People interacting with dog

When You've Found an Animal

What do you do when you find a lost or stray animal? Knowing whether you need to take them to a shelter, go to an emergency vet clinic, or back off and wait for professional help will allow these animals to get the care they need. And although every found animal case is different, we suggest staying calm and cautious and deferring to your local shelter.

Certain rules will apply to most situations:

  • Assess whether the animal is in immediate jeopardy, and look for evidence of previous human care. In other words, is the animal well-fed and clean, do they have a collar, and do they seem accustomed to people?
  • Proceed with care, approaching slowly and always remembering that scared or unknown animals may react unpredictably; your own safety should not be at risk. Use a calm, gentle voice.
  • If possible use a leash and collar for leading dogs, and a carrier for cats, as opposed to attempting to carry the animal or using improvised items like ropes or belts – leashes and carriers are safer options for both you and the animal.

How to proceed

…When You’ve Found a Lost or Stray Healthy Animal

  • Approach the animal carefully. Offer pet-safe food and water.
  • Check for tags or bring them to a shelter* or vet’s office to check for a microchip. Leave a description of the animal, where you found them, and how people can get in touch with you.
  • Try to contact numbers from their tag or microchip – remember to leave a message with your contact information should no one pick up.
  • Check local community posts to look for missing pet posts.
  • Post clear images and videos of the animal online and make found animal flyers (including an image, description, and location and time found) to post around the neighborhood.
  • You can bring the animal back home with you while waiting for their owner to reply, or leave them at a shelter if permitted.

*If the shelter is closed: If you have pets of your own, keep the found pet separated from the other animals. Check the online community boards, and post photos or videos with the location, date, time, and circumstances of the pet’s appearance.

…When You’ve Found an Injured Animal

  • Assess the situation. How badly are they injured? Is the animal aggressive? Are there any dangerous things in your surroundings like cars or other animals? If the situation seems unsafe, it’s a good idea to call animal control to assist in safely capturing the injured animal.
  • Contact a vet clinic or emergency animal hospital before moving the animal at all.
  • If the animal isn’t aggressive and it’s safe to move them, gently restrain them, and take them to emergency animal services or a vet’s office.

*If you choose to get an injured animal medical care, it becomes your responsibility to pay for any fees if their owner can’t be found.

…When You’ve Found a Kitten or Kittens

  • If you don’t see the mother, but the kittens seem healthy and fed, leave them alone for at least 8 hours and watch from a distance to see if mom comes back.
  • If you’re concerned about their safety/location, move them to a safe spot where mom can still find them.
  • If mom comes back, continue to monitor them until the kittens are 8 weeks old (at which point shelters are no longer likely to euthanize). By then, they will also have a higher chance of survival without mom and can be placed into foster homes or adopted.
  • If mom doesn’t return, contact your local shelter. Offer cat-safe foods and water to the kittens if they are weaned. Please note that pre-wean kittens require round-the-clock care, so if you choose to step in, they’ll need a lot of attention.

…When You’ve Lost Your Own Pet

  • Look for your pet around the area where you lost them.
  • Post photos and videos of your pet on community boards and social media. Put up lost pet flyers (which should include a clear image of the pet, where and when they were last seen, your contact information, any unique characteristics or medical needs that are important to know) around your neighborhood and/or where you lost your animal.
  • Contact local shelters, rescues, and vets in your area to ask if anyone has found your animal. If not, leave a description of your animal and your contact information.

Shelter Resources

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