Have you ever found a litter of crying kittens stumbling around a bush in your yard? Or been followed down the street by a lost-looking dog on your way home? If you have, you probably experienced the common, uneasy feeling of uncertainty: “What am I supposed to do?” and maybe asked yourself, “Can I keep it?”
Too often, animals remain homeless because people aren’t sure of the best course of action. I want to break down the steps for how to help stray animals you encounter so, together, we can ensure the safety of homeless animals and lost pets.
Step 1: Are Strays Safe to Pet?
There are two signs to look for when you come across a stray before you try and engage with it.
The first is whether it appears healthy or not: You won’t want to touch a dog or cat if it’s missing large patches of fur or is clearly diseased.
Secondly, notice how it behaves toward you. If it shows any sign of aggression (growling, hissing, foaming at the mouth, etc.), make sure to keep your distance for your own safety. If the animal looks well groomed and acts friendly toward you, however, it won’t hurt to try and pet it.
Step 2: Identifying a Stray’s Owner
If the stray is friendly and lets you approach, immediately look for a collar or nametag. Most tags will have the owner’s phone number for you to contact and arrange the return of their lost pet. If they aren’t wearing anything with emergency information, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re yours to adopt. You can check online ads for local lost pets or ask neighbors in the area to see if they might know who it belongs to.
Another way to check for an owner is to bring the stray to your local vet. Some pet owners have their dogs and cats implanted with a microchip; if it has one, the vet will be able to scan it and contact the pet’s owner. Be aware, though: If there’s no chip and the animal you found is a stray, the vet will consider you to be its owner. That means you will be held responsible for any medical services the stray needs, such as vaccinations.
Step 3: Calling a Shelter
If a stray seems sick, rabid, or aggressive, it’s in your best interest to call your local animal control. Animal control will take the stray off the streets at no cost to you and keep it safe until it’s been returned to good health. Some shelters will even adopt them out to a good home once they’re healthy again. There are also certain rescue groups that have strays spayed or neutered to prevent overpopulation of homeless animals.
Be conscious of a few other factors before you call someone to take them away: If it’s a kitten or a group of kittens, for example, check around to make sure you won’t be separating them from their mother or the rest of their litter. If they’re alone, it might be best to call a shelter to guarantee they are safe and provided for.
Step 4: Taking In a Stray
As we all know, a pet is a big responsibility. Are you truly ready to adopt and care for a stray animal? Strays don’t have a traceable medical history, so you’ll need to take them to a veterinarian to provide shots, vaccinations, spaying or neutering treatments, and necessary medications. After that, you will be responsible for feeding, training, and keeping your new friend healthy and happy. If you’re up to the challenge, fantastic! If not, simply call your local animal shelter and they will care for the pet until they find them a brand-new home.
And there you have it! By using this simple guide for the next time you come across a stray, you might be not only helping to provide a new life for a dog or a cat but saving their lives too.