In recent months, I’ve temporarily been living in Bakersfield, California with my brother and his family. They live in a great neighborhood, and fortunately for me and all the lost dogs I find, they have a gated back yard. I’ve lost count of the number of lost dogs I’ve helped find their way home.
On Saturday, May 30th–a toasty 100 degree day–my nephew and his girlfriend found the gorgeous Shepherd-Husky mix pictured here. She has a lovely temperament and playful personality. She has been treated with kindness and affection. There are zero signs of abuse or neglect. The only odd behavior she displays is that she fears being let outside. Most dogs dart outside. She has to be coaxed out. She hates being alone and thoroughly enjoys the company of others—human and canine, alike. It leads me to believe she was abandoned. Whether the abandonment was intentional or a terrible accident is yet to be determined.
Most Stray Dogs Are Lost Dogs
This girl who we are calling Lady Goldilocks–or, Kitana, if you ask my younger nephew–is the first lost dog I’ve encountered in recent months that I haven’t been able to get home within 24 hours.
Since I know the Bakersfield shelters are overflowing, there are steps I take to find a lost dog’s human before I will take them to the shelter. If I can save the shelter some kennel space, I will. As for Lady Goldilocks, if I do not have any leads within another day or two, I plan to take her to the shelter, and then network her for adoption.
8 Strategies To Help A Lost Dog Get Safely Home
1. Tell the dog, “Go home!”
I try this tactic when a dog looks like he or she is on a mission or runs from me with an attitude. I follow him or her from a distance that they deem safe—serving as their escort—until they lead me to their home and I confirm they live there.
Last month, I was in my car and saw a stray Poodle mix. I stopped the car and got out. I tried a couple times to get low and coax him my way, but he barked sharply and ran off both times. He raced around the corner of the neighborhood and ran on the sidewalk next to a busy street. I jumped in my vehicle and followed him, certain he would jet out into traffic.
Sure enough, he suddenly decided to cut across the four lane street. When he did, I blocked traffic with my car until he crossed safely, and then followed him the rest of the way home. (Now, I’m not recommending that you endanger your life in any way. It was just something I was able to do for the little guy because of the traffic pattern.)
After crossing the street, he made a beeline for a house in the next neighborhood. There happened to be a guy outside. After confirming the Poodle belonged there, I strongly suggested he keep his dog safe indoors or in an enclosed outdoor area, and then explained that his dog crossed a very busy street at least twice and almost got hit by a car.
2. Check for an ID tag on the dog’s collar, and then contact his or her human. An ID tag with current contact information is the quickest and easiest way to get a dog safely home.
A few weeks ago, I came across a loveable Foxhound. I was so excited when I saw he had tags. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much good because the contact information was not up to date. Both the phone number and address were old news. Fortunately, the human’s name was also on the tag. It took a lot of Google searching and investigating, but eventually, the two were reunited.
3. Take the dog to a nearby veterinary clinic or animal shelter to scan for a microchip.
There was a canine duo running around the neighborhood a couple months ago. Neither one was wearing a collar. A neighbor lady and I, both in our cars, saw them at the same time and stopped. She was able to get the friendly Collie mix with no problem. His Poodle friend was a bit more skittish. I finally got her to come to me with an offering of water.
I volunteered to take the pair to Bakersfield Veterinary Hospital to get them scanned for microchips. The staff was super friendly and helpful. We all celebrated when we heard the beep of success. Microchip!
The family was grateful to have Momma and Steve back. They were doing some construction and the gate was accidentally left open. The duo saw an opportunity to explore and took it.
4. Call local animal shelters and veterinary offices to file Found Dog reports.
If there is no ID tag or microchip, the first place I call is Bakersfield SPCA to find out if they have any kennel space available. This is the only no-kill shelter in Bakersfield. If they have an open spot, they give you a two hour window to get there. Upon arrival, they will perform a temperament test on the dog. If he or she passes, they’re in! Shelters in the Bakersfield area are overflowing, so it is rare that they have an opening.
I’ve been calling Bakersfield SPCA each day since we found Lady Goldilocks. So far, no open kennels. When I filed the Found Dog report, the kind woman who assisted me scanned their database of Lost Dog reports. No match, yet.
I also called the city and county shelters to file Found Dog reports. The next task on my list is to file Found Dog reports at all the nearby veterinary offices.
5. Take photographs of the dog you found that show his or her size and color. Taking a video is also great idea. Here’s what to do with the photos and videos:
*Create a flyer. It should state FOUND! in big, bold letters. Insert a clear photo and include your phone number. Post the flyers at intersections and nearby parks. You can also ask permission to post at local businesses—especially pet-related businesses. Don’t forget to take the flyers down when the time is right.
*Post photos and videos on lost and found websites, like nextdoor.com, petharbor.com, and Facebook. Most communities have Facebook groups for local lost and found pets. You can also post a free ad in the local newspaper.
6. Take copies of the flyer you created to all local animal shelters and look through their Lost reports.
The shelter staff will either match the flyer with your Found report or post it on their Found wall. If you look through all their handwritten Lost reports, you just might find a match!
7. Search lost ads and posts.
The dog’s human may have posted a lost ad on Craigslist or any of the websites where you created a Found post.
8. Take the found dog for a walk and knock on doors around the neighborhood where he or she was found. If you don’t have a leash and cannot bring the dog along, take some flyers, instead.
There was a small Pomeranian mix running up and down the street one day. Friendly little fella. Surely, he couldn’t be too far from home. I grabbed a leash and started knocking on doors. At the fifth house, a young girl peered from behind her mom. She recognized the dog and knew he belonged to the father of one of her classmates. They happened to have his phone number. As soon as the man learned I found his dog, he and the rest of his family jumped in the car to come get him. The man was in tears and completely grateful that I found him.
If someone does turn up to claim the dog, request proof of ownership. They should have veterinary records, photographs, or be able to describe unique characteristics or markings.
If none of the strategies listed in this blog post turn up a lead, don’t be afraid to call Animal Control to pick the dog up, or take the dog to the shelter yourself. Most people will go to the nearest shelter to find a beloved pet. Animal shelters are there for a reason. Personally, I choose a no-kill or low-kill shelter.
If nobody claims the dog at the shelter within three to five days (hold periods vary), he or she will become available for adoption. You can obtain the dog’s ID number from the shelter and network the dog to help him or her find a forever new home. Or, you can go adopt the cutie yourself!
UPDATE: Not all shelters allow a rescuer to return and adopt the dog they brought to the shelter, even though they were being a good Samaritan. If you strongly feel the dog would fit in well with your family, make sure to ask if you would be allowed to adopt the dog if nobody claims him or her during the hold period.
If you decide to keep the dog safe in your care instead of taking to a shelter, be aware that you must actively search for the dog’s human for 14 days before claiming him or her as your own or finding a trusted, forever new home for the dog.
UPDATE: In the state of California, a dog that you find and care for legally becomes yours at the 14-day mark.
Do you have any additional tips to share for getting a lost dog home safely?