Found Pet: Action Plan

Author:Pet FBI
Author's Website:
Published: Sat Jan 25 2014
Last Updated: Fri Mar 18 2022

Have You Found a Dog, Cat, Bird or Other Lost Pet?

Here's How To Help Them Get Back Home

First, be sure to notify local animal control agencies and your local shelters about the stray dog, cat or other pet that you have found.You may be reluctant to surrender a stray to a shelter for fear that it will be put down before the owner can reclaim it, but the shelter is the obvious place where someone who has lost a pet would look. If you cannot foster the pet until it can be reclaimed, you may have to surrender the stray to a shelter. Most shelters will allow you to take the pet back if it is not reclaimed or adopted out. There may be some fees involved so please ask first.

Cat in the Sunshine

At the very least you should notify your local shelters and go there with posters and be sure one is displayed if there is a bulletin board. Almost all shelters have limited resources and are sadly overburdened. There is probably not enough staff to check the many lost and found pet reports they receive. Most states have laws about how long strays must be held and it may be only a few days. So, if at all possible, try to make every effort to trace the owner yourself. This could circumvent the stay in the shelter with its attendant risks.

Don't rush to judgement about the owner! We are finding lately that some people who find a stray dog or cat are reluctant to give them up. It is easy to fall in love with a dog or cat, especially a kitten or puppy and not try too hard to trace the owner. People rationalize this behavior by thinking "Well, if the pet were really well cared for, it would not have gotten lost". Not true! It happens to the best of us. Or else the dog or cat is in bad shape, and people think it's because of neglect, but it only takes a few days on the street for a stray dog or cat to start looking bad. So please, do not give up too soon and make every effort to trace the owner. The odds are that someone out there is grieving for the dog or cat or bird, etc,. you have found.

Keep in mind that a dog or cat you have found could be very far from home. So do not make your search too narrow

A Word of Caution: Be careful before you introduce a found cat or dog to your other pets. Keep it isolated or have it tested for infectious diseases . Take any found dog or cat to a vet or a shelter and they will scan it for a microchip. This is a courtesy service.

12 Steps To Take In Tracing The Owner

Ideally, there would be a single, universal, selectively searchable registry to consolidate lost and found pet reports. The Pet FBI database is designed to serve this purpose. Unfortunately information about lost and found pets may be widely scattered among several agencies and web sites, social media, print media, posters, etc. Therefore, you should seek and spread information about the animal you have found in as many ways as possible. Here are twelve steps to follow:

1. Search the Lost Reports on the Pet FBI Database.

Post a Found Report!**

There have been many speedy, happy reunions because both finders and losers used the Pet FBI web site right away. Do not neglect to post a Found Report! If you are reading this advice page, you may have already done this.

2. Contact your community animal control agencies.

Often this is the first place people call when they realize their animal is missing. Ask that they keep a written record that you have found a certain animal. If at all possible, go there and check their lost and found files in person and bring your own found report with photo. We have information about how to identify the important agencies on our Whom To Contact page.

3. Check Tags

If you find a dog with a license or rabies tag, to find out the name of the owner, contact your local police department. Local police departments often handle these records or they can tell you who does.

4. Check for other means of identification, such as microchips and tattoos

  • Microchips:

Several organizations and businesses (for example: the American Kennel Club, HomeAgain and Avid) sponsor a nationwide companion animal recovery system that involves the use of tattoos or microchips. The microchips are implanted under the loose skin on the scruff of the neck, but the only way to detect an identification microchip is with a special scanner. Local animal control agencies and almost all shelters and veterinary offices have the necessary equipment. Be sure to have the found pet - dog or cat - scanned for a microchip.

  • Dog Tattoos:

Look for a series of numbers on the inner right hind leg, on the belly where the hair is thin, (you may have to brush the hair aside to see), or sometimes the ear. There are a number of registries that use tattoos. Some breeders and shelters also use tattoos. Here is a link with useful info about tattoos: (opens new window)

5. Contact the various local shelters... see if anyone has reported such an animal and to request that they keep a written record. For advice on how to identify and contact shelters, humane societies, etc, in your area, go to our Whom To Contact page.

6. Call the offices of neighborhood veterinarians

People often leave lost and found reports with them. You can use a web search engine to identify the vets in your area.

7.Prepare a flyer

Include a picture or description of the animal, date found, and how to contact you. Be sure the letters are large enough to be visible from a passing car, especially the phone number.You can click on the link above, key in your information, and it will automatically format a printable flyer.

Have copies made on bright colored paper. Post the flyers in conspicuous places like utility poles, intersections, nearby schools, etc. Post the flyers in a 20 - 30 block radius. It is equally important to post the flyers at some major intersections in other parts of town. Dogs and cats often end up miles away from where they were lost. Also, of course, be on the lookout for Lost Posters.

8. Speak to people...

...particularly those familiar with the area where you found the animal: letter carriers, meter readers, school bus drivers, neighborhood children, etc. Take a photograph and show it to people in the area to see if they recognize the animal. Hand out cards or flyers with your phone number.

At least one PET FBI user reported finding the owner of a cat that had been living under her deck for months by calling everyone in the vicinity. She got the names from her county property tax web site, looked up the numbers in the phone book and called a few every day. There are services on line that will also do this for a fee. Some do “robo-calls”. Others will send a post card. If you decide to pay for a service like this, do not be lulled into thinking that is all you need to do.

9. Check other web-based resources such as Facebook and Craigslist

Craigslist is a well known and widely used for free classified ads. Select your area, then “Community” then “Lost + Found”. The lost and found is for everything, not just pets, and the ads are organized by the date they were posted. It is also possible to see a map with pins indicating the location of lost or found pets if the poster uses that feature. As of this writing, ads expire after 45 days but users can renew a post every 48 hours. It is possible to search by key words like “ lost black cat” but it may require some patience to view all the relevant information on Craigslist. The principle advantage is that it is widely known and used.

10. Use Facebook

In many areas, Facebook pages dedicated to lost and found pets have sprung up. Use your browser's search engine to find them as well as other lost and found sites. (use keywords “lost and found pets + your area”.) The advantage of using lost and found Facebook pages is that they attract “regulars” who are self-appointed helpers and look for lost pets in their neighborhood or look for matches on other sites. The disadvantage of using Facebook is that first you must be a registered Facebook user to post or to search.To avoid the bother of setting up your own Facebook account, you can ask practically any young person to help with Facebook.

Another distinct disadvantage of Facebook lost and found pages is that posts are not selectively searchable. You have to scroll, scroll, scroll, though all the posts looking for the information you need.

11. Post and check community bulletin boards and Lost and Found classified ads in your local papers.

Some papers run "Found" ads for free. In checking lost reports, be sure to go back as far as you think it is possible for the stray to have been lost, which could be many weeks or even months especially in the case of cats. Check the ads regularly because it may be some time before the owner decides to place one. The people in the classified ads department should be able to help you research expired ads. Do not overlook community bulletin boards in local libraries, pet supply stores, supermarkets, laundromats, cafes, groomers and kennels.etc.

12. Continue to check the Pet FBI database as well as other sources of information.

It may be weeks or months before the pet's family learns about all the resources available and posts a report.

What To Do When You Find The Owner

Be cautious before you surrender the animal to someone who claims to be the owner!

If and when you are contacted by someone who claims to be the owner, it is best to ask for some proof, such as a veterinary receipt or a photograph. In the case of dogs, you can ask to see the license or rabies certificate. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous and heartless people who collect animals for abusive purposes.

Cat Rolling in Sunshine

Before surrendering an animal under your protection, you should ask for a picture ID, like a driver's license. Be sure to note the person's vehicle registration number. If they balk at being asked for identification, or if the license plate is not legible, it is possible that they are" bunchers", people who gather up animals to exploit them for their own profit. Do not be overly trusting because they are accompanied by a child, which is a common ploy.

Be wary if someone contacts you offering to adopt the pet you have found if you cannot trace the owner. We have had reports of "bunchers" trying to acquire animals in this way

If possible, when someone calls to claim the animal you have found, try to ask them for details about the animal that your notice does not reveal: some particularity of coloring or behavior perhaps. But be aware that people may honestly not remember that their dog has two white toes on his left paw, for example. However, if someone is able to furnish this kind of information, you may be confident that they are "legit".

What If You Do Not Find The Owner ?

If you are unsuccessful in tracing the owner of the pet that you have found, and/or you are unable to keep it, go to the Whom To Contact page for instructions on how to identify the shelters in your community and learn about their policies. Many shelters do not routinely practice euthanasia. If you need to find a home for the animal yourself, we recommend the Best Friend's guide on How to Find Homes for Homeless Pets. (opens new window) It's chock full of tips and ideas on how to find the best homes, how to reach people, and even how to screen potential adopters.

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