Pet Talk: What to Do if You Find a Stray Dog

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Pets are considered a part of the family for many pet owners. The unique personalities and characteristics our pets possess are irreplaceable, and it can be heart-breaking to lose their company. Stray dogs are a growing problem in the United States, and a majority of these strays are forced to wander the dangerous streets or begin a new life in an animal shelter. Learning how to properly bring a stray dog to safety is vital for your safety, as well as the stray’s safety.

When trying to care for a stray, safety is always first. It is easy to become swept up in emotions when you see a stray dog hurt or in a dangerous situation—like running in traffic.  Even if you have good intentions, it is important to consider all options before taking action to keep the situation from becoming even more hazardous.

There are numerous ways to encounter a stray dog, but the most common scenarios are on foot or in vehicular traffic. Remaining calm is the key to keeping a clear mind and deciding the best option for the stray’s safety. For instance, if you are driving and encounter a stray in traffic, try to pull over on the side of the road where it is safe. If you are unable to pull over or are a passenger of the car, take note of the animal, its health condition, and the exact location it was seen. The driver of the car can either turn back around to help the dog or report the situation to animal control. Whether you are on foot or in the car, analyzing the condition of the animal is important for your safety. The dog may be injured, sick, malnourished, or even rabid. If the stray dog appears to be defensive and could bite or attack, do not approach the dog. Instead, take note of its location and give as much detail as possible to animal control.

A stray dog may also find its way into your yard, which can be potentially hazardous for your outside pets. “As with any pet that you do not know well, you must approach the stray carefully,” said Dr. James Barr, clinical assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “If the stray is friendly, make sure that they do not have any substantial contact with your pets. The stray animal needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian for infectious disease and to ensure they are healthy. Strays are not likely vaccinated so they should be kept separate from other pets until they get an all clear from a veterinarian.”

If you are able to safely handle and collect the dog, the next step is to check for identification. Some stray dogs are lucky enough to remain identified through a collar and dog tag, while others are branded through a microchip. If the dog appears to have no identification, it is still important to take the dog to the veterinarian or local animal shelter to scan for a possible microchip. If the dog is marked with a microchip, the contact information of the owner will then be provided through the computer system.

Proper identification on dogs may make contacting the owners far easier than searching for the owner on your own. While searching for the owner, a trip to the veterinarian is essential to make sure the stray is not injured or sick. “The veterinarians will look for normal issues that occur in uncared for animals, but they are also adept at trying to find owners for these pets if you are unable to locate them yourself,” explained Barr. “Additionally, the animal control authorities will usually take these pets in if you are not able to take care of the pet that you found.”

While it can be heart-breaking to see a stray dog in a dangerous situation, it is important to thoroughly evaluate your options before letting your emotions get the best of you. Remember to remain calm and choose the safest option for both you and the stray dog, and never approach a dog that poses as a threat. It is best to save the number of your local animal control service in case you ever need to report a stray dog.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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