how to help a lost dog
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How to Help a Lost Dog

How to help a lost dog

A pet parent’s worst nightmare, next to having their pet pass away, is having their pet go missing. Over the past 10 years or so, my spouse and I have helped reunited at least a dozen lost dogs with their frantic families.  The dogs seem to find their way to our house. If a dog goes missing, my wife and I like to joke that they find their way to us to help reunite them. It wasn’t always an easy capture, though. Here are three of the dogs we’ve rescued and how we reunited them with their pet parents. Read on and find out how you can help a lost dog.


Sitting in the home office, typing away, and the familiar jingle of dog tags made itself known.

“It can’t be happening again,” I mused to be my spouse.

“There’s a shih tzu in front of the house, Carol,” echoed towards the office.

Looking out the window, jaunting around the front yard and sniffing the lawn was Ginseng. At the time, we still subscribed to the daily newspaper. Perusing the lost and found, there was Ginseng with a $100 reward attached. Ginseng was, by far, the easiest catch of all. I sat on the front porch steps and beckoned, “here sweetie, come see me.” And Ginseng traipsed over. He was missing for three days and sauntered onto our lawn. Thankfully he had an identification tag on and we reunited him with his frantic mom.

cute scruffy dog in need


I will never forget the two mutts who went missing – they belonged to our newspaper carrier at the time. She was headed out on her morning route, and her two dogs bolted out the front door. Amazingly, they sort of stuck together and were roaming the streets of our neighborhood. The paper carrier lived 20 minutes away by car, so they had a lot of roaming to do in order to make it our street. Again, that familiar jingle jangle of the dog tags could be heard. Initially, I spotted one of the smaller dogs and was able to lure him in by saying, “here, treat, want some treats?” I sat near the edge of the curb and let him approach me. He did and I snagged his collar. My spouse was not home at the time, so there I sat on the curb in my bare feet holding a dog by the collar. What a sight for sore eyes I must have been. NOT.

I took the little guy into my foyer. As I was looking for a spare leash, I see a medium-sized thinner and taller dog go racing by. I let the little guy home in my foyer and closed the door, but not before taking my dog, Dexter, with me. I have found that sometimes having my dog with me entices a stray dog to come when called. I also know this can be a risk and a loose dog can be frightened, angry, scared, and even bite, or all of the aforementioned.

We cautiously approached the dog, who bolted. I did not want the dog to go into the street. We stepped up our pace and occasionally shouted out words, including, “kitty,” “wanna go for a ride,” and “here puppy.” I even brought out the big guns and shouted, “squirrel.” After 45 minutes of following the dog in and out of yards and trying to keep up, we managed to corner him in a garage in someone’s back yard. I had an extra leash with me. At this point, my wife shows up and says she was going up and down the streets looking for me because she came home to a strange dog in our foyer. She was able to leash the loose dog, who was incredibly exhausted at this point. Dex and I needed a break, too.

No tags on either dog. Ugh.

I like to hold onto a dog when I find him or her. Sometimes I even wait an hour or two in case frantic pet parents are out looking. In this case, my instincts were right. I saw a car slow down on my street as the lady asked if we saw dogs running loose. When she saw the two dogs in our case, she cried. They were reunited. I explained how tags are a good idea and why along with microchipping.

Never a dull moment in my life.


Ultimate Escape Artist

I live in a small community of tree-lined streets, homes abutting each other’s backyards separated by hedges or fences. One street over resides Vixen and her family. Vixen is a gorgeous 6-year-old Boxer with a spirit of love and a zesty spunk any responsible dog owner would relish. I’ve “rescued” Vixen from the streets of our neighborhood FIVE times. 1, 2, 3, 4 and as of recently, six times!

Cooing, baby talk and liver treats on tap, Vixen comes to me with minor prompting. Me, on the ground, coo cooing to her and “come here, baby guuurrrrl” sweet talking Vixen to my leash-in-tow hands. Vixen responds in the “rub my tummy” position, allows me to leash her, and snarfs the treats into yummy-dom.

On this final time, I decided to call the cops. I knew where Vixen belonged, but I wanted his parents to take responsibility. She is such a good dog, honestly. And yes, I have been told to keep her and re-home her, but something deep inside me knows that is just wrong. I also know it is wrong that these people are not taking the situation seriously enough.

I’ve been to this woman’s house, asked her to watch her dog more closely, told her how it was running in traffic. I’ve recited the “please, ma’am, just keep an eye on her” speech and I even asked her neighbors if they could talk to her. Nothing has helped. Now on the fifth capture in two years, I called the cops. Maybe if an officer could explain that she has to watch her dog more closely. I always fear that telling the authorities may result in the owner “punishing” the dog. You never know how people will react.

I explained everything to the cop: my plight, poor Vixen, the escaping. Vixen sits, the look of crazed escapism in her eyes, darting to and fro, “can I run free now, can I run free?” She appears in good health, a few minor scrapes, but appears fed and in good condition. She dispenses licks freely, too.  The officer is familiar with Vixen.

cute dogWe finally are able to contact the owner, who pulls up… aggravated and frustrated in front of my residence. They got her out of work for this? Clearly, she isn’t happy. Neither am I.  Knowing confrontation serves no one, I wait for the man in blue to take charge.

“Dammit, this dog does it for spite,” she speaks.

I kid you not. Spite. The dog. In Vixen’s mind, she concocts schemes to escape from a house, a yard and then roam a busy neighborhood peppered with cars and oblivious people to inconvenience her owner into getting her. Vixen needs to join a poker tournament with scheming skills of that degree.

Of the many things that dogs feel and the array of emotions they encompass, spite is not a part of a dog’s fiber.

The cop looked at me in the “oh Lord” sort of way and the owner rambled how she cannot keep Vixen secure. She works all day, the kids are busy, she has no time for this, this dog has been nothing but trouble.  It gets free from the house. Opens doors, gets out of back yards, scales fences.

Finally I spoke. “Why are you keeping her?”

She had no idea what to say and took the leash, thanked the cop for his time, ignored me and walked away. As Vixen waggedly hopped into the car, I quipped one last time. “Please keep an eye on her.”

cute dog

Loose Dogs

Most articles online give advice about how to find a lost dog, but very few tell people what to do if there is a lost dog out there and you happen to find him or her. I cannot begin to tell you the number of dogs we rescued from a highway or side of the street and got them in our car. We are very cautious about handling the dog: Anything from biting in fear, to disease, to dog fights can ensue. Thankfully, this has never happened to us. And I have a set of paw prayers I say every night that it never will happen to us…or to you.

Dogs roaming the street need your help. They do not belong there.  A dog is roaming alone because:
A) You aren’t in the United States and it’s the norm in another area of the world;

B) He or she is lost;

C) The dog’s owner/parent is irresponsible and allows the dog to roam free;

D) The dog is living the life of a stray;

No matter the situation, he or she needs your help.

mars pets

How to Help a Stray Dog

Don’t cause an accident: If you are driving along and spot a stray dog, your first instincts, like mine, might be to stop and get out and help. This can cause a major accident or worse. Pull to the side of the road safely, use turn signals, and put hazard/emergency vehicle lights on.

Animals can behave unpredictably, so use caution in trying to secure him or her. Restraining the animal is key but running after her may make things worse. One time, I opened my car door and the stray dog hopped right in. I carry a dog leash and collar with me along with a bottle of water, bowl, and some treats. I rotate them every few months. Most lost pets are exhausted, dehydrated, and/or hungry. They can be injured, so you need to be careful and make safety a priority.

Use caution in approaching the dog. Cornered pets may feel threatened. Here is a handy chart to assess a dog’s body language:

dog body language

I know some people carry canned tuna or freeze dried liver pieces in their car. The scent is so pungent that it may lure the dog to you.

If the dog is snarling, growling, or you otherwise feel threatened, you cannot risk getting harmed. Try and stay with the animal and call for help. Depending on where you live, the party to contact will vary. In rural areas, the police might help. Sometimes the police have helped me with a recovered dog. Sometimes the police were called by the frantic owner and I was able to reunite a dog with his parent. In other cases. the local animal control agency will assist. In after hours situations, I bring the dog home with me if possible. I have had a lost Jack Russell Terrier spend the night in my guest bedroom, so it can and does happen.

cute dog

Then What

Once the dog is safely in your care, the following is a checklist of who to call/connect with to try to reunite a lost dog with his owner/parent:

* If you decide to keep the dog until his owner is found, let animal control know. Pet parents should call local animal shelters to report a missing dog.

* The dog should have immediate medical treatment at an emergency hospital if there is any outward distress or injury. If you are keeping the dog until the owner is found, veterinary care should be provided in the event of internal injury or disease. You don’t want to expose your pet(s) or yourself to something if there is an issue.

* Place an ad in the local newspaper. Hang signs around town. If you opt for something like Craigslist, use caution. You want to be sure to reunite the dog with the rightful owner and not someone sinister who buys dogs on Craiglist for any number of horrific reasons.

* Check lost pet websites. More and more lost pets are reunited with their rightful owners because of lost pet websites. Start with Petfinder Lost and Found Pets

* Our friends at the Humane Society report that you need to check on any relevant laws in your state, county, or town and contact your local animal control agency, humane society or SPCA Many times the animal you find along the highway will turn out to be un-owned, unwanted, and unclaimed. Even so, the person finding the stray dog or cat does not automatically become the owner or keeper until he has satisfied certain state and/or local requirements.

pet friendly

When All is Said and Done

If you’re uncertain about whether or not to help or keep a stray pet you capture, please read this: If your dog went missing and someone found him or her, what would you want to happen? Would you want that person to keep the dog or try to get him back home?

Wouldn’t you want the finder of the dog to get him any necessary medical help and try to reunite you?

Your final question should be: Do I want this pet to be a permanent part of my household and my life? Am I prepared for this? Do I have the money to care for another pet? If not, then taking the dog directly to an animal shelter or contacting animal control for help is in the best interest of everyone.

ball dog

Prepare for the Worst

No one wants their dog (cat, etc) to go missing. The best gifts you can give your pet to keep them safe and get them home fast if anything should happen includes:

1) Microchip the pet at the veterinarian’s office

2) Have a prominent, current ID tag on the pet – we also have a PetHub QR code scannable tag on our dog

3) Never let your dog roam free: I know this sounds like common sense, but a dog should not be roaming free. Period. A leashed dog is a safe dog. And a dog who does respond on voice command is great, and something my dog does, but I do not let him roam the streets.

4) Don’t let your dog walk by your side leash-less. I am seeing more and more of this disturbing trend. Passersby don’t appreciate a loose dog, and that’s what a dog without a leash is: loose. In most cases, it is also against the law.

If Your Dog Goes Missing

Read this article and bookmark it now. My dear dog buddy and amazing human being, and my bridesmaid, Sam Ratcliffe, penned this article on 12 ways to find a lost dog. Read it and keep it handy to share. 12 Ways to Find a Lost Dog.

Dexter gives kisses to Sam

medicine versus momMedicine Vs Mom

In an ongoing effort to bring you the best information from a dog mom’s perspective as well as a vet tech perspective, check out what Rachel Sheppard of My Kid Has Paws and her take. Click here for How to Help a Stray Dog from Rachel.

Did you ever find a lost dog? What do you do when you see a dog roaming alone?

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  1. I was working an adoption event at a local shelter. One of the workers shared two important pieces of info. Most lost dogs are found 20-30 miles from home! Also, if you adopt from a rescue and the rescue is willing, have them on the microchip as a contact. If a shelter sees a rescue on the chip, they will call right away because the Rescue usually pick the dogs up within a day. Owners are sometimes notified via USPS because the workers don’t have time to call owners more than once.

  2. Wow! About the only time I see a loose dog is when I’m on one of the back roads in SC traveling for my job. I’m always concerned about them getting hit by a car and wondering if their owner (if they have one) is nearby.

    Whatever happened to Vixen?

  3. Great article and advice especially about being careful on craigslist , horrific things can happen so very sadly 🙁
    Doggie kisses for the educating with love <3

  4. Great tips! We are keeping a black mixed breed dog at our house right now. It has no tags and nothing that proves ownership. We will try to rehome it before sending him to the shelter.

  5. We find roaming dogs now and then, or rather they find us since we are out walking as a pack and it looks like fun to them. One of the best things we ever did was keep the dog walking with us about 1/2 a mile to the Caribou at the strip mall. The cops hang out there all the time. Mom asked a woman sitting outside enjoying her coffee to please go in and get an officer. She did, and the cop was last seen heading off to the pound with a super dirty, muddy, yet friendly lost dog in the back seat! We would have gone to the donut shop, but there aren’t any around here these days! Seriously, we find 1-2 every year, they always just walk the entire walk with us and then come in the yard with us while Mom calls for them to be picked up. We have never found a dog wearing an id tag which is frightening we think! One had a rabies tag, so we called his vet who contacted the owners, but usually we call the police.

  6. You’ve done quite well in the finding & helping out lost dogs department. Dogs don’t belong out roaming, and my first instinct is to get out and try to help. We have some neighbors here that let their dogs roam and it bothers me to this day, but once you’ve called animal control & the police & they’re still not getting it I decided to let it go. I have to live next to these people so I really don’t want any more confrontations. Thinking of it now they remind me a lot of Vixen’s parents…

  7. I’m really glad that so many lost dogs find you, Carol! You are an angel for helping reunite so many dogs with their humans. I am sure nearly all of them (with the exception of Vixen’s owner) really, really appreciate all that you do to reunite them with their furry friends!

  8. If I was a lost dog, I’d like to wind up roaming your street. 🙂
    I’ve needed to locate owners for many dogs, myself. All (but 2) were wearing some sort of ID with good numbers (thankfully). Of the two that weren’t, one had a chip with a good #. My local shelter (which has awards because it is AWESOME) wound up taking the other (a muddy mixed breed, probably someone’s hunting dog). *sigh*

    Redundant (that’s a term I recently learned from Dr. V) ID for pets is SO important (just as you’ve stated). My dogs have chips, ID tags and QR tags, and if I could spray paint something on their fur (without making them look like ugly billboards), I would!

  9. I think we are so alert to lost dogs. There are two beautiful goldens who backyard butts up against the playground that we take the boys to (a short walk from our house). I see these dogs loose all the time and walk them back to the tennis court (whose door should be closed and would keep them contained). A couple of weeks ago they were in my front yard! I grabbed an extra leash and walked them all the way home. Its so frustrating though. They keep getting loose and they don’t even seem to notice the dogs are gone. This is a great resource, thanks for sharing and keep rescuing these pups <3

  10. What a great post! I can’t believe you’ve found so many lost dogs, you guys are like the angels of lost dogs! So many fools let their dogs run loose in our neighborhood it’s not always easy to tell if they’re neighbor dogs or not. Microchipping your dog or cat, in my opinion, is the smartest thing you can do to safeguard your pet; any shelter or Veterinarian should be able to scan for a microchip. I also think it’s the greatest gift you can give your pet. Many shelters will chip for as little as $10 – $15! Do you love your dog ten bucks worth?
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  11. Ever since Matt and I moved to Gilbert (a middle-upper class suburban area), I’ve seen more stray dogs than ever before! I see them running in the neighborhood all too often, and I’ve only been successful in helping the dogs or catching them a handful of times. It absolutely breaks my heart. We have a neighbor 4 houses down that owns a couple dogs and one of them always manages to find his way to my door step. I’ve gone over there 3 times to tell them that they need to better secure their house and keep an eye on their dog! Good gracious.

  12. such an important topic. We get calls all the time asking for help with rehoming a stray dog that someone has found. Most people at least know to get the dog scanned for a microchip! Unfortunately a lot of microchips are never registered by the owner. Microchips don’t help at all if the company doesn’t have your info!

    My dilemma is this. 1. kind stranger wants to help dog but won’t take them to the shelter because it’s a kill shelter. 2. Owner never finds dog because dog wasn’t brought to the shelter. So is it better to risk the dog being put down, but maybe find the owner at the shelter? Or is it better to help rehome the dog after a week of posting Found Dog notices?

  13. This is such sage and helpful advice! Having worked in animal rescue, I can sympathize with your Vixen experience. There are some people who are completely irresponsible and refuse to give the dog up, who they clearly don’t care enough about to secure, which is frustrating and baffling. I’m glad to know that dogs end up in both of your capable hands, too. It must be a dog’s internal calibration that leads them to the dog lovers.

  14. We actually had this situation occur to us recently. We had gone to a store that turned out to be closed. On the way home we decided to drive down a road that we had never traveled before. I saw something in the road from a distance. As we got closer I saw that it was a dog. My boyfriend pulled to the side of the road and that’s when we noticed a second dog. It was in a somewhat rural area, but the road was still busy enough. I jumped out of the car and kind of rushed up to the first dog, put him into the backseat and went back for the second. I grabbed the second one and turned to put him into the car as well when the first one jumped out of my open passenger door. I had stupidly left it hanging open in my rush. I was able to grab the first dog again and put him back in the car. The dogs were Pomeranians and had obviously been hiking through the surrounding forest for some time as they both were covered with burrs. Luckily, they both had collars on and I was able to call their owner. She was very relieved to hear they had been found. Apparently they had escaped that morning around 9 am and had been missing ever since. It was maybe 5 or 6 pm when we found them. Where we picked them up was not too far from their home. They were obviously tired and thirsty, but otherwise seemed okay. She met us at a gas station and picked them up. We both felt good that they had been reunited with their owner and were safe. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have rushed up to strange dogs the way that I did. I was just not thinking. They could have bit me or gotten scared and turned and run away. I was just so focused on getting them out of the road and into our car that I didn’t think it through. Luckily for the dogs and I, they were friendly enough or trusting enough or tired enough not to panic the way that I did. Lol. It worked out well. but I would be more cautious if it happened again. I have a dog myself and I hope if he ever got lost someone would do the same for him.

  15. You won’t believe this, but I saw two dogs on my run this morning. Luckily, these were just off leash dogs whose owners were not far away. However, this happens all too often! Loved reading all of your stories.

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