Should You Rescue a Stray Dog or Cat?

By Linda Cole

The area where I live doesn’t have a lot of options for stray dogs or cats. We have one no-kill shelter that’s full, and one vet clinic that will only hold a stray for three days before euthanizing them. Other than that, a lost pet’s only hope is from people who open up their homes to a stray. If I find a pet in need, I will rescue them. There’s no way I can turn a blind eye. If you do decide to help a stray, however, you need to make sure that the pet is really a stray and not an outside cat patrolling his territory or a dog enjoying an off leash run.

A stray dog or cat doesn’t understand you’re trying to help them, and a pet that’s been lost for a long time may be wary of humans or have aggressive tendencies resulting from their experience on the street. But when you find a stray that’s malnourished or injured, they need your help. And if you can’t help them, it doesn’t take long to make a few phone calls to a shelter, rescue organization or animal control official to make sure the pet gets the help they need.

I’ve always had a sympathetic heart for stray pets. As a kid, I wanted Dad to stop the car every time I saw a cat wandering along a country ditch. Of course he didn’t, and assured me the cat most likely lived at some farmhouse close by. As I got older I knew some of the cats I saw were lost, but I also understood picking up every cat wasn’t right either because the cat could belong to a family nearby.

A stray pet is not the same as a feral cat or dog. The stray dog or cat who shows up at your door is one who is either lost or has been abandoned by someone. Lost pets are usually friendly, although how they react to us can depend on how long they’ve been lost and what sort of trauma has been associated with it. The pet who has been abused while lost can become aggressive or fearful, which makes rescuing them that much harder.

A feral cat or dog is an animal that has either been lost so long they’ve forgotten what life with humans means, or they are descendants of a once domesticated pet and have never had a home with humans. They are very wary of people and usually stay away from us. These cats and dogs have learned how to fend for themselves, but most stray pets never get to that point and even feral animals can use a helping hand with food and shelter, especially during the winter months.

If you rescue a stray pet off the street, the first thing you need to do is contact your shelter, veterinarian, police and any rescue groups in your area to make sure the pet you found doesn’t belong to someone else. Some newspapers will let you advertise a found pet for free, and you can put up posters around your neighborhood. Sometimes pets are stolen, either by accident or on purpose, and then abandoned.

Check to see if the pet has a collar with a tag, or any identifying information. If a dog has his license attached to his collar, you should be able to contact your county auditor, or whichever agency issues dog tags in your area, for pertinent information. The pet should also be scanned for a microchip or a tattoo used for identification. It’s important to make an effort to find an owner because you know how you’d feel if your pet went missing and someone found him but just kept him without trying to locate his owner. Plus, you could be accused of theft if you don’t make an effort to find his original owner who could still be searching for their pet.

Rescuing a dog or cat off the streets will require some effort on your part if you decide to take them in. I rescued a starving cat once that had an identification tag with her name and a phone number on it. When I called the number; a little boy answered and I could tell by his excited screams to his dad that he was happy. When they arrived to pick the cat up and the boy saw her, tears streamed down his face. That was all the thanks I needed, and it made me realize how important it is to make the effort. Even if you only rescue one pet, it makes a real difference in the life of the pet and his owner if you can reunite them.

Photo by Christopher Lancaster

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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8 thoughts on “Should You Rescue a Stray Dog or Cat?

  1. I do this often as our neighborhood gets tons of strays. My course of action is as follows:

    1. I keep the dog separated from my dogs in a fenced area, provide them a little dry Canidae food, fresh water and just watch their behavior.

    2. Once I feel it is safe to approach them, I will visually inspect them for sores, fleas and then tags/chips/tattoo and in that order.

    3. If still no luck locating owner info (Im 0-4 in that endeavor this summer) and the dog isn't displaying aggressive behavior, I leash them and take them to a local Petsmart/Petco/similar that can scan them for chips for free (1-4 this summer lol).

    4. After that, good luck getting him to a home or rescue!

  2. I am working on a stray dog pit bull who has been running this area for a good month or more now. No one seems to be able to catch him and he is a mess, dirty, sore foot and getting thinner. I place food at some area I know he goes daily but can’t put a leach on him. He will run at the site of a leach. He will let me hand feed him so he is not aggressive. Next step is to put another dog female around him to distract him so it is easier to put the leach on him, then we may have put a sedative in his food–need to figure something out soon. I hope we can find a home for him afterwards. The Animal Shelter is full here and may not keep him too long. He is a beautiful dog “blonde color”, almost looks like a Labrador. It is a lot of work here trying to catch him daily sometimes twice a day, but I won’t give up on him. We may put him on a TV Channel here maybe then something good will happen.

  3. Great advice! We have a shelter in my neighbourhood and it’s always full. We got our Mika from that shelter and it took us a long time to train him. He isn’t perfect but he has excellent temperament.

  4. So here’s a great question for extream animal lovers. You always seem to know that one person that takes every animal in but personally I think there’s a higene issue, isn’t there? How clean can we keep a house with 4 dogs inside and 4 cats?…..just a thought and great site!!

  5. ditto on this being wonderful advice. I had rescued my Bobo when I found him. I spent two weeks trying to find possible owners, never did. I had told my husband that once I put money into him by taking him to the vet he was MINE! He was for 18 WONDERFUL years!

  6. I just came across this situation this past weekend. I found a stray dog while I was on my way home from work on Friday night. He was a sweet boy and a little plump so I knew he ate well and was cared for. My husband and I put up flyers around the area where I found him and we got a call from his family the very next morning. It really is all the thanks you need when you can reunite a lost pet with a family who was missing it. I was just glad to be able to help and did what I would hope someone else would do if one of my dogs got lost.

  7. This is a great subject and I had a situation today that I don’t know what to do. At the dump there were several Momma kitties and 11 kittens. I am sure they are feral and probably would be a project to catch them but the biggest problem is what to do with them once I catch them. I have 17 here already. I am sure the guy there at the dump will do something with them and hopefully someone will take the kittens. Makes me so sad. I just wish I had some money to build a facility to house all these guys.

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