What do you do when you find a lost dog?
Many of us have probably been there: we see a dog roaming the street, alone and afraid, and our first instinct is to rescue it, take it home and find its owner.
Sometimes that’s possible, and sometimes not: the dog may be so frightened that it runs away and disappears, or its fear leads to aggression like growling or snapping at you. Lost dog stays lost.
On the other hand, you may be able to capture the dog safely, in which case you can look for a collar and ID tag. If you find one, great! You can contact the owner, and the lost dog will be lost no more. End of story.
Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, the dog won’t have any identification. What do you do?
The answer to that question differs from municipality to municipality, but in Butte County, you should complete an Animal Control Found Report and fax it to 530-538-6329, or call Butte County Animal Control and file a found report by phone.
Another option is to take the dog to your local shelter. Don’t worry that the dog will be euthanized: all the Chico area animal shelters are no-kill. There, the staff will scan the dog for a microchip: if they find one, they contact the owner, who will hopefully come and “bail” the dog out. Again, no more lost dog.
If the dog has no chip and you’d rather take it home rather than leaving it at the shelter, file a “found dog” report. This keeps you in the clear legally: in California, dogs are considered personal property, which means you can’t just take it home and claim it as yours. You have to make a reasonable effort to find the owner, or you could find yourself in legal trouble.
If you decide to go with this option, it’s a good idea to make “Found Dog” flyers and post them near where you found the dog. If you belong to an online neighborhood group like next-door, post the dog’s photo and description. There are also a number of online forums for finding lost pets like Petco Lost Love, a national database that uses facial recognition to search found pet listings from users and shelters. You can also post on the Butte County Lost Pets Facebook group for people who’ve found or lost a pet, at https://www.facebook.com/groups/buttecountylostpets.
There are some cautions you need to exercise if you decide to take the dog home. Most importantly, protect your own pets. If your dog isn’t fully vaccinated, keep it away from the stray. If you see fleas, treat the dog right away so they don’t end up infesting your home. Watch for any signs of aggression either toward or from the stray dog, or toward any other animal in your home like a cat or bird.
Be especially careful during feeding time or when giving treats or toys: some dogs can have serious resource-guarding issues and may become aggressive if you or another dog tries to interrupt their feeding or playing. And always keep the stray dog on a leash, even in the house, so you can grab it quickly to stop any unwanted behaviors.
If you’re unable to find the dog’s owner and you decide to keep it, take it to your vet right away for a full checkup, and then begin obedience classes so you can start cementing your bond with the dog.
You may not have been planning on it, but this “happy accident” of finding a lost dog can bring a new best friend into your life.
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her golden retriever Joey, her Maine coon cat Indy and the abiding spirit of her beloved golden retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re looking for a golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.