Particularly for dog lovers, coming across a stray dog raises many questions: How did it become a stray? Is it lost? Does it have an owner? Has it been thrown out, or abandoned?
The situation can be vastly different from dog to dog. Thus, it is important to know some key facts about stray dogs, and what to do if you encounter one. According to the ASPCA, 5 to 7 million companion animals find their way into U.S. animal shelters every single year. Approximately half that number are strays picked up by animal control.
What Happens to Stray Dogs?
Although statistics vary from state to state, the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) estimates that only 15 to 20 percent of the dogs that enter shelters are eventually reunited with their owners. These dogs are more likely to have been tagged, tattooed or microchipped, making reuniting the dog with its owner much easier. Sadly, due to untagged animals and limited resources to care for homeless dogs, approximately 60 percent of dogs left with shelters are euthanized.
What Should You Do if You Find a Stray Dog?
If you come across a stray dog, your first concern should always be for your own safety. Stray dogs have often been hurt or mistreated in some way, and may be wary of people.
Here are some tips on how to help the dog, while making sure that you are protected:
- Make no sudden movements. Be still and gentle so the dog does not become alarmed and run, or try to defend himself. You don’t want him to see you as a threat, so stand still and let him sniff you. Don’t move until you feel that he has become somewhat comfortable. When you do move, keep your movements slow, calm and predictable.
- Keep your hands to yourself. Many people think they should offer their hand to a strange dog so he can sniff it. Don’t do this! A stray dog might see this as an aggressive or provocative gesture. Keep your hands by your sides and let the dog check you out. Once he moves his tail or puts his head down, that’s a sign that it’s okay to slowly move your hand.
- Hold your ground. If you do feel like a stray dog is becoming aggressive, don’t run away, as this may prompt the dog to chase you. Turn to the side so you’re not facing him head on, and say, “No,” “Off” or “Down” in a calm but firm voice if he advances toward you. Many stray dogs had owners at one point, and may still respond to these simplest of commands.
- Make a decision. Once you’ve gained the dog’s trust, you can decide whether you want to take him home and try to find his owner, or take him straight to your local animal shelter. You can also call your local animal control to have its staff pick him up. If you decide to take the dog with you, entice him with a treat if you can, and use friendly commands and a positive tone of voice.
- Pay attention. Remember, while you may have made a connection with the dog, he is still effectively a stranger who may react unpredictably to new stimuli. Use caution when bringing him to new environments, and particularly when introducing him to children and other animals.
- Report your discovery. Even if you decide to take the dog home until an owner can be located, it’s a good idea to take him by the shelter to have them scan for a microchip if the dog has no visible ID. They may also have a list of dogs that owners have reported missing. A dog wandering the streets is not necessarily an abandoned dog — he may have jumped a fence or gotten loose accidentally, and the shelter is a great place to start in getting him reunited with his owner. You should also post pictures and information about the dog on petfinder.com and other local community websites. Posting flyers in the area where you found the dog is also a good way to grab the attention of anyone who might be looking for him.
- Adopt. If you decide to leave the dog at the shelter, but nobody claims him, you have the option to adopt the dog yourself. Ask the shelter what the waiting period is, and make sure to let them know of your intent to adopt the dog. They will tell you what you need to do to give your new friend a furever home.