Recently, I woke to a "U up?" text. I am not one to usually get booty calls—especially at 7 a.m. on a Monday morning—so I knew something unusual was going on. I picked up the phone to call my boyfriend Jake, and, surprise!: He just found the cutest dog! But he had to go to work! But the dog was so cute! And sweet! And he was worried the dog would get hit by a car! And what should he do?!
I told Jake he could bring the dog over to my house and I would figure it out what to do with him so he could go to work. My own dog, Jinx, came to me by way of a friend who found him—flea-covered with a bleeding ear—rummaging through her trashcan, so I felt it my duty to pup it forward. And so, an orange-ish pupper, with a ratty short leash tied around his neck, was dropped off at my house. He looked like he was part pit bull, part Frenchie, with a dash of Chihuahua thrown in and an uncanny resemblance to Scrappy Do. Tail wagging, he stared up me expectantly and I thought, NOW WHAT?!
I learned a ton from my dog-wrangling misadventures. I made a million phone calls, conducted an interview with Allison Homer (Development Coordinator at Philadelphia’s Animal Welfare Society, Philly Paws) and heard anecdotal experiences from my boyfriend and partner in dog finding, Jake Hockel. And so, I decided to put together the guide I wish I’d had when Boomer* trotted into our lives.
*Previously known as Mystery Dog, Mr. Underbite, Goofball, Pupperoni, Rowdy Roddy Pupper, among others. Basically, I called this dog something different every time I saw him, but for these purposes, I’m going to call him by the name he ended up with: Boomerang (because he kept coming back to us). Boomer for short.
What To Do When You Find A Stray Dog
(Besides become awash with feelings of both panic and joy)
1. Determine if the dog is safe to approach. If there's a question, call animal control. But if the dog comes up to you or is friendly and approachable, go say hi.
2. Check for collar/tags and ask around the immediate area to see if anyone has lost or recognizes the dog. After finding Boomer, Jake traipsed up and down his neighborhood asking every passerby he saw. The only lead Jake had was through his roommate who said he remembered someone the day before walking down to the creek near by their house with a little red dog and coming back without one, which he thought was weird. That’s when Jake started to think Boomer might have been abandoned.
3. Take the dog to be scanned for a microchip. All vets and shelters should be able to scan your stray as a walk-in. We went to Philly Paws and it turned out that Boomer was unchipped.
4. Quarantine the dog and feed him/give him water cautiously. Realizing that Boomer probably had fleas and could have a variety of other doggie maladies (including giardia, which Boomer was later treated for), I kept him quarantined from my dog Jinx. I set up a nest of old towels in my bathroom and gave him a little bit of food and water to get his system used to eating again. (Important note: Dogs can get sick if they resume eating or drinking too quickly.)
I didn’t want to lock Boomer in the bathroom but I did want to prevent the spread of fleas, so I made a makeshift barrier halfway across the doorjamb. That way, Boomer and I could still see each other when he was in dog jail. What I did not account for is the most muscular shoulders I have ever seen on a dog. I watched Boomer stand on his hind legs to peak over the barricade, place his paws on either side of his face and, with a look of sheer determination, square his shoulders and do a full-on, human-style pull up. Frozen in shock, I watched as he flung himself onto my bed to revel in his sweet freedom. All those fleas, rolling on my sheets. Cool cool cool.
5. File a Found Pet report with animal control. Once Boomer was securely back in his homemade playpen, I was able to file a Found Pet report with animal control. Be sure to report the dog to the animal control center nearest to where you found them.
6. Outreach! Alert the internet about your stray dog. This was the “million phone calls” and “internet post” portion of my day. I shared a picture of Boomer and description of where he was found on local “Found Pet” Facebook groups and shelter Facebook groups; I posted him in the “Found” section of Craigslist, and I called the local pet store and my dog walker to see if they recognized him. Allison Homer of Philly Paws recommends when posting an ad, ask anyone claiming the dog to submit a photo as proof of ownership. Scams are unlikely but possible.
7. Don’t get too attached! At this point in our journey, we kinnnnnnda loved the dog. But it’s important to not get too attached as you wait for their previous owner to come forward. Allison recommends waiting two weeks for the original owners to come forward if you are considering keeping the dog. She also warned of judging the previous owners too harshly for losing the dog in the first place. People have the tendency to think the dog wasn’t well cared for if he was found hungry or infested with fleas, but that could just be a result of the dog being lost for a long time.
8. Flea bath! At this point, I was waiting to see if an owner would come forward but couldn’t bear to watch Boomer suffer from his flea infestation anymore. While bathing a stray dog may not be the best advice for every situation, Boomer happily jumped into the tub and was ready to get rid of those fleas. Fun fact: Dawn dishwashing liquid is actually great at murdering fleas. It’s pretty disgusting, because it melts their exoskeletons, but highly effective. The flea bath was a lot less stressful than I thought but luckily I was #blessed with finding a Good Dog.
9. Decide what to do with him! At this point, if no one has come forward to claim your dog, you need to weigh your options. You can:
- Take him to a shelter or rescue. We called our local animal shelters but they don’t take in strays; they only take in animals through the animal control shelter. When we spoke with animal control, they were full and could only promise to hold Boomer for 48 hours. Luckily, we had other options but in cases where this is the only option, sending a stray dog to animal control is not necessarily a death sentence. Most animal control shelters will hold the animal as long as they can and if you are on the fence about keeping him, will offer to call you in the event the dog is scheduled to be put down for you to come back and get him.
- Rehome him yourself. If local shelters or rescues don’t work out, you can try to rehome the dog yourself. Allison recommends getyourpet.com as a way to connect people who want a dog with people that have found strays.
- Keep that pupper! Did you see Boomer’s underbite? How could we not keep him?!
In the end, Jake decided to keep Boomer. I suspected this might happen from the second I received the phone call that morning and my suspicions were all but confirmed when I looked into my rearview mirror driving back from the microchip scan and saw Jake hugging Boomer in the backseat.
Even so, we’re glad that we did all of the work and followed the proper protocol. ‘Cause no matter how cute that stray is—no matter how much you immediately love him—you never really know the backstory of how he came to be wandering the streets. And if he does rightfully belong to a loving home that made a simple mistake, you want to make sure he gets back safe and sound. That’s what you would want if it happened to you.
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