? If you plan to hold onto the dog while looking for a new home, you have a couple of options:

Call a rescue- Please be advised, these are all limited intake rescues and can only take in animals if they have adequate space/foster homes! Some will be more inclined to take a dog if you become an approved foster for their rescue and agree to keep the dog as part of their program and/or if you have the dog vetted (spay/neuter, heartworm test, vaccines, etc.) since covering these services makes it less expensive for the rescue.

If you plan to find a new home for the dog on your own, please be sure to do a proper check on potential adopters. You can use the following links to learn about where to advertise, what to look for, what to avoid, what questions to ask, etc., to make sure you are placing the dog in a happy and safe home.