have you ever found a stray dog, and had no idea what to do? last week, when the human was driving to work (the day after we got back from our crazy nyc trip!), she saw a small dog run across the street in our neighborhood and almost get hit by a car. this is the story of how we found “rosie” (the name we gave to her) and rescued her from roaming the streets scared, dirty, and all alone. we hope that you can learn from our experience rescuing a stray dog so that if this happens to you, you are prepared to save the day!
this story is told from the human’s perspective, because i never actually met the pup. but i ruv her with all my heart! <3
Just A Little Scared Lost Dog
As I was turning onto the main street in my neighborhood, a small wet ball of fur raced across the road, and narrowly missed being run over by the wheels of an old van.
I stopped the car and got out to see if the pup would come to me when called. She did – she ran right up to me and practically jumped into my arms. She was just a little thing, maybe 7lbs, wet, dirty, very matted, and shaking like a leaf.
I stood there for a moment not knowing what to do, looking around for the dog’s owner I assumed would coming running up behind her. “I’m so glad you caught her!” they’d say. “She got out of the gate, and I’ve been chasing around after her for over an hour!”
But no one came.
It was at that point I remembered I had left Rambo’s doggie carrier in the back of the car after we came back from our trip to NYC the night before. I opened the trunk and pulled the carrier out. I very, very slowly coaxed the pup into it, which was harder than it sounds because she was shaking so badly.
When I finally got her safely into the carrier, I sat in the car for a few minutes, with the dog shaking in the carrier in the seat next to me. Again, I had no idea what to do next. She had no collar and no ID tag with information for who to contact if she got lost.
The first photo I took of Rosie in the carrier in my car:
It was at that point I remembered that during a recent visit to Rambo’s vet they mentioned they had taken in a stray someone found on the street, and were trying to find it’s owner.
“Ah,” I thought. “I know they can help.”
So off we drove to Rambo’s vet. Without the Rams (he was there in spirit!). Hopefully they would tell me what I should do next.
First Stop: The Vet’s Office
Very gingerly, I carried the dog with no name, no collar and no human chasing after her, into the vet’s office. When I arrived at the check-in counter, I was greeted by a friend of mine, who is a vet tech at the office. I felt immediate relief. “She’s going to know what to do,” I thought. “Everything is going to be alright.” I hope.
I was a bit shaken up after seeing the pup run across the road and narrowly escape being squished by a van whose driver was not paying attention to the road. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I was kind of a mess at that point (physically, because I was covered in dirt and debris from holding the muddy dog in my arms, and mentally, because I’m pretty sure the stress of the whole situation was clearly written across my face).
I told my friend about how I found the dog and asked her if we could check for a microchip. I crossed my fingers, hoping that she would have one, and we could return her to her owners right away.
Guess what? No microchip.
As my friend scanned for a chip, I was able to take a good, hard look at the dog and finally see the state that she was in. She was an absolute mess. Covered in mud, completely wet from the morning dew, and matted fur like I had never seen before – except in those stray dog makeover videos on YouTube (you know, the ones with the really sad music that make you cry like a BABY while sitting at your desk at work all by yourself during lunch? You know the ones, and yeah, she was that bad).
Scanning Rosie for a microchip at the vet’s office.
We looked at her teeth to see if we could get an idea for how old she was. Her teeth were decaying and covered in layers and layers of plaque. It’s no wonder I thought her breath was so stinky when she was giving me kisses in the car (which she did a lot of, and I to be honest I didn’t mind one bit).
So…What Happened Next?
I literally had no other option than to leave her at my vets office while I did my best to find her owners. Bringing a stray dog home – that may or may not be vaccinated – can put your own dog at risk for diseases and infections. I didn’t want to put Rambo’s health at risk. And, I was also late for work. Really late.
That may sound harsh, but I was really really really late, and I had been out of the office the day before. I literally could not bring myself to call my boss and tell her, whoops, sorry, I won’t be in for a few more hours, I have a stray dog to save, and I need to go home and set up a crate and stuff for it…
Anyway, bringing her home just wasn’t feasible.
Luckily, my vet and all the vet techs have amazingly huge hearts. “We can keep her here for free until Friday,” they offered.
Thank you, thank you, I said. I will begin working on finding her owners right away.
Finding Her Owners: Here’s What I Did (So You Can Learn What To Do, Too)
I have never been in this situation before, so figuring out what to do first wasn’t so easy. But I talked to a few friends who rescue dogs on the ‘reg or have dealt with a similar situation before.
Here’s what I learned:
Your vet’s office is always a great place to start.
If you find yourself in a situation like mine, take your dog to your vet’s office (if they’re not local, just do a simple Google search to find vets near you). The first step is to get it checked for a microchip. If the dog has one, then 99% of the time then your job is done. The vet will take care of contacting the owners and returning the dog to them.
However, if the dog doesn’t have a microchip, keep reading.
My vet is extremely generous, and not every vet will offer to keep a stray dog for free. If your vet asks you to pay them, see if they can give you a discount for keeping the dog for a few days. You are, after all, playing the role of the good samaritan.
If you have no choice but to bring the dog home, please know that by doing so you’re putting yourself in a situation where you will be completely, 110% responsible for a traumatized dog you know nothing about: their mannerisms, their quirks, whether or not they’re potty trained, if they like to chew on dining room table legs, if they can only eat chicken and rice for dinner because otherwise they have uncontrollable #2’s on the floor, or if they have a penchant for barking at the wind from 12am to 3am every night. I know I personally couldn’t take on that responsibility, especially because I have Rambo at home, and don’t have the extra time required to give to a stray dog at the moment (yeah, my work/life balance could be better, but hey, I’m tryin’!). Paying to get her vaccinated was not in the cards for my bank account that day, so keeping her “in limbo” at the vet’s was the best option for me.
As the “rescuer,” your #1 goal should ALWAYS be to find the dog’s owners.
If you don’t find the owners after doing all you can in 24-48 hours, your next priority should be locating a rescue group that can take it, give it the medical care it needs, clean it up, and find a loving family to adopt it. It will be hard to focus on doing all that if you’ve got a 4-legged stranger to cope with and all the unexpected situations that come with that. Plus, it’s not your dog, it’s someone else’s, and your job as the rescuer should be to return it to the owners. Period.
But please, please PLEASE don’t take the pup to a shelter.
If your vet can’t board the dog, and if you have already called around to other vets in your area and none of them agree to take it while you try to find the owner, Please. Do. Not. Take. It. To. A. Shelter. A lot (most?) of shelters are not no-kill, meaning: by dropping the dog off there and saying, “See ya!” you are putting the dog’s life at risk.
And after saving the pup, why the heck would you want to do that?
Not to mention that shelter environments are terrifying (for humans too, not just dogs!). If you’re like me, and love dogs more than you love other humans (LOL but seriously), you honestly don’t want to go the shelter route.
Okay, now that we’ve got that covered…
Now, it’s time to get to work!
After talking to my friends who have rescued dogs before, I came up with a list of things I needed to do ASAP:
If you end up in the same situation, begin by following these steps to return the stray pup to its home.
- Call the local shelter and ask if someone has contacted them about losing a dog matching Rosie’s description. I told them when and where I found the dog, gave them my contact information, and mentioned how long she would be staying at the vet’s office until I would *hopefully* find a local rescue to take her.
- Call around to local vets within a 5 mile radius to see if anyone had called about a lost dog like Rosie. Again, I left my contact information in case her owners reached out to them for help.
- Check the “Lost and Found” section on Craig’s List. To see if anyone has posted about a lost dog on my side of town. This is an important step, don’t forget it!
- Post a nondescript “found dog” update on Craig’s List in the “Lost and Found” section of the site about finding Rosie. If you choose to do what I did and post on Craig’s List about the dog you found, do NOT include any identifying information about the dog. Simply state “Found dog in XYZ location in XYZ city. If you lost a dog in this area, please reply to this post with a picture, the dog’s sex, weight, age, size, color and markings in your email.” If you include too much information in your post, you risk having a bunch of jerks come forward pretending to be the dog’s owner who “describe” the dog using the information you provided. Important side note: There are some seriously horrible people out there who will pretend to be the owner of a dog, but who are actually looking for “bait dogs.” Bait dogs are poor, innocent pups they can sacrifice for use in dog fighting rings. As BAIT. Yes. *Cringes* *Cries a little bit* So please, don’t let yourself be duped by these mother puppers.
- Review posts in my neighborhood Facebook group and updates about lost dogs on locally-based lost pet pages. And go ahead and do what I did and post about finding a stray dog in these groups. Again, don’t include identifying information. If someone in the group has lost a dog sees your post, they will reach out to you with photos and other info you requested because, duh, they miss their pup and want to bring them home! Let them do a bit of the leg work. Ultimately, you are protecting the dog from crazy psychos, and that’s the most important thing in this situation.
- Post in my community forum on Next Door about Rosie. Again, I didn’t include any identifying information, and don’t recommend that you do, either.
12 hours later…
After calling around to local vets during my commute to work, and spending my lunch hour (and then some) posting about Rosie in local neighborhood groups and on Craig’s list, I still had no leads 12 hours later. Twelve hours may not seem like a lot of time, but I were frankly running out of time. I knew that if someone was actually looking for this dog, one of the locations I had called or groups I posted in would have turned up a solid lead.
After working my you-know-what off to find her owners, I literally had nothing to show for it. Other than realizing the fact that her owners didn’t give a PUP about her. *Scowles* But that was pretty evident from the moment we found out she wasn’t microchipped (seriously people, MICROCHIP YOUR PETS!!!). But anyway…
It was the middle of the week before the long Memorial Day weekend, and if I didn’t find the owners I had to find a rescue to take her. Otherwise, I would have to take on the responsibility of taking her home, which, I had “convinced” myself, I was fully prepared to do (including footing the vet bills, eek, goodbye savings account!). Even though, in actuality, juggling my full-time job plus the work I do as a freelancer plus little Diva Rams (who IS a handful and a half, I’ll have you know!), would have made it a challenge. A big one.
Wait, why not just give the dog to a friend?
Right now, you might be wondering, “Why the pup didn’t she just give the dog to a friend? I’m sure that there were a ton of people who would be willing to take her off her hands. Gosh she’s such a moron.” Or something like that…
Here’s why I didn’t “just give the dog to a friend.” I knew that the dog needed vaccines, plus a ton of dental care (that would cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars), so by finding a rescue who could take her I could rest assured that her medical needs would be addressed before she went to her forever home. Giving her to a friend who “thought she was sooo cute,” or was friend of a friend who turned out to be a legit cat hoarder with “just room enough for another furbaby” didn’t seem right to me. You know the people I’m talking about….
After talking to my friends who are heavily involved in rescue efforts, I decided it was a smart decision to go the rescue route, rather than the Facebook-friend-who-offers-to-take-her-but-who-you-don’t-know-much-about route.
People, especially on social media, have very big hearts, and if they see you posting about rescuing a poor little lost doggie many will offer to help. But unfortunately, just like all my Instagram selfies taken by above (makes you look thinner!) and edited with multiple filters (makes you look tanner!), things aren’t always what they appear to be. Your friends may have good intentions, but they don’t rescue dogs on a daily basis or for a living (unless they actually do, which in that case, please ask them to help you out!).
Please keep this in mind if you’re in a similar situation.
Time to start contacting rescues. A LOT of them.
The most surprising and discouraging part of this whole experience was trying to get someone at a rescue organization to call or email me back. Many rescues don’t list phone numbers on their website or social media pages, so I had to resort to emailing them directly and praying that they would reply before the long weekend was here.
I contacted about 10 rescues within the first 36 hours of finding Rosie.
I only heard back from three after 48 hours.
Rescues are mostly run by volunteers, and they get tons and tons of requests to take stray animals every week, so it’s hard for them to respond ASAP to emails (if at all). So my advice to you is to contact several (5-10) rather than just one or two and hope for the best.
If I had known this going into the situation, I would have already had a list of reputable rescues in my area and their contact information ready to go, stuck to the side of the fridge with a magnet. But, unfortunately, it never occurred to me that I’d ever be in this situation so I had to fly by the seat of my pants.
When you’re in a crunch like I was, time is of the essence. If you have done literally everything possible to locate the dog’s owners in the first 12 hours after finding it, move onto contacting rescues. Save yourself the legwork and research reputable (keyword: reputable!) rescues, their email addresses and (if possible) their phone numbers ahead of time so you have it all ready to go. Even if you never have to use it, you will likely know someone who does (who isn’t as prepared as you are!), and you can give it to them to help get the stray pup back home – or to a new home – ASAP.
Keep a record of everything you’ve done to help get the pup home.
It’s a smart idea to keep a record of all the places you’ve called and all the websites you’ve posted on (or reviewed posts on) in case the rescue that ends up taking the dog asks you, “So, what have you done to try to find this dog’s owners?” You want to be able to show them all the work you’ve put into getting this pup back home. That way, they will feel more comfortable about taking the dog off your hands, because it will be clear to them that you’ve done all that anyone could do, and now it’s time to find them a new furever home.
When you finally get a call back…
Loving Pet Inn Adoptions was the very last rescue I reached out to. They turned out to be the first ones to call me back…and they agreed to take her! I was elated. We had about 12 hours left before Rosie’s stay at the vet was up, so knowing that she had a place to go and people to care for her was such a relief.
Expect them to ask for a meet and greet.
Some rescues will want to come meet the dog before agreeing to take them. This is so they can be sure the pup will be a match for their program, and that they can afford to take on the expense. Some dogs require extensive medical care, which can really be a stretch for rescues that are funded purely by donations. Some dogs are aggressive, or have other severe behavioral problems that would make them ineligible for adoption. The meet-and-greet is an important part of the rescue process, so if they ask you for permission to visit the pup at the vet before agreeing to take it, just say yes!
Be prepared to transport the pup to the rescue. And also for your heart to explode a little bit while you do it.
Once LPIA agreed to take Rosie, I was tasked with getting her to the rescue before they closed that day. I left work a few minutes early and arrived at the vet’s, Rambo’s doggie carrier in hand, ready to transport her to what would be the beginning of her new life.
The vet tech brought Rosie out to me. Just like the first day I met her, she was shaking from head to toe. Though she needed a bit of grooming, they were able to bathe her and cut out most of the mats from her fur. Until then I didn’t realize how much she looked like Rambo, which kind of got to me. “What if we’re meant to have her?” I thought. “What if Rams is meant to have a sister?”
Rosie was shaking so much that I had a hard time getting a decent photo of her.
This kind of thinking was exactly what I was afraid of. I can’t take on the financial responsibility of another dog right now, not to mention the fact that Rams is very much an only-dog who prefers to be the only pup in the room at all times (spoiled little you-know-what!).
Giving Rosie cookies at the vet before our “big trip.”
As my heart screamed to “just take her home!” I carefully placed her shivering little self into the dog carrier, zipped it up, thanked the vet and vet techs profusely for keeping Rosie while I figured out how to help her. Then, we were finally on our way.
The drive over to the rescue is going to kill ya’. But just keep going. This pup needs you to!
It was a very warm day, so I had the air conditioning on full blast in the car. After about five seconds of being in the car with this adorable, helpless pup, I realized that the wind from the A/C absolutely terrified the you-know-what out of her. I immediately turned it down and switched the radio off.
She was still shaking, so I began talking to her, which seemed to put her at ease a bit. It was at this point I decided to name her Rosie, because she was as sweet and cute as a little rose bud. I don’t know if they will keep the name, but I hope they will, because everytime I said “Rosie” she seemed to like the sound and perked up a bit.
I talked to her the whole way to the rescue, which is about a 20 minute drive. I told her all about everything I had done to try and find her owners, and how she was going to a new place where there were humans who would care for her and find her a new furever home with a family who would love her to pieces.
In the back of the mind I was thinking, “Why am I not that person? Why can’t I take her? I’ve done this much for her already…”
I’m a sucker for dogs, as we all know, but rather than giving into my emotions (which were a bit overwhelming at the time, not gonna lie) I kept driving.
At the rescue, I filled out a “surrender form,” which felt a lot more dramatic and emotional than it should have been. I mean, I had spent barely a half hour total with this pup, but giving her away was sad – even though I knew they would love her, give her the care she needed, and find a new owner who deserved her.
She cowered behind my legs after I took her out of the create, and cried when they picked her up and took her away.
…And my heart EXPLODED into a MILLION pieces. *Ugh*
Saying goodbye 🙁
They assured me that she would be taken care of, which, duh, I already knew, because I had researched this rescue extensively, but it still helped to hear it directly from them. Because at that time, my heart literally (not really) exploded, and I was this close to saying, “Wait, no, just kidding, I’m actually going to take her, k thanks bye.”
So, what do I hope you will learn from my experience? Mainly, that rescuing a dog isn’t as simple as “rescuing a dog.” A lot more work goes into it, but please don’t let that deter you from doing a good deed and making a real difference in a lost dog’s life. You might not be able to make a difference in the lives of all the lost dogs in the world, but if you have a chance to make a difference in just one of their lives, all the emails, phone calls, Craig’s List postings and staying up worrying late into the night is worth it.
And a few more things (keep these in mind!)…
- After this experience, I will never leave the house without a collapsible doggie crate, spare collar and leash in my trunk. They take up very little space, and if ever do come across a stray dog again I will be prepared.
- I will be keeping an updated list of rescues and local vets to reach out to if I ever find another lost dog. Saves me the extra work from having to google everything all over again (especially when I’m in a time crunch!).
- Everyone MUST get their dog microchipped. I thought microchipping was a given for dog owners, but apparently there are some people out there who have forgotten this incredibly important step.
- Even though Rosie may have been wearing a collar that fell off during her “adventure” through the backyards in my neighborhood, it’s possible that her owner didn’t care enough to make her wear an ID tag with contact information should she get lost. Make sure your dog’s ID tag is current – especially if you have moved recently or changed phone numbers.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m a dog person, but I have never gone through this before, and I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did without the help from my friends. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t feel like you should “already know” what to do. Just ask!
I hope you were able to learn from my situation as much as I have. Though it might not seem like a big deal, to me helping Rosie was the world. Because to the dog I was helping, it was the world. It was her world. And I wasn’t about to give up or “let someone else deal with it,” because as far as I knew, I was the best person for the job. Who knows how long she would be running around my neighborhood, scared and alone, if I hadn’t rescued her. Keep that in mind if you ever are in the same situation. 🙂
_ _ _
This is Rosie/Penny’s “after” photo!
By the time I post this blog post, Rosie/Penny may already have been adopted (she IS an adorable pup, after all!), but I encourage you to check out their Pet Adoptions Page to learn more about all the other incredible dogs and cats that are currently looking for forever homes.
Look at her dance!
Remember: you might not be able to make a difference in all the lives of homeless pets, but you can make a difference for one of them.
– Rambo and his human