In April, we recognized National Lost Dogs Awareness Day, and we along with many others worked hard to spread the word throughout Georgia and throughout the nation.
Our message was this...
Not all stray dogs are homeless. You can't always judge a dog based on their appearance the day they are found. Lost dogs can be very resourceful and can escape captivity and live on their own for days, weeks, months and in some cases, even years before being caught. When found, they may look very different than they did the day they went missing. They may be thin, dirty and they may even appear dumped, abandoned or neglected, but they may have a family out there frantically searching for them.
With that message in mind, we'd like to touch on what someone should do when they find a "stray" dog.
Safety is first and foremost when you spot a lost dog. There are various risk involved in approaching or attempting to capturing an animal that is not your own. The dog may be be aggressive or have an injury that may cause him to lash out or attack out of fear. Be aware of any signs of neurological behaviors such as stumbling, twitching or excessive drooling or anything that resemble possible signs of rabies, distemper or brucellosis. When in doubt, call animal control and never try to capture any animal you feel unsure about. You could cause it to run even further or it could result in an aggressive attack that is dangerous to both you and the animal. Another word of caution: If you find yourself in a position where you must care for an unknown pet, make sure to keep them away from other animals in the house to avoid any cross contamination of possible disease or parasites the animal may have.
Next, it's important not to judge a dog or his or her family based on it's current condition. A dog may have been lost for a long time and living on it's own and fending for itself. That can explain a dog's dirty, matted or thin appearance. A dog may also have a medical condition that could explain weight loss or skin issues. It's important to give an owner the benefit of doubt and go through the proper channels to search for it's owner.
Third, even if neglect or abuse is suspected, a finder does not have the right or legal authority to make that determination and keep or rehome a pet. In Georgia, pets are considered property and it's illegal to take and keep someone else's property. You must contact your local animal control unit and file a FOUND report for any dog you find. Your shelter will advise you on what steps you must take. Some shelters require you to bring a dog in, but others will allow you to foster the dog as long as you file a FOUND report with them and conduct a reasonable search for the dog's owner. If neglect or abuse is suspected, it's up to that local animal control unit, not the finder, to investigate and intervene if needed. This protects a pet and their family from someone making erroneous claims and it also allows an animal control unit to investigate and bring charges which could protect other pets in harms way.
*** Animals are considered property in Georgia and it is against the law to keep someone's property. The law is on the owner's side in the case of a found dog. ***
Fourth, conduct an aggressive search for a dog's owner. Owners with a lost dog will move heaven and earth to search for their lost dog, but finders can sometimes fall short. There are many reasons that a finder may not do an aggressive search for a dog's owner and we've just touched on a few. Other reasons could include a busy schedule or a lack of knowledge on all the ways to search for a dog's owner. Some people find a dog and want to help, but they have nowhere to house the dog so they feel the only option is to immediately rehome the dog or send it to a rescue. This way of thinking drastically reduces the chances of a pet being reunited with their family. There are many options out there to help you quickly reunite a pet with it's family if you are willing to do a little work.
Another common reason that someone may not search for a dog's family is that the finder becomes attached to the dog and decides to keep it. This decision is not only wrong, it's against the law. It can also put a dog's life in danger. If a dog has a medical condition and is on daily, life sustaining medication, not being returned to their home immediately could cost them their life.
Read SPIKES BLOG to find out all the reasons you should do everything you can to help a dog get home to their family.
So what are some ways to conduct an aggressive search:
Make sure to ask for proof of ownership from anyone claiming to be the pet's owner. This can include photos of the owner or family with the pet, adoption papers, vet or grooming records or a matching microchip.
The key to reuniting any lost or found pet with it's family is having the desire to do so and the willingness to go over and above and conduct an AGGRESSIVE search to look for a dog's family!!! Remember, most dogs you find don't need a new family, they just need help getting back home to their own family!!!
Let's all help educate our communities on the laws in our state and educate them on the many ways that they can search for a dogs family.