Found A Stray– What Now?

The first time a stray found me, I was completely unprepared for the situation. A Cocker Spaniel turned up in the courtyard outside my apartment and proceeded to evade me for nearly two hours before finally permitting himself to be captured. He snarled and snapped as I slipped a loop of leash around his neck, but as soon as he realized he’d been caught but not harmed, he turned from a growling feral into a wiggly, fearful puppy. My plan to simply capture him in order to keep him out of the road and then call Animal Control evaporated when he put his head on my knee and sighed.

I couldn’t just let the Spaniel go to any old shelter, nor did I fancy trying to locate his owners, given the neglected state of his coat and the fact that he was unneutered and very thin. If he had an owner at all, they hadn’t been taking very good care of him.

I was still fostering kittens at the time, so I called my foster coordinator and explained the situation. She was able to use her position with the rescue through which I fostered in order to secure a veterinary appointment for the Cocker Spaniel. I drove him to the vet, who pronounced him one year old and neglected, but mostly healthy. The vet also gave him a dewormer and his initial vaccinations. Luckily, my foster coordinator had connections with a Cocker Spaniel rescue, and they had a foster home available for the pup.

This situation turned out well, but in retrospect, I made some mistakes. I also did some things right when rescuing the stray Spaniel. I’d like to share both my mistakes and my successes, in order to help you make the necessary decisions, should you find a stray.

What I Did Wrong:

  • I approached a growling dog on my own, without telling anyone where I was going, and knowing that I am not vaccinated against rabies. I am very experienced in the handling of dogs, including dogs displaying aggression, but that doesn’t equal invincibility. I should have called Animal Control at the first sign of aggressive behavior and observed the dog in order to prevent him from being hit by a car until they arrived. At the very least, I should have contacted an equally experienced friend to assist me.
  • While contacting my foster coordinator, I put the Spaniel in a crate in my house. I should have either brought the crate onto my porch or removed my own dog from the house prior to bringing the stray inside. He was likely unvaccinated, and although my dog had received all his puppy shots, these do not provide perfect immunity. Ectoparasites like fleas or ear mites could also have been transferred to my own dog.

What I Did Right:

  • I called an animal rescue professional immediately and relinquished ownership of the dog to a suitable organization. It’s perfectly permissible to choose to keep a found dog, if you wish to do so, but in most states you do have a responsibility to give the owner an opportunity to claim it. If you find a dog and wish to keep it or to adopt it out privately, you should call your nearest Animal Control and Protection department and ask what you are required to do in terms of looking for a found dog’s owner. However, if you know you won’t be keeping it permanently or even until it finds a forever home, you should relinquish custody to a trusted rescue or shelter as soon as possible.
  • I took the dog to a veterinarian quickly. A vet can identify symptoms of contagious disease, as well as internal and external parasites. If you’ll be housing a stray, even temporarily, try to make an appointment with the vet to have it seen before you expose it to your other pets.
  • I did not allow the Spaniel to interact with my dog. I put it in a crate in my bedroom and closed the door, keeping my dog on the other side. It is foolish to allow a found pet to interact with your own pets before it has seen a vet, and dogs should always be introduced on neutral ground if at all possible. Ideally, a stray would be quarantined away from your existing pets until it has tested negative for any particularly common diseases or conditions like heartworm that could be transmitted to your pets, but it should  at the very least be separated until it’s seen a veterinarian.
  • I used the resources available to me in order to place the dog in an ideal situation. He was placed with an experienced foster home. His fear and lack of training or socialization could be addressed in that situation, whereas in a crowded shelter, he would be likely to display the same growling and snapping when cornered, and be euthanized as a result. The breed rescue also was willing and able to keep him in foster care until they determined him to be ready for a new home. As a result, a nice dog with little training got a second chance, which he’d have been unlikely to get in a municipal shelter due to his growling. Even if you don’t know anyone who works with a rescue and can pull strings, if you find a stray, try using Petfinder to locate a rescue that has available foster homes suited to the stray’s breed and personality.
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