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Ok so you found a stray dog with no visible ID. You have a big heart and you decided to take it home. Now what?

Try to find the owners

Even though it may look like the dog has been abandoned, or his owners abused/neglected him due to his fearful behavior and poor body condition, you have to remember that this may not be the case at all. Sometimes dogs get out, it happens even to the best of us. Gates get accidentally left open or blown open, dogs get afraid and bolt, fences aren't always as escape proof as we hope. Just because a dog is in poor condition doesn't mean it wasn't loved and cared for at some point in it's life.

That said, it's important that you at least try to find it's original owners before you decide to keep it for yourself.

The first step is to go to the vet and have the dog scanned for a microchip. If the dog has been chipped, then information about the dog's owner, breeder and/or vet should show up. Assuming it's all current, it should allow you to get into contact with them. You may want to consider having the dog scanned twice by two different brands of scanner just to be sure. You can have it done at the vets and also at the local animal control.

If a chip doesn't show up, the next step is to contact your local animal control and file a found dog report. The local animal control is often the first place people check when they realize their pet is gone. Not only that, but in some areas, filing a found dog report is actually required by law. The previous owner is usually given a certain amount of time (often 2 weeks) to find and claim their dog before it can legally be rehomed. At this point, you have the option to continue taking care of the dog in your home through the holding period, or you can leave it at the shelter. If left at the shelter, they will hold the dog for the required amount of time, and if not claimed, the dog will be put up for adoption. If you choose to keep it, you will need to leave your information with the shelter so that should the owner show up, you can be informed to release the dog to them.

In the mean time, it would also be a good idea to reach out to the community. Put up flyers around the neighborhood where the dog was found. Public parks and dog parks are a good place to start; make sure you get permission before posting any on private property. Don't feel bad about branching out to other nearby communities, sometimes dogs travel a long way.

You can put up an ad in your local newspapers lost/found section (these ads are usually free). You can put an ad up on Craigslist. Facebook is another great tool where you can network the dog. Put a photo up on your wall and ask your friends to share it. You can also see if there are any local lost/found pet pages already established on facebook. If you have a dog club in your area, that's a good place to leave some flyers with too.

What if she's sick or hurt?

If the dog you found is sick or injured and requires vet care, you're in a position where you may need to make some tough decisions. Remember that you should always keep the best interest of the dog in the heart of your decisions.

You may take her to your vet and have her treated during the holding period. Unfortunately, the shelter is probably not going to pay for this, and should the owner show up, they may or may not reimburse you. If you have the funds and the desire, go for it.

If you don't have the funds, your only option may be to surrender the dog to the shelter. The shelter vet should be able to treat her. If the illness is too severe or the injury too great to treat, they can humanely euthanize the dog.

Nobody's claimed her, wait period is up, now what?

So you've tried and exhausted all your options, the waiting period is up, and you still have the dog. Now you have some more decisions to make.

1) Keep the dog.

If you decide to keep the dog, congrats! After the wait period is over, you can legally own it. Make sure you see a vet to make sure the dog is healthy, get it vaccinated, spayed/neutered if necessary, and get it chipped so history doesn't repeat itself.

2) Rehome the dog yourself.

You can choose to find the dog a suitable home on your own. You will learn a lot about the dog as you care for it, and the things you learn can help you find it a good home. Take note of the dogs energy level, whether it does ok with your other pets, how it is with people (shy? outgoing? wary?), whether it's had any training etc. Advertise the dog using facebook, or go through a local dog training club. Talk to everybody interested in the dog to see if they would be a good home. Don't be afraid to tell them no if you don't have a good feeling about the situation.

The dog should also be spayed/neutered, vaccinated, microchipped and given any additional necessary vetcare before it's adopted. There are usually low cost clinics that can provide services at a low cost.

If you are uncomfortable or not confident finding a good home yourself, you can sometimes contact rescue organizations to help. A lot of private non-profit rescues rely on people like you to foster their dogs and work on training/behavior before a new home is found. You will get to continue caring for the dog, but the rescue will often pay for vet care, food and training. They will also do all the screening so you don't have to worry about that. Well known rescues usually have a webpage where they will list the dog, and the number of followers/fans they have on social network sites can help the dog find a home very quickly.

3) Surrender the dog to the shelter

If you've done all you can to keep the dog from seeing the inside of the shelter, but you just can't keep the dog any longer, then surrendering to a shelter may be your only option. Don't feel too bad! Even if you were only able to keep the dog for a month, that one month of training and attention can help the dog get adopted. Make sure you give the shelter all the details you know about the dog and what it's like.

Once you've surrendered the dog, you can still help network through facebook, craiglist, and to other rescue organizations.

If the dog you found is a unique breed, you may be able to contact a breed rescue. You can surrender the dog to them, or if necessary, they can pull the dog from the shelter.
 

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Or perhaps you lost your dog. :( What do you do now?! ACT FAST.

As soon as you find your dog gone:
If your dog is microchipped, call the company and report your dog lost. Depending on your service contract with them, they may contact local vets and shelters for you. Ask them who they contact so you don't lose valuable time contacting the same places.

Hit the streets! Spend an hour or so looking for your dog close to the area he escaped (ie a 2 mile radius). Contact your family/friends/neighbors to see if they will help look for your dog or split up the tasks below with them. Make sure everyone looking has some super enticing treats like meat (go pick up fast food burgers if you need to) and a leash. Be efficient and get as many people to help as possible within the shortest amount of time.

***Think about your dog and why he may have escaped: is he/she intact and possibly out to mate?--start with neighbors with intact animals. Is your dog a hunting dog?--look in your nearby parks. Does your dog have a best friend nearby?--head over there. Does your dog have a favorite hangout nearby?--check for him there. Knock on doors, drive around, check neighboring yards, check out parks/fields.***

If there is no sign of him after an hour/two and you have no one assisting you, take a break from the search to make sure all of your local vets, shelters/rescues, animal control (or police/sheriff if you don't know your AC) are contacted with your information. If you can email them a oood photo, do it. Give them the time, day, location from which the dog went missing, a physical description, dog's name, and any important health/behavior they need to know if they find the dog. (After the first 24 hours, extend your search to regional/statewide shelters/vets/AC and also contact your local groomers, trainers, petsitters, etc.) (If you have any helpers, make sure some keep searching while others get the word out.)

Use technology
-Throw up an ad on Craigslist in the Pets and Lost/Found section--offer a reward but don't list the amount.
-ut up a lost post on your Facebook and your other social networks and ask your friends to share it.
-Send out a group text with the info above and ask them to forward it--with both the lost dog info and a request for volunteers to help you continue looking for your dog. -
-Locate lost/found FB groups in your region (Google) and try posting to Missing Pets US.
-Also try posting to your local/regional dog training clubs and dog trainers and groomers' FB pages. Google "lost my dog" should bring up services for your area if your internet has permission to "know" your location.
-Some websites that provide lost dog services include: petamberalert.com, lostmydoggie.com, missingpet.net, fidofinder.com .

After you spend an hour or so getting the word out, go back to canvasing your neighborhood/city. If you have lost flyers ready to go, take them and post them wherever you can legally in a five mile radius. If it's nearing the end of the day, head out to dog parks, pet stores, farm/feed stores, popular coffee shops and bars, etc to post your flyer.

If after the first day, you still haven't found, go old school! That night, submit online to your local classifieds papers and newspapers a lost dog ad; if they don't have an online form, call them asap in the morning. Many times, this is a free service for a basic ad, but I'd recommend you pay a little for the photo ad. Then, go check the likely areas again and stop by your shelters to see if he has turned up there. It can be difficult for high-volume shelters to identity dogs from lost reports to incoming dogs.

What to do if your dog is gone overnight: open your yard gates and/or a familiar door to the house if possible. If that is not possible/applicable, leave a familiar crate and/or bed outside of your residence with some water and a piece of your clothing. (If your dog went missing from someplace that is not your home, leave that crate/water/clothing at the last place you were together with your dog.) Take the weather into account and check for him frequently. Don't leave food out if there any any chance of wildlife or stray/outside animals that may eat it/hang out/deter your dog from getting closer.

What to do if you/someone spots your dog and he doesn't come right to you:
Use a happy, friendly, excited voice. Resist any urges to use a stern tone to 'make him mind.'
Clap, make kissy sounds, whistle--whatever you can do to be exciting.
Don't face the dog or try to approach him directly. Don't try chasing or cornering him, especially if you are in an area with traffic. Squat down, angled away, show the yummy food you brought, and let the dog approach. Roll little bits towards him, while trying to call him over.
If you are struggling trying to get his attention, try running the opposite direction or "find" something super interesting over on the ground and make a huge deal over it.

Remember that dogs can and will travel a long ways when they get lose. Even dogs that are friendly and well trained may get very frightened, stressed, and overwhelmed when they get loose and may be difficult to catch. They may also be picked up by people "traveling through" and end up hundreds or thousands of miles away. Someone may take the dog in, think they want to keep him, eventually decide they aren't the right home for him, and then, even months later, put up "rehome" or "found" ads for him. Don't give up. Keep checking shelters and rescues for your dog--go visit them IN PERSON, don't just check on their websites or sites like petfinder--many shelters don't keep those updated or put found dogs on them during their holding period.

Things you can do to improve your chances of having your dog returned:
-MICROCHIP your pet AND keep the contact information UP TO DATE along with photo.
-Keep a collar and ID tag on your dog.
-Have good quality photos available for flyers/ads
-Even better, make the template for your flyer Today, so that all you have to do is fill in the date/location of when/where he went missing.
-Maintain his city/county dog license and/or rabies vaccinations--both tags/databases provide yet another way to reconnect you to your dog.

Other references:
http://www.petfinder.com/dogs/lost-and-found-dogs/
http://public.homeagain.com/find-a-lost-dog.html
http://www.petfinder.com/dogs/lost-and-found-dogs/find-lost-dog/
http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/finding-lost-pet
 
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