What to Do when You Find a Stray Pet
Believe it or not, but you cannot just simply keep a stray pet you find, no matter how cute it is. In fact in doing so you might put yourself at risk of being charged with theft, particularly if the owner has reported the pet as stolen. There are some important things you should do when you find a stray animal, be it a cat, dog, or some other critter.
Do not assume the stray pet you found was abandoned by its owner. While this does happen, it also happens that people will take pets from their neighborhood and dump them elsewhere. This is particularly common in dogs who bark a lot and are allowed to roam the area loose. It happens even more often to cats who are not controlled and poop in peoples gardens. It is very common for people do to this even though it is illegal in most areas. As such a stray dog,or cat, that shows up in your part of town might be missing from the other side of town, or even a neighboring city.
Call your local animal shelter and report finding the pet. This is critical to protecting yourself from being charged with theft should that occur. They may have a lost report filed on the animal already. If not you can be sure to leave your information and a description of the pet. If you do not know where the shelter is in your area, call a vet. Some areas have more than one animal shelter that can be called.
photo by author.
Safely catch the pet. If it seems aggressive, call the shelter or police, even a more experienced pet person might be able to catch the animal. If you have other pets at home, keep the stray pet away from your pets. You risk the spread of diseases as well as fights.
A good option is to physically take the pet to the shelter. They can scan it for a microchip, a tiny implant that contains an identification code. They can check it for a tattoo, and can get a better description. For example you might have thought the stray cat was a female, but it might be a neutered male.
At this point you can make a decision. Either leave the stray pet at the shelter, or if you wish to keep it, you can take it home with you, but you are still not legally the pets owner. If you leave the pet at the shelter they will hold it the required amount of time in hopes an owner comes forward. Some shelters will let put the animal up for adoption, others might euthanize the pet if it is unadoptable. You may request to adopt the pet at the end of its holding period if you want, but will have to pay the adoption fee and follow their adoption procedure.
If you decide to take the pet home with you ask the shelter what the rules are in your area regarding how long you must wait until you are considered the pets owner. Often this is three weeks. As a member of the public you need to wait longer than the shelters do.
If you have kept the pet, when you are considered the legal owner of the animal, you should take it to a veterinarian for worming, vaccinations, and a check up. They will give you a written vet record which you can keep as proof of ownership. Attach a photo of the animal to the vet record. Also the filed found report will be kept at the shelter for usually six months. If an owner comes forward you can prove when you found the dog, and how long it has been in your care showing that they did not come for it sooner, and showing they were negligent in looking for the pet when it first went missing.
Never leave a stray pet to roam or it will become feral. Act immediately. Some people feel sympathy for strays and start feeding them, but do not do anything more. This can result in a huge problem if the strays are not fixed, eventually an area can have many generations of animals born. Strays have difficult lives, are at risk for disease and so forth. They deserve a chance to be reunited with their owners. If you are going to allow strays to roam in your area, at least call the shelter to report them, just in case an owner is looking for their pet. Remember that some people will not take so kindly to strays and may put poison out for them (illegal in many areas).
If you find stray cats or dogs that you cannot catch, or who are aggressive and dangerous to catch, call the local shelter. Sometimes they have the man power to catch them, or will call somebody else to do so. They may even have humane traps that can be used to catch these animals.
The main thing is to act.
Further Reading on Pets