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So you found a stray dog…

It’s one of those questions we hear all the time as a dog rescue: What should you do if you find a stray dog? First off, thank you for caring enough to help this dog and for taking time to search for answers! We want to help you help the dog 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 dog wandering with clearly no owner around.

There are a million possibilities for why this dog is out alone. Maybe a gate was left open or he slipped his collar or fireworks startled him and he ran away. Your very first thought is that someone must be looking for him, 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 dog for tags. The solution could be as simple as calling the owner!
  • Walk around the neighborhood and ask if people know the dog and his owner. The pup 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 him checked for a microchip or tattoo.
  • Alert the proper authorities that you have found a dog. 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 dog report.
  • 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 his 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 warm home for this dog 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 or Animal Welfare League are two options 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 pup’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 dog’s owner looking to reconnect with this furry friend. Before returning the pup, take the following steps to make sure he’s 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 dog to you. If it’s their dog, they’ll know what he looks like! Ask for proof of ownership. Good documents include: vet records, adoption or registration papers, and family photos including the dog.
  • 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 dog and run – watch to be sure the pup 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!

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 dog part of your own family, encourage a friend to adopt the dog, or surrender the dog to a shelter.

If you have the ability to adopt the dog, 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 dog behavior and training.

one tail at a time