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As a result of unprepared owners, overbreeding, and a variety of other factors, there are currently about 70 million stray animals on the streets in the United States.
One great way to help these animals is to adopt from a shelter rather than buying a new dog from a breeder. But the reality is that only about 10% of stray animals actually find their way into rescues and shelters.
Many stray dogs find themselves stuck on the streets, or they are picked up by good Samaritans who may choose to adopt the animal themselves.
So what should you do if you come across a stray dog in the street? This article will take you through that process and also the question of what to do if you decide that you want to adopt a stray dog. It is not uncommon to build up an affinity with any dog you might encounter, so let’s look at the right way to make them a part of your family.
There is always a risk when taking in a stray dog. You don’t know the past history of the dog whether they seem friendly or not. Take in any dog with caution. This guide is for entertainment purposes only.
Contents & Quick Navigation
- Stray vs Feral Dogs
- What Should You Do If You Find A Stray Dog?
- How To Adopt A Stray Dog
- How To Establish Your Ownership Of A Dog
- The Verdict
- Save To Pinterest
- Top Picks For Our Dogs
Stray vs Feral Dogs
Stray dogs are dogs that are lost or missing and have clearly had a previous owner. They are different from feral dogs or street dogs that have been brought up on the streets and roam independently.
While feral dogs might be in just as much need of a home as strays, you should be wary about approaching them. If you think the dog you have found is feral, it is probably best to contact animal rescue services in the first instance.
What Should You Do If You Find A Stray Dog?
So what exactly should you do if you encounter a dog in the street that seems to have lost an owner or if an unidentified dog wanders into your backyard and seems ready to set up camp?
1. Contain Them With Care
The first thing you need to do when you encounter a stray dog is contain them with care so they don’t wander off any further. Ideally, you want to get them on a leash and contain them in a fenced-in yard while you sort out what to do next.
How exactly you go about doing this will depend on the temperament of the dog and your experience of the dog.
If the dog seems aggressive and is barking, growling, and snarling, you may want to call animal control to come and deal with the matter. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are an aggressive dog; fear of the unfamiliar situation can cause them to act out of character.
If the dog is friendly and happy and seems to want to be near you, it may be surprisingly easy to coax them into your backyard and get them to stay with you for a while.
Most dogs will probably be somewhere in between. They may be good-natured dogs but are currently fearful. You might want to coax them towards you with food and make sure you speak to them in a calm and gentle voice.
Bear in mind that even if a dog seems friendly, you should be careful. You do not know this dog, and their behavior could change. Always be careful from the outset. Don’t leave children unsupervised with the dog at any time.
2. Check For ID
The next thing to do is check the dog for identification. It is very possible that they have wandered off accidentally and that there is a loving pet parent out there besides themselves with worry and desperate to be reunited with their pup.
Hopefully, their collar will have some contact details that allow you to get in touch quickly to reunite the dog and owner. However, bear in mind that the dog may have wandered off because their parent is away and they are staying with a sitter or similar circumstances that might delay contact.
If they are not wearing a collar with information, they may well be chipped with their personal information. You can also contact a vet, shelter, or animal control service who will be able to scan the microchip and identify the owner of the dog.
Don’t assume that just because a dog isn’t wearing a collar they aren’t well-loved. They may have managed to take their collar off, or they may not like wearing a collar at home.
3. Contact The Local Shelter
If you can’t get in contact with the pet owner right away or you are unable to find identification, it is a good idea to contact your local shelters immediately and file a found report. If the owner is looking for their dog, they are very likely to phone around local shelters to see if anyone has turned them in.
It is also at this time that you should consider taking the dog to the shelter. They can work to reunite the dog with their owner or start the process of finding the animal a new home if necessary.
Of course, you may decide to keep the dog at home. Perhaps you have the space and experience with animals to look after them yourself for a few days, and this can take pressure off local services.
But bear in mind that the longer you keep the dog at home, the more likely you and other family members are to bond with them and the harder it will be to say goodbye if they do return home.
4. Post Fliers
If you do decide to keep the dog at home, then you should also be taking active steps to find the dog’s owner. Chances are that they are in the local area and the dog hasn’t gotten too far before being found. Post fliers with a photo of the dog to help reunite them with their owner.
How To Adopt A Stray Dog
If all efforts to identify the owner of a stray dog fail, you may decide that you wish to adopt them and make them a permanent member of your family.
Generally speaking, there is a 72-hour wait before you can adopt a stray dog that has no collar or microchip. There is a five-day wait before you can adopt a dog that has been chipped. This time period can vary from state to state, and you still may be encouraged to return the dog to their original owner if they show up after this time period.
One way to adopt a dog is to work with your local shelter or rescue. They have experts on hand to assess the health of animals and also analyze their readiness to be adopted. Depending on what has happened to them, some dogs might need some specific training or socialization before they are really ready for a new family.
Be aware that if you choose this approach, you will need to pay for this service, and you are agreeing to listen to the wisdom of the shelter. If they tell you that the dog can’t be adopted for some reason or insist that the dog is spayed or neutered before you take them home, you will have to accept those terms and conditions.
However, this tends to be the only way to take formal legal ownership of a dog. Exact laws around legal ownership vary from state to state, so whether this is worthwhile or not will depend on your opinion and where you live.
Your other option is to take control of the adoption process yourself. This will not provide you with legal paperwork stating that you are the owner of the dog, but this is not required in most places.
The first thing you should do is take the dog to the vet for a complete check-up. They can identify injuries, parasites, and diseases, and they can work with you to nurse the dog back to complete health.
You will then want to work on introducing the dog to your home. You may have already started on this process if they have been staying with you during the search for their owners.
But now is the time to start enforcing ground rules and to make your dog feel like your home is their home. If you plan on crate training, now is the time to invest in a crate. If not, you will still want to create a place in your home that feels like a safe space for them.
While it should be close to the action rather than tucked away in another room, it should be a space that others don’t use and where they can look out with their back protected. Plut their things in this space, and discourage other animals and children from touching these things so that they feel like they belong to your dog.
If you have noticed any particular behavioral problems while the dog is in your care, now is also the time to address them. If you aren’t an experienced dog owner, you might want to invest in a professional trainer, as breaking established habits can be challenging.
Be strict with new rules, but never use punishment. Dogs don’t really understand punishment and often struggle to identify what exactly they are being punished for. For example, if you punish your dog for peeing in the house, rather than stopping peeing in a certain location, they may just wait until you are not around to pee, assuming that your presence was the problem. Instead, use positive reinforcement training.
You can read our complete guide to adopting a rescue dog here.
Finally, you will want to establish your ownership of the dog. It may have been the previous owner’s failure to do this that meant that it was not possible for them to be reunited with their pup.
How To Establish Your Ownership Of A Dog
There are no specific rules in place when it comes to registering your ownership of a dog, so how can you prove your ownership of an animal and establish your legal right to them, plus your responsibility?
Bear in mind that you are responsible for the behavior of your dog (for example, if they bite someone or keep everyone on the street up all night with howling).
- In some states, you are required to purchase a license for your dog. Costs vary greatly from county to county and can depend on factors such as whether your dog is spayed or neutered. Even if you live somewhere that this is not mandatory, you can choose to register your dog to help establish your ownership. An annual fee usually applies.
- You should register your dog with a local vet and also take out pet insurance for them. These both establish that you are taking responsibility for the dog.
- Buy tags for your dog that contain your contact information, and also consider microchipping your dog with one of the national microchipping agencies.
- Take photos of your dog on a regular basis. These will be vital if the dog goes missing and you need to create lost and found posters or send photos to local shelters and rescues.
Is it okay to adopt stray dogs?
Yes, it is okay to adopt stray dogs if they cannot be reunited with their owners. Many are loving and well-behaved pets that have become separated from their owners for unexpectedly mundane reasons.
Can you keep a feral dog as a pet?
Unlike stray dogs who have previously lived in someone’s home, feral dogs have generally spent their entire lives on the street. They will not be accustomed to family living.
This doesn’t mean that they can’t be adopted and that they might not benefit from an owner, but it is recommended to take them to the vet for a thorough check-up before welcoming them into your home. They will also be able to help you identify any behavioral issues that might make it difficult for them to adapt to family life.
How long is a stray wait?
You will generally have to wait 72 hours to adopt a stray dog that has no collar or microchip. There is usually a minimum of a five-day wait before you can adopt a dog that does have a chip or identification collar.
How long before a pet is considered abandoned?
Laws vary depending on the state, but in most states, a dog is considered abandoned if it has not been picked up after 14 days.
Is dumping animals illegal?
Almost everywhere, it is illegal to dump animals as they are unlikely to survive in the wild, plus they can cause major damage to local wildlife. Animal dumping is considered maltreatment.
What if I adopt a dog and it doesn’t work out?
Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, animal adoptions don’t always work out. The most common reason given for failed adoption is not fitting in with other animals or children in the house or serious behavioral issues.
If you have adopted a stray dog and you are unable to look after them, you should take them to a rescue or shelter. The staff there understand the difficulty of adopting dogs and will be understanding rather than judgemental in most cases.
Can you go to jail for harming animals?
Laws vary from state to state, but most states have laws against animal abuse, which is considered maliciously killing, harming, maiming, or torturing a living animal. Depending on what actually happened, this can be a misdemeanor or a felony and can carry a prison sentence (usually no longer than three years).
If you find a stray dog in the street, your first thought will probably be to reunite them as quickly as possible with their distressed pet parent.
But sadly, that is not always possible. While the dog is in your care, you may find that you develop a bond with them and decide that you would like to adopt them yourself rather than send them to a rescue or shelter for someone else to adopt.
You can certainly do this if you have done everything in your power to track down their previous owner and wait the appropriate period.
You don’t necessarily have to file any particular paperwork to adopt a dog, but it can be helpful in establishing your ownership and making it easier to be reunited with them if they go missing again.
After that, it is all about giving them the love and care that they need to thrive in their new home and become a happy member of your family.
Have you ever adopted a stray dog?
Share your tips and experience with the community in the comments section below.
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