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What To Do If You Find A Stray Dog

Nowadays it may be more common to find stray dogs tooling through your neighborhood. That’s because more pet owners are abandoning their pets to the streets due to the economy. So what do you do if you find a stray dog?

My mom and I were confronted with that dilemma last fall. Here is how we handled the situation and some steps you can take if you are faced with the same predicament.

Baxter’s the Story

Baxter the dog wandered onto our front lawn, whimpering one fall afternoon. My mom called out to him and asked "where are you going?" When she said this, he ran back to her and wagged his tail expectantly.

I convinced her to let him in, where he continued to exhibit good and trained behavior. He ate from a bowl, responded positively to sit and stay commands and obediently went into a crate. He was also in very good condition physically.

Baxter settles in his crate.

Baxter the dog in his crate

We couldn't keep Baxter because we had a chihuahua - Bijou. And unfortunately he and Baxter didn't get along. They kept fighting. We both struggled with what to do with him. My mom initially wanted to give him away to a friend at her senior center.

That didn't sit well with me. I also wanted to make sure Baxter was healthy.

At the time, I was on extended sick leave. So I "snuck" out the house in a cab with Baxter to my local emergency vet center, the Village Vets of Decatur. With their help, I got Baxter up to date on his shots and they tracked down his owner. Unfortunately, his owner didn't want him anymore because Baxter was his ex-wife's dog. Plus Baxter had contracted heartworms while he was out and the owner couldn't afford treatment.


After plenty of pleas to our overcrowded county animal control, local vets and rescue organizations that resulted in dead ends, we found success through a solid family friend.

It turned out her daughter was looking for a family dog. When her husband came to pick him up, Baxter took to him immediately and bounded on his lap. It was a perfect match.

Baxter and his new pet parent Meet Wyatt.

Meet Wyatt, Baxter's new pet parent

You may not experience such a happy ending if you find a loose dog, but here is what you can do to help it find a new home.

How to Help a Stray Dog

1.) Determine if the dog is approachable or not: Baxter was previously owned and comfortable around humans. So it was easy to get a hold of him. Most dogs are scared and skittish. Be cautious when approaching them. Lure them over with food if you can and then capture them with a leash or crate. If the dog doesn’t respond, it’s better to call animal control or the police to scoop it up.

2.) Track down the owner: If you are able to capture the dog, check for a physical ID tag. The dog may also have a chip that can be checked at the vet’s office, the animal control office or Petsmart or Petco. Ask around your neighborhood to see if anyone has lost a dog and post flyers. You can also register the lost pet with animal control and leave flyers there.

In our case, we were able to find Baxter’s previous owner through his microchip. We still had to get the owner’s permission to find Baxter a new home though, which we learned is a law in many states. Get a release from the owner if you can. That will give you rights to the dog.

3.) Consider fostering the dog: You can leave a stray dog with your local animal control. Be aware that most animal control centers keep dogs for certain periods of time - usually up to two weeks. Then the dogs are either put up for adoption or more than likely euthanized. You can offer to foster the dog, while animal control assists with helping you find it a permanent home. They will list it in or their websites on your behalf.

4.) Take the dog to the vet: As a precaution, it’s a good idea to take the dog to the vet to get it checked for heartworms or other infections. You don’t know how long the dog has been on the street. It can pick up illnesses easily. There are several discount veterinary organizations that can provide check-ups. Wellpet Humane is the shelter that treated Baxter’s heartworms at a fraction of the cost of regular animal hospitals. You can also check with pet rescue organizations for discount treatments.

5.) Contact your local rescue organizations to get help with getting the dog adopted: We learned that rescue organizations are very well connected. While Southern Animal Rescue the organization we reached out to was full, they were prepared to reach out to a group in South Carolina on our behalf.