How to help stray animals

What should you do if you find a stray dog or cat? Here is a list of simple steps to take, including checking local regulations affecting lost pets.
By Denise LeBeau

At Best Friends Animal Society, we care for thousands of animals each year. Many are dogs and cats who were separated from their families somehow and were brought to a shelter, where they remained unclaimed. Cats and dogs can become lost quickly for a variety of reasons, and even the most careful, thoughtful pet lovers can lose track of their pets. Cats are especially prone to becoming permanently lost once they are in the shelter system, so it’s important to take the right steps to successfully reunite them with the folks who love them. 

Tips for helping stray dogs and cats

Wondering how to help stray animals? Here are some simple but important tips to follow:

  • Follow simple but important tips to help a stray dog like this large black-and-white pupIf the dog or cat is without an ID tag, provide a temporary one that includes your name and phone. That way, if the pet gets lost a second time, there's a good chance the animal will be returned to you.
  • If lost pets are on the run for weeks or months, they will be dirty, skinny and possibly flea-ridden, even though they might have escaped from a wonderful home. So, don’t assume that an animal has been neglected or abandoned just because he or she appears to be in rough shape.
  • Found animals should be taken to a local vet or shelter so they can be scanned for a microchip.
  • Check local regulations so you can be sure of your legal obligations if you find a homeless dog or cat. Some municipalities allow you to keep the pet while you attempt to find the owner, while others require you to relinquish the pet. If you take the animal to a shelter, be sure to claim “first and last rights.” That means you can adopt the animal if he or she is unclaimed and due to be euthanized. It’s also a good idea to call the animal control facility daily to let people there know you are interested in the animal’s welfare.
  • Lost pets can travel some distance. Check the lost-and-found sections of the newspapers published in the surrounding area.
  • Place “pet found” ads in newspapers. Pick out a few physical characteristics to include in the ad, and also let people know how to contact you. That way, when someone calls in, the animal can be readily identified.
  • Create flyers. Take a good photo, write a basic description and then use the free program at to create lost pet flyers. As with the newspaper ads, leave out some information so you can ask specific questions of possible owners to help verify ownership.
  • Print out the flyers, attach them to brightly colored poster board and write “Found Cat” (or dog) in large black letters across the top.
  • Post flyers in the area where the animal was found, as well as on local business bulletin boards.
  • Email flyers to your friends, family and other people who live near you, as well as in surrounding areas. Post flyers across social media platforms and also look for lost pet resources by state on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Get more information on what to do if you find a stray pet.

Photos by Best Friends staff