We have all seen it. A dog running loose through the neighborhood, clearly in need of help. Whether the dog is obviously a stray or a well-fed and groomed animal wearing a collar, seeing a dog on its own typically means you should step in and help them out.

Going about rescuing a dog can be a bit more difficult than you might expect. Don’t panic; here is a guide to everything you’ll need to consider and do when you find a dog.

So, You’ve Found a Dog

So, you have found a dog. The first step is to approach the dog. If you see a dog while out driving, be careful not to cause an accident. As tempting as it is to slam on your breaks and turn around to help the pup, you’ll have a better chance of helping the animal if you aren’t injured or preoccupied with a fender bender. When handling this type of situation, you should have three primary concerns: the safety of the dog in need, your own safety, and the safety of others.

Upon arriving at the dog, patience is key. A loose dog is most likely going to be frightened, sick, injured, or just nervous, so having a new person approach them might cause added stress. Animals in this state can sometimes react in an unpredictable manner. Quickly approaching a dog could cause them to either run, putting themselves in danger, or it could make them lash out at you.

If the animal you are trying to help appears to pose any threat to you, do not continue to approach it. Instead, call animal control to come help in the situation, and try and keep an eye on the animal until they arrive. The Humane Society of the U.S. suggests trying to set up a barrier to keep the dog in one location and out of harm’s way. Try using a carrier, leash, piece of cloth, or length of rope to keep the animal from leaving the area, and signal any passing vehicles to slow down if you are unable to confine them at all.

If the animal is calm and appears friendly, your first goal is going to be to get them to a safe location. Many pet parents will have an extra leash tucked away in their car. If you don’t, try using food to lure the dog to your car. If successful, make sure they dog is restrained in the car. Nervous dogs can sometimes become frantic, creating a potentially dangerous situation.

Lending a Hand to a Pup in Need: What to Do if You Find a Stray or Lost DogBrett McBain/Flickr

What’s Next?

Now that you have the dog in your care, it’s time to figure out your next move. You can either take the dog directly to a shelter or take them home with you. If you plan to keep the pup in the event that you can’t locate their guardian, alert animal control and let them know that you have taken in the dog. They will ask for a description in case the dog’s parents call looking for them.

Next, you should take the dog to a vet – even if they aren’t injured. The vet will be able to scan the dog for a microchip that could help in returning them to their parents. The vet will also be able to tell you if they think the dog is a stray or someone’s pet.

If the microchip comes back with contact information, the vet will typically contact the family for you, making reuniting the rescued pup with his family relatively easy.

If the dog doesn’t have a microchip, or if the chip’s contact information is not up-to-date, you should begin posting “found” ads in local papers near the area you found the pup or on websites specifically designed for lost pets. Pet Amber Alert and Pet Finder, for example, are national websites set up to return lost pets to their worried families. Many towns and cities also have Facebook pages for finding lost dogs. There, you can post a picture of the dog with your contact information in case anyone is looking for them.

If you are certain the animal is a stray or don’t have any luck finding the dog’s previous family, your job becomes a little more difficult. You can either bring the dog to a local animal shelter, find a home for them yourself, or take the animal in as your new family member. If you do choose to adopt the dog, make sure the vet has thoroughly checked them out before introducing them to the rest of your pack. Strays can have illnesses that can be transferred to you or your other pets.

If you choose to rehome the animal, you should read up on how to safely find the perfect home. Craigslist, for example, might seem convenient, but you could wind up inadvertently sending the dog to a terrible living situation. If you cannot keep the dog and don’t have the ability to rehome them on your own, try contacting a local no-kill shelter. This will ensure that the dog is not euthanized while waiting for its forever home and will be given the best chance possible to find a new forever home.

Lending a Hand to a Pup in Need: What to Do if You Find a Stray or Lost DogPatrick/Flickr

You are Awesome

Remember, whatever you are able to do for the dog, you are an amazing person. Many people feel they can’t burden themselves with helping the scared dog running down the street or the dog nervously hiding in the alley. But going out of the way to lend a helping hand is what any true animal lover would do.

If you have any questions about your local laws and regulations concerning lost and stray animals, or if you have questions on steps to take with the animal, you should contact your local animal control center. They will be able to advise you on everything from vets to visit and websites that post “found” dog ads. You can also visit our list of Animal Rescue Hotlines to find someone who can answer your questions.

 Lead image source: Karunakar Rayker/Flickr