Top ten things to do if you find a stray dog or cat

By: H. R.
Pets Best Insurance Editorial Manager
A dirty, white puppy sits in the grass.
You’re driving along in your car, rocking out to Guns n’ Roses, (or something equivalent) when all of the sudden a scraggly-looking dog darts across the road. Maybe you’re already late for work, or in a hurry to get home. Either way you’re not sure what to do. Do you stop and try to help the animal? What if the dog is injured or in poor shape? Should you get the dog health care?

The above is a heart-wrenching set of circumstances for any animal lover. Likely, after you’ve seen the stray dog or cat, you may revere it your duty as a compassionate being to help the creature. After all, it could easily be your pet out there on its own.

But before you pull over, there are ten things you should know when it comes to helping a stray animal:

1. Your own safety is the most important: You won’t be able to help the animal if your safety is compromised, so it’s important that you pull your car over somewhere out of the flow of traffic. Causing a three-car-pile-up to save a kitten won’t make you a hero in the animal or the human world.

2. Envision yourself in the animal’s situation: Whether it’s injured or not, the stray dog or cat will likely be spooked. If the animal looks or acts aggressive, stay in your car and call the local animal control instead.

3. Be cautious: Speak calmly and verbally reassure the animal that you aren’t a threat. Use soft tones and move slowly as to not frighten it.

4. Check for identification: If you are able to transport the animal safely, take it to the nearest shelter. The animal may have a dog or cat microchip that will help place the critter back with its family.

5. Post signs and ads to try to find the pet owner: Hang multiple signs around the area where you first saw the stray animal. Add a picture of the animal with a contact number where you can be reached.

6. If you decide to keep the stray animal: If you have no luck in locating the former owner and decide you want to add the stray to your family, check your local laws. In some states it does not automatically become your pet.

7. Be wary when introducing the dog or cat to its new environment: If you have another animal, keep the stray quarantined as not to transmit any potential diseases to other animals in the house. Take the stray to your local veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure your new pet receives proper health care.

8. Introduce new family members slowly: Have each person in the family come into the room where the dog or cat is, one at a time, to pet and talk to the animal. Encourage younger children to sit on the floor and let the animal come to them. Remember to make sure that children understand not to bother the animal while it eats or sleeps.

9. Let the animal explore on its own: If there are no other pets in the household, let the new dog or cat explore their new territory. The animal will use this time to sniff around and situate themselves in their new environment.

10. Introduce the new pet to other pets: Let both pets see each other but don’t yet allow them to interact. After a few days of this, introduce them in neutral territory, such as the yard. Never leave the pets alone until you are certain they will get along well.


  • Hayley

    Hey, I’m 12 and I volunteer with the Georgia Heartland Humane Society. There is a dog that looks like terrier, yorkie, and westie mixed. I have a cat and a dog and I don’t know what to do. Ms. Gisa, one of the people with the humane society, told me I should catch him. I don’t have any spare rooms in the house, accept maybe the guest bathroom, but its as big as a closet. And he tries to run away when I open the door. I don’t want to put any ticks or fleas on our current pets… what should I do?

  • Pets Best Insurance

    Hi Hayley,

    It’s great to hear you’re volunteering to help animals in your area. When it comes to catching unknown animals, we strongly advise you to ask an adult for help. Your supervisors at the Humane Society will have the proper equipment and safety gear to safely capture the loose dog.

  • anne

    hi. i have a question
    on my way to college I saw a little brown dog moving back and forth in the middle of the road!! thankfully everyone stopped for him. I wanted to pick him up. he looked so frightened but what could I have done? I had a class and couldn’t miss it but I didn’t want him to get run over either. our city is not pet friendly and our animal shelter is not accepting lost pets
    what should I do if I find a stray in this scenario again?

    • Pets Best Insurance

      Hi Anne, if the pet seems friendly and you have time to stop, you could always check for a collar and name tag. If you’re able to transport the dog, you could have him scanned for a microchip at the local shelter or vet’s office.

      If you absolutely can’t stop or can’t approach the dog, you may want to take a quick picture and post it on a site like Craig’s List in the Lost and Found or Pets sections. In the ad, describe the appearance of the dog as well as the date, time and place you saw it. This can help pet owners who may be trying to locate a runaway pet.

  • Claria

    Today I came back from walmart and on my driveway was this small dog which looked light brown. I think it was dirty from the looks of it. And so I wanted to approach it but my mom was slowly going in the driveway but it seemed as if it were frightened so it speed walked to the other houses and now I don’t know where it is. I REALLY wanted to just pet it and be its friend. I am curious and I want to no where it is. I’m a kid so I can’t drive and my mom said to leave it alone. I WONT leave it alone becuz I love animals and I’m curious right now!!!!

  • Claria

    And I rode my bike down the my street and I had no luck finding the dog. There were many backyards that had wooden fences and open spaces so I’m not sure if it was someone’s dog. But it looked light brown. It couldve been its natural color, or its dirty


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