What To Do if You Find a Lost Pet

Pet care & safety
lost dog on city streets

Did you find a loose pet? First of all, thank you for getting involved and probably saving his life. Secondly, no matter what condition he’s in, assume that he’s lost, not stray. Many pets can stay lost on the streets for weeks, months, and even years, so move forward with the assumption that you’ve found someone’s lost pet, and it’s your job to reunite them. But how? Well, here’s a rundown of what you should do, all based on my real-life case experience and current lost pet recovery standards:

Tips for Getting a Lost Pet Home

Pets can become lost for a variety of reasons. If you come across a stray animal, here are some best practices to keep in mind:

Take a Photo

If possible, take as many photos or videos as you can. Make sure to take note, and capture a picture, of any special markings. This will help any frantic owner quickly identify if the animal is theirs.

Secure the Pet

Attempt to safely secure the animal with a leash or in a crate, or by getting him into a car, garage, or house. A yard will work in a pinch, but a pet in this state is often extremely frightened and can easily hop a fence or dig under it (even if you think he can’t).

Recognize Contact Details & Use Them

If there is no ID tag, but there is a rabies tag or a city pet license, contact the number on that tag--they should be able to help you find the owner. You may have to do a web search for the agency name if there is no phone number on the tag.

If there are no tags of any kind, take the pet to the closest shelter, vet, or groomer, and ask them to do a full body scan with a Universal scanner (there are 3 kinds of chips and corresponding scanners). If a microchip number comes up, the facility will be able to plug it into a database and find out who the pet belongs to. Most facilities will not release the chip number to you, but if they do, you can look it up yourself here and contact the owners.

If, after plugging the microchip number into the database, no information is found, it means the owners didn’t register it. Important: many owners realize or are told once their pet becomes lost that they need to register information to their microchip. So if at first there is no information attached to the chip, wait a day or two and have the pet rescanned. If still nothing, keep trying every day for as long as you have the pet. The information could suddenly appear!

What do I do if there is no microchip?

If there is no microchip, turn pet into the shelter closest to where you found him(this is actually required by law in most cities) take him home with you, secure him, and begin the search for his family.

  1. Post flyers and posters in the area in which he was found. Don’t be afraid to cover a lot of ground. He could have traveled a long distance. Here are some tips on how to make effective lost/found pet signage.

  2. Walk pet around the area in which he was found. You may cross paths with someone who recognizes him (maybe even his owner!) or he might even pull you in the direction of his home. Be sure to knock on doors in the area, and talk to everyone you see.

  3. Search Craigslist ads for lost pet ads that might be a match, and then post your own “found pet” ad. Be sure to post in BOTH the lost and found section and the pet section. When you post an ad, provide some helpful information, but withhold some information as well. It’s also often helpful to post a photo. And always require proof of ownership (this could be adoption or vet records, photos, the sharing of special markings you haven’t made public, etc).

  4. Search local lost animal websites. Many cities have lost pet organizations dedicated to helping reunite pets with their families. If you don’t know where to start, call your local humane society or rescue and they can provide you with resources.

  5. Use social media, email, and any web-based tool you can think of. It’s okay to post one photo to help draw attention, and remember to include your personal phone number or email (not just “contact me here on Facebook”). Extra tip: be sure to do a search for and contact any state, city, or neighborhood social media pages, websites, and email lists. There’s a growing presence on Facebook of volunteers around the globe who do nothing but network and match lost and found pets; Tap into them!

What Not To Do

Do not rehome the lost pet on your own. If there is no way to track down the owner, and you cannot keep them in the meantime, it is best to release them into the care of a rescue. Rescues are better equipped to handle the tracking process, due to their extensive networks, as well as the ability to provide medical care for the animal, if needed.

Rehoming an animal on your own does not guarantee it will be sent to a good home. Many people have bad intentions, unfortunately. Even if an original owner is not found, rescue organizations typically follow a thorough vetting process and background check guidelines to ensure the pet will go to a safe, reliable forever home.