If you have ever witnessed or captured a companion animal at large or lost your own beloved pet, you may have wanted to spring into action immediately – but been confused as to the first steps to take. Luckily, we are happy to provide the following tips which may be helpful if you find yourself in these emotional situations.
Please be aware these tips are offered only as general guidance. We recommend working closely with your city or county’s acting animal control agency or local humane society to ensure you are following all applicable laws regarding lost and found pets.
Steps to Take if You Found a Lost or Stray Pet
Assess the situation at hand. Always try your best to gauge the entire situation at hand before jumping immediately into action. If your attempts to help a loose animal may put yourself in danger in any way, please leave the lifesaving up to authorities who can shut down busy streets or block off a designated area to aid in the rescue, like animal control or police officers. Also, never approach an aggressive or severely stressed animal. If you need help, call your local police department.
Capture the animal and contain it. If the circumstances permit it, capturing a stray animal and bringing it to a secured environment is the best way to ensure its safety. Always approach stray animals slowly and cautiously while speaking in a calm and gentle voice. Do not chase, yell after, or make sudden movements when attempting to subdue a nervous animal. Food (primarily stinky food like hot dogs, tuna, or canned cat food) may be used to coax a frightened animal into approaching you.
If possible, captured dogs should be secured using a leash and/or contained in a fenced yard or appropriate kennel. Captured cats do best if kept securely inside a carrier or a small room of your home, like a bathroom, for the time being.
Check the pet for identification. If you have successfully captured the animal, check to see if the animal is wearing any sort of identification, like a collar or ID tag. If identification is found, attempt to make contact with the owner in the applicable method (calling or traveling to the address listed). If the animal’s listed owner is unavailable and contact cannot be made, you may choose to hold the pet to await a call back or to try contacting the owner again. If you are unable to hold the pet, it should be taken to your local animal control, police department, or animal shelter/humane society. Please note, if you decide to hold the pet yourself: Continue with the steps listed below to ensure you are doing everything you possibly can to find the pet’s existing owner.
Get the pet scanned for a microchip. Many pets, even if not wearing collars, are microchipped, meaning their owner’s contact information is ingrained in a small device inserted under their skin. Any animal control, shelter, or veterinary clinic should be able to scan the animal to see if it has been microchipped, so bringing the animal (if it is safe to transport it) to a similar facility is a good idea. If a chip is found, the facility staff should be able to call the microchip company or access the owner’s contact information online.
Call your local authorities. Whether you are unable to capture the animal yourself, you do successfully bring them to safety, the pet has no identification, or you are unable to make contact with its listed owner – calling your local authorities is usually one of the first steps to take to find the animal’s home. Unless the circumstances are unsafe for you or others in the vicinity, usually calling your county or city’s non-emergency number will suffice to get animal control or the police department involved.
Please note that you cannot claim the animal as your own if you are unable to immediately find its owner. All animals, whether they are stray or lost, need to undergo a mandatory “stray hold” in accordance with the state they are found in’s impounded companion animal laws. This ensures their owner has enough time to reclaim them before the animal can technically be put up for adoption, sold, or euthanized (as decided by the entity which has impounded the animal). The majority of states require a holding period of 3 to 5 days, but some states can require as little as 48-hours or up to 10 days. It is wholly important to contact your local authorities to ensure you are within compliance of your state’s companion animal laws.
Found Animal Frequently Asked Questions
I'm located in [insert city or county]. Who is my local animal control?
The best way to find out your local animal control is to search your city and/or county’s government website for their animal ordinances. You can also call your police or sheriff’s department (usually at their non-emergency number) to get a lead on your best contact for your unique circumstance.
My city and/or county doesn't have any authorities that care for found companion animals. What do I do?
For pets found in locations that do not have an active animal control department or a police department that is unable to help, contacting your most local animal shelter or humane society for tips on lawful next steps is your best bet. Many times, these places understand local laws and are equipped to do mandatory stray holds, provided they are an open intake facility or have capacity to care for the animal you have found.
If your local animal shelter or humane society is unable to take the animal into its care, you can and must do the mandatory stray hold. However, it is absolutely essential that you try your hardest to find its owner due to lost property statutes and other legal obligations regarding “reasonable efforts to find [the pet’s] owner”.
Things to do if you are attempting to locate the found animal’s owner within the mandatory stray hold include:
- Creating and distributing physical fliers of the found pet. Take a good (non-blurry, well identifying) photo of the animal and create fliers to post around the area where the pet was found. These fliers can be put on yard signs, hung in local businesses, and distributed door-to-door in accordance with local law.
- Contact your local veterinary clinics and animal shelters or rescues. Alerting all local facilities where animals are cared for is also a good idea, in case the animal is their patient or has been added to their internal list of missing pets. Be sure to include as much descriptive language as possible, like any identifying markings or physical traits. Sending a photo or the flier you have made to them is also extremely helpful, as many people are not familiar with breeds or coat colors and may have difficulty articulating their pet’s characteristics.
- Post on local bulletin boards. Many online forums, like bulletin boards or groups, exist on various forms of social media now, bringing large groups of people from similar areas together. These are fantastic places to get the word out about the found pet. Good places to post this information include Facebook and its internal local groups or state-based lost animal pages (like Lost Dogs Minnesota or Lost Cats Minnesota), Nextdoor, Craigslist, and many others.
- Find other outlets to utilize to spread awareness. Local newspapers may allow you to place a found ad in the classifieds section, which could help build exposure with a new audience not involved with social media. Similar online lost pet resources, like Petco Love Lost, HelpingLostPets.com or PawBoost.com, are also options owners try to use to find their pets.
- Go door to door. If you found a pet in a familiar and/or safe neighborhood, going door to door with a photo of the animal to see if anyone recognizes it is recommended. This may generate leads for you about the animal’s history or background, including if it was owned, has escaped before, or is a stray.
Does Ruff Start Rescue do mandatory stray holds for found animals?
No. Ruff Start does not act as animal control for Sherburne, Isanti, Anoka, Mille Lacs, Kanabec, Chisago, or any other local counties. We are also not equipped to take in animals and provide them care during their mandatory stray hold, as we are a foster-based rescue and not a holding or impound facility.
I've done a mandatory stray hold and now need rehome my found stray animal. Can Ruff Start help?
Maybe, depending on our current foster capacities as well as the animal’s specific needs. Please submit a stray animal surrender form to get in touch with our intake team to see if we are able to assist.
If I bring this stray pet to a humane society or animal shelter, will they euthanize it?
There isn’t a simple answer for this, but the short answer is maybe.
Humane societies and animal shelters do sometimes have to euthanize for space. This is a sad reality of animal welfare, perhaps not more for anyone than for the staff and volunteers at those facilities. Many times they are restricted for space and only have limited capacities to help animals who need certain environments to thrive.
Animals surrendered to a humane society or animal shelter are not usually euthanized upon entry, however. The animals are assessed behaviorally and medically to see if or when they are ready to be put on the adoption floor. If these animals pass their assessments, they are made available for adoption (if the shelter or humane society has the capacity to do public adoptions). If they are not deemed ready for adoption for a behavioral or medical reason, they are placed on a hold for rehabilitation and eventually made available to rescues like Ruff Start or other shelters who have the capability to take on these issues.
Please do not be afraid to reach out to a humane society or animal shelter for help rehoming your found animal. Many wonderful adopters find their ideal pet through these type of facilities and we are happy to partner with many of them as we can.
I found a sick/injured/orphaned wild animal. What do I do?
For more information on what to do with wildlife in need, visit the Minnesota DNR’s page here.
If you are in emergent need of help for an injured, ill, or orphaned wild animal, contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitation center or licensed individual wildlife rehabilitator. Local facilities that care for different types of wildlife in the state of Minnesota include:
- Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota in Roseville
- Garrison Animal Hospital in Garrison
- The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul
Caring for sick or injured wildlife is different than caring for companion animals like cats or dogs. Seeking the advice of a permitted rehabilitator or rehabilitation center is strongly encouraged before intervention, as wild animals that are sick or injured may pose a risk to humans due to physical injury and/or exposure to disease.
Also, per the Minnesota DNR, an unlicensed citizen may NOT attempt to rehabilitate an animal on their own. It is also unlawful to possess or transport injured wildlife for greater than 24 hours unless permitted to do so.
Surrendering a Stray Animal
If you have found an animal, done its mandatory stray hold, and are ready to rehome it as a confirmed stray, you are free to reach out to our intake department to see if we are able to assist. Please keep in mind we are a foster-based rescue and may not be able to find a foster home immediately.
At this time, we only have a stray surrender form set up for cats in need of rescue. If you have found a stray dog that you need to surrender, please use our Owned Dog Surrender Form and fill out its information as best as you can.
Steps to Take if You Lost Your Pet
Take the following steps to begin your search as soon as you notice your animal is missing:
- Put food and a scent article at the place where the animal was last seen or went missing. For dogs, a scent article could be an article of your clothing (if bonded with you) or an item with its own scent embedded, like a dog bed, toy, or blanket. For cats, used litterboxes, clothes, and blankets can be effective.
- Drive the immediate area and look for recent signs of the animal. Both cats and dogs are generally more active late at night or very early in the morning, when the area is quiet. If possible, go (alone) to the place they were last spotted or lost and gently call their name.
- Talk to neighbors and others in the area to find out if they have recently spotted your animal. Ask them to check garages, sheds, pole barns, and other places a scared animal might hide. All sightings can help pinpoint an animal’s movements and any awareness you raise will help your cause.
Get the word out immediately. Create flyers and large, bright signs, like yard sales signs, with a photo of your animal and your phone number on it. Place the yard sale signs in appropriate areas where the animal went missing or was last seen after getting necessary permission if the area is private property. Distribute the flyers door-to-door and at local businesses to raise awareness in the area.
If your pet is microchipped, contact the microchip company to report your animal missing. If your animal is flagged as missing, many microchip companies will utilize their recovery networks by sending our lost pet alerts to nearby animal shelters, veterinary clinics, and animal rescues. Hopefully, if found, the animal will be brought to a veterinary clinic or animal control facility and have their chip scanned, instantly notifying the microchip company.
Contact your local animal shelters, rescues, veterinary clinics, police/sheriff’s departments, and animal control facilities. Send them copies of your flyer plus your animal’s colored, easily identifying photo and your contact information. If possible, visit their facilities to ensure your animal is not there at least once if not more frequently. Multiple follow-ups may be necessary as new animal enter these places every day.
Post your information on online platforms and bulletin boards to continue to raise awareness in your local area. Craigslist, Nextdoor, Facebook groups and pages (like Lost Dogs Minnesota and Lost Cats Minnesota), and online search systems like Petco Love Lost, PawBoost.com and HelpingLostPets.com.
Reach out to lost animal resource groups to help your find your animal, especially your dog. Our personal favorites, The Retrievers, are a volunteer lost dog team centered in Minneapolis. They have helped us find many missing adopted and/or foster dogs and are experts in their field. Many of our tips were adapted from their action plan, which gives a very detailed timeline of what to do and when to do it when your dog goes missing.
Under certain circumstances, begin a search party. Not all animals, especially those who are newly adopted, anxious, or fearful do well with humans actively searching for them. If you feel your animal will come to you or another known person, you can organize a small search party to canvas an area for sightings or signs of your animal.
Ensure that all members of your search party know NOT to call or chase your animal. This will more than likely prolong the search by pushing the animal further away. Other items to note:
- Do NOT call or chase the animal. This can prolong the search by pushing an animal further out of range.
- Do NOT make eye contact with the animal if it is spotted and approached.
- Get close to the ground by sitting or laying down to lessen the likelihood the animal will bolt. Smelly, tasty treats like hot dog (for dogs) or tuna (for cats) may help lure the animal in closer to you.
For more in-depth tips, the following resources are great to use:
- Best Friends Animal Society’s Lost Pet Resources page
- American Humane’s What To Do If You’ve Lost Your Pet fact sheet
- The Humane Society of the United States’ What To Do If You’ve Lost Your Pet page
- Petfinder’s What To Do If You Lose Your Pet page
- Pet FBI’s Lost Cat Action Plan
- The Retrievers’ Lost Dog Action Plan
- The Retrievers’ Lost Dog Sign Tutorial (also works for cats)
- The Retrievers’ Lost Dog Resource Page
Lost Animal Frequently Asked Questions
Does Ruff Start have my lost animal?
While we only take in animals where the mandatory stray hold has been done and pets are ready, by law, to be rehomed, we are happy to keep our eyes open for you. Please send an email to our intake department at firstname.lastname@example.org with a description and colorized photo of your pet so we can ensure we do not have your lost animal in our care.
My adopted Ruff Start animal went missing. Can you help me find them?
Oh no! You are absolutely welcome to reach out to us via email to alert us of your missing animal and see if we are able to assist you in your search. However, lost animal recovery is not our specialty as a rescue organization. We would recommend following the lost pet protocol we’ve detailed on this page and/or contacting a lost animal resource group, like The Retrievers, who are more skilled in recovering lost pets.