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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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