What do I do if I have found a stray animal? Don't panic! This seven-step guide below will walk you through what to do if you find an animal that appears to be without an owner in Atlanta. Following these steps will significantly increase the chances of reuniting the stray pet with its owner.
But first, what is a “stray pet”?
Many people incorrectly assume that stray animals are homeless and have no owner. The appearance of an animal without a human does not necessarily mean that the pet does not have a home. Someone may actively be looking for that pet. Stray pets can go days, weeks, months, or even years before being found. If a stray pet looks abandoned, neglected, or malnourished, it is still possible that a loving family is missing their pet and has been missing that pet for a long time.
If you find a stray pet, and even if you believe that the pet may have been neglected or abused, you do not have the legal authority to make the determination to keep or rehome the pet. Georgia law considers pets to be property, and it is illegal to take and keep someone else’s property. You must notify your county’s animal shelter that this pet has been found, file a found report, and follow the direction of the shelter in regards to next steps.
If you have found a stray animal, follow these tips to give the pet the best chance of being reunited with their owner:
1. Contain the pet
If a friendly pet approaches you and allows you to positively interact with them, attempt to secure the pet with a slip leash or rope. If you feel comfortable enough, bring the pet into a garage or other secure area with adequate shelter, water, and ventilation for the season. This will allow the pet to be out of harm’s way from vehicle traffic and weather conditions until you can locate their owner or contact the shelter.If you are bringing the pet into your home, keep them away from any resident pets to protect from exposure to infection or illness that other animals could contract. Pets that have been outdoors for extended periods of time may have become hosts to fleas or ticks, which can easily spread to your pets and general areas of your home. Also, there is no way to ascertain the socialization of a found pet with other animals, and the non-resident pet will be in an unfamiliar environment.
2. Call the authorities
If you see a stray pet and you do not feel comfortable approaching the pet, call your county’s Animal Control. Animal Control is responsible for responding to stray pet calls.
Click here for contact information of DeKalb County's Animal Control Field Enforcement.
Click here for contact information for Fulton County Animal Services Field Enforcement.
3. Check for ID tags
Some pets have tags attached to their collars such as an ID tag, vaccination/license tag, or microchip company’s tag. If so, this is a great opportunity to quickly contact the owner! An ID tag may also have the owner’s name and contact information. Understand that this contact information may be out of date, so try every piece of information provided on the tag. Most rabies tags will have the name of the animal hospital or county that issued the tag as well as their phone number. A microchip company’s tag will have the microchip number of that pet. Pet Microchip Lookup allows you to type in the microchip number and search it.
4. Scan for a microchip at a vet or an animal shelter
If no identification tags are found on the stray pet, a veterinarian or animal shelter can physically scan the pet for a microchip. This service is free. If the pet has a microchip implanted, the veterinarian or animal shelter can contact the owner listed on the microchip.
5. Hang flyers
Create a found pet flyer using brightly colored paper and extremely large lettering with concise information, such as, “FOUND LARGE WHITE MALE DOG, Call 404-xxx-xxxx”. Use a clear photograph of the pet on the flyer and hang flyers securely at major intersections using duct tape.
6. Spread the word
Social media channels have a very wide reach. Platforms such as Facebook and Nextdoor are great ways to get the message to as many people as possible that you have found this pet. These sites can also operate on a localized level. Post your found pet flyers on your personal social media pages and on group pages and ask people to share your post.
There are many websites dedicated to lost and found pets. Find a list of these websites here.
Post your flyer and photos to Craigslist. Many people who lose a pet will look on Craigslist for their missing pet. While there, look to see if anyone has posted a matching "Lost" ad. Make sure to check under both “Pets” and “Lost & Found” in your area and in surrounding counties.
7. Take pets with no ID or microchip to your county’s animal shelter
If the pet does not have a microchip, the next step is to bring the pet to your county’s animal shelter. This has been a controversial step as some feel that bringing the pet to an animal control facility is a “death sentence.” Please bear in mind that the county animal shelter is the reasonable and most common place that an owner would visit when searching for a lost pet. Again, Georgia law considers pets to be property, and it is illegal to keep or transfer someone else’s property. LifeLine has implemented a Friendly Finders program at both DeKalb County Animal Services and Fulton County Animal Services where finders of stray pets are able to keep the pet in their home for the duration of the required legal holding period, which is three days per Fulton and DeKalb County ordinances. You can learn more about our Friendly Finders program here.
LifeLine Animal Project at Dekalb County Animal Services and Fulton County Animal Services strives to save every healthy and treatable animal that comes through our doors. As open-intake shelters, we take in an average of 40-50 animals per day, which makes our shelters rather crowded. However, with an extensive foster program, dedicated rescue coordinators, and creative marketing and adoption strategies, we are able to achieve an 86% average lifesaving rate.
If you live in a county other than Fulton or DeKalb and are concerned about the safety of a pet within animal control’s care, we invite you to communicate this with the staff at the local shelter. Shelter workers are compassionate caregivers and welcome additional aid and resources to getting the pets adopted as quickly as possible. Some may even allow you to volunteer your time to help with promoting that animal online or at events.