First aid

What Do I Do If I Find an Abandoned Dog?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. July 11, 2018
What Do I Do If I Find an Abandoned Dog?

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You may have seen promotional material saying ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ or similar. While this might seem obvious, the unfortunate fact is that too many people act impetuously and don't live up to the responsibility of dog guardianship. According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs a year enter US animal shelters[1]. With proactive campaigning, this number is down from previous years, but it is still too many.

There is no one answer to the question what do I do if I find an abandoned dog? However, AnimalWised investigates the different considerations you will need to make if you find a stray dog. Where you live is an important factor, but there are general guidelines which will help you know what to do.

You may also be interested in: I Found An Injured Bird
  1. How to help an abandoned dog
  2. Who do I call if I find an abandoned dog?
  3. Can I keep an abandoned dog?
  4. What do you do if someone claims an abandoned dog?

How to help an abandoned dog

The first thing you need to understand with an abandoned or lost dog is that it will probably be very scared.You need to exercise caution and do not approach it in an invasive or antagonistic way (even inadvertently). If they have a traumatic experience they may react negatively, try to flee or even act aggressively.

You might find an abandoned dog anywhere. Often people will drive them to remote areas and leave them at the side of the road or somewhere remote. The dog often becomes disorientated and confused. They may be trying to get home, but any scent trail will be lost so they do not know where to go. However, it is also possible for dog owners to abandon an entire home and leave a dog behind. If this is the case, the dog may be walking around the property. If a dog is inside the property and you have reason to suspect it has been abandoned, you need to call the local authorities as you do not have the right to trespass.

Not all stray dogs are abandoned. Many may have become lost as they chased a car from their home or let curiosity get the better of them. However, if the dog is lost, the protocol will be very similar to abandoned dogs.

How to approach an abandoned dog

When trying to approach an unknown, lost or abandoned dog, you should look around to ensure their guardians are not nearby. You might make the wrong assumption and cause undue stress. However, if you are sure the dog is alone, do not force them to do anything they are uncomfortable with. Instead, the objective is to gain their trust and prevent them from fleeing.

  1. Start by approaching the dog from the side, not directly from the front. Speak in a calm, measured and reassuring voice. You can say reassuring words such as ‘good dog’ or ‘clever girl’ to display a positive demeanor.
  2. Duck down a little, bending your knees to come down to their level. Extend your open palm and let the dog give it a sniff. Avoid making sudden movements or you may scare them off.
  3. Do not stare at them, approach directly or give any impression of aggressiveness. They may misinterpret your approach.
  4. If you have food or a treat, try to crumble it and spread it on the ground. This way you will be able to catch their attention, create a positive situation and engender trust.

An abandoned dog at home

If the dog has approached you voluntarily, you can take advantage of it and check their collar for ID tags. This should include contact information which the owner has added. A recently lost dog will most likely have a healthier coat and generally look well taken care of. If this is the case, you should take them to the nearest veterinary clinic and see if they have a chip to be read.

The chip will be about the size of a rice grain and will most likely be inserted at the withers. This is the place at the top of the shoulder blades and is often used for measurement. You can feel around for the chip, but you will need to be careful in case the dog is uncomfortable or finds it invasive. Sometimes a dog will have a message on their dog tag saying they have been microchipped. When you take them to the vet, they will have a scanner to check for a chip and they should move it around in case it is located elsewhere. This should be carried out free of charge.

The abandoned dog does not approach you

If the dog is completely suspicious, refuses to come bear or acts out aggressively, do not try to catch or restrain them. You will need to contact the relevant authorities, which we will detail further in this article. Always act calmly and consider your own safety as well as that of the dog.

What Do I Do If I Find an Abandoned Dog? - How to help an abandoned dog

Who do I call if I find an abandoned dog?

If you find an abandoned or lost dog, then it will depend on the situation. If the dog comes up to you, is friendly and poses not threat to themselves or others, then you should be able to take care of it. If a dog is at the side of the road and you pass them in a car, then you need to be very careful. We call care about the well-being of dogs, but don't let this neglect the well-being of other drivers.

Find a safe space to pull over and see if you can lure them into the car. Follow the advice above. If you are in a built up area and have a vat's practice nearby, phone them and go there. The dog may not have a chip, but they will be able to find a shelter to contact.

If the dog looks aggressive or seems to be posing a threat, do not approach them. You will need to call for some backup. The first place you need to try is the local animal control agency. You will have to look this up as it will depend on the jurisdiction. However, some areas where you find an abandoned dog are too rural. They won't have an animal control agency, so you will have to call the local police.

Unless there is an immediate threat or injury (i.e. and emergency, don't call 911 or whatever is your area's emergency number. Instead, you should call the nearest police station and ask them to send someone out to help you.

Can I keep an abandoned dog?

When you find an abandoned dog, it is understandable if they pull at your heart strings. Some may even think fate has brought you together. However, it is important that you don't make assumptions. It may look like a dog has been abandoned, but it may be lost for many reasons. Not only do you have a moral responsibility to look for the dog's owner, you will likely have a legal one.

Again, what the legality of the situation is depends on the area in which you live. Many people believe that if you take a dog to a shelter and it is not claimed within 72 hours, you can keep it legally. However, this is not always the case. In many states in the USA, the law stipulates that someone who finds a lost dog needs to make a reasonable attempt to find the owners for a minimum of 30 days. These attempts might include:

  • Contacting local authorities and shelters
  • Taking to the vet to be scanned
  • Go round the neighborhood
  • Put up posters
  • Make an ad in an online community

A shelter may be able to rehome a dog after 72 hours, but most will not as they want to ensure the dog's welfare. This means they may check for vaccinations, parasites, general health issues, etc. If you have found a dog and want to keep them, many states will require you to keep looking for the full 30 days. Even after this time, an owner can claim the dog if they find you. You should bear this in mind if you start to become attached to the pet.

What Do I Do If I Find an Abandoned Dog? - Can I keep an abandoned dog?

What do you do if someone claims an abandoned dog?

In both the USA[2] and the UK[3] it is illegal to abandon a dog. In the case of the former the definition of ‘animal cruelty’ depends on the state, but abandonment will likely fall under this heading. If you see someone abandoning a dog or otherwise abusing it, then it is understandable you wouldn't want the dog to stay with this person or family. Unfortunately, the law doesn't always agree.

If you have adopted an abandoned dog and someone comes to claim them, then you will likely have to give them back. In most cases, if the dog is lost, then you will have no reason to doubt them. If you do, then they are required to provide proof of ownership. This will be in the form of their dog license and/or any other pertinent records such as proof of purchase, etc.

If someone with the required documents claims the dog, yet you fear they abandoned or abused the dog, then you will need evidence to support your theory. This evidence will be hard to come by, unless you have video proof or can find enough witnesses to corroborate your suspicions. Even then, you will likely come into legal trouble and may have to spend a lot of money to stop the dog from going back to these original owners. This may be sad and frustrating, but unfortunately there is little you can do legally to keep a dog in this circumstance.

What Do I Do If I Find an Abandoned Dog? - What do you do if someone claims an abandoned dog?

If you find an abandoned dog, following these steps will be the best course of action. If you don't want to adopt the dog yourself, and this will be what happens in most cases, then you will have to turn it over to animal control or a local shelter. While any good shelter will do what they can to find a new home for the dog, it will not always be possible. While it depends on the region, the shelter may have to euthanize the dog. This may have a bearing on whether you choose to adopt the dog yourself, but you have no legal requirement to do so.

Abandoned dogs are one of the saddest animals welfare issues we face as a community. This is why spaying and neutering pets is such an important thing to promote. Do not breed if you do not have the resources to look after the puppies and be careful of breeders who are unlicensed.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to What Do I Do If I Find an Abandoned Dog?, we recommend you visit our First aid category.

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1 comment
gloria campbell
at 1325 W. 25 th st in the back yard there is a possibility of abandoned dogs at least three or more days with out food. There has been police calls of disturbance numerous times the wife is in hiding for her safety
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Gloria,

We are not sure this is the best place to share this information. Do you need to contact your local authority?
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What Do I Do If I Find an Abandoned Dog?