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So you found a stray animal…

It’s one of those questions we hear all the time as an animal rescue: What should you do if you find a stray dog or cat? First off, thank you for caring enough to help this pet and for taking time to search for answers! We want to help you help the animal in your care, so let’s start by setting the scene…

You’re out for your morning run and you see him wandering in the park – a stray animal wandering with clearly no owner around.

There are a million possibilities for why this pet is out alone. Maybe a door was left open or they slipped their collar or fireworks startled them and they ran away. Your very first thought is that someone must be looking for them, but you don’t know where to start to help reconnect them.

Lucky for you, One Tail at a Time has a few suggestions!

First, you can take some simple, immediate steps to try to reconnect the stray with his family:

  • Check the pet for tags. The solution could be as simple as calling the owner!
  • Walk around the neighborhood and ask if people know the pet and their owner. The pet could be close to home and just needs a little help getting back.
  • Take your new friend to a nearby veterinarian or shelter to have them checked for a microchip or tattoo.
  • Alert the proper authorities that you have found a stray animal. You can let your local police station know by calling their non-emergency line, as well as your local animal control agency where you can fill out a found animal report.
  • Consult lost pet resources like Petco Love Lost that aid in reuniting lost pets and owners.
  • Create flyers and use the power of social media! Try posting flyers in popular neighborhood locations, as well as in animal-related businesses. Sites like have incredible resources to help you create flyers with relevant information. Post in Lost & Found sections on Facebook (specifically the Lost Dogs Illinois page), Twitter, Craigslist and Nextdoor, too!

This last point is key – flyering is one of the fastest and most effective ways to get the word out about your found stray. The faster you can put up flyers, the faster your stray can find their way home.

The great part with flyering the neighborhood is that you reach a wide variety of people in a short period of time. Even if the owner does not see a flyer, someone else who knows the owner might! Time is of the essence on this one!

Ideally, you have the ability to provide a safe spot for this animal while you search for their family. If not, you can take them to your local animal control agency as a stray. If you live in the Chicago area, Chicago Animal Care & Control is the best option if you cannot care for the stray yourself.

Next, there are two potential outcomes: You either find the owner (!!!) or the stray hold period ends and you are now the pet’s person!

Here are suggestions for what to do next.


If you find the owner…

Great! All of your effort to find the stray’s owner has paid off and you’ve received a call from the pet’s owner looking to reconnect with this furry friend. Before returning the animal, take the following steps to make sure they are heading back to the right home:

  • Ask for the person’s name and phone number so you have their contact information.
  • Ask them to describe the pet to you. If it’s their pet, they’ll know what they look like! Ask for proof of ownership. Good documents include: vet records, adoption or registration papers, and family photos including the pet.
  • When you meet the owner, set-up the meeting in a public place and go with a friend or let someone know where you will be (a great use for your Find My Friends app!).
  • Don’t just drop off the pet and run – watch to be sure the pet is comfortable with the owner.
  • After everything looks good and the return goes smoothly, go celebrate your success in reuniting this family!

If you become the owner…

If the stray hold period is over and no one has picked up your new pal, you will officially become the new owner!

At Chicago Animal Care and Control, dogs with tags or a microchip have a seven day stray hold period, while dogs without identification have a hold period of three days. Once those days have passed, you can choose to make the animal part of your own family, encourage a friend to adopt the pet, or surrender the pet to a shelter.

If you have the ability to adopt the animal, we’re so excited for you! While you’re adjusting and looking for resources for next steps, check out pages like our Ask a Trainer section for answers to our most popular questions about behavior and training.

one tail at a time

You can view One Tail at a Time’s Stray & Surrender Policy here!