What to do if You Find a Lost Pet

Whether you’ve found a lost dog, cat, bird, rabbit, or another type of animal, there are a number of steps that you should take to ensure the pet finds his way home! It’s vital that anyone who finds a pet takes the proper steps to reunite the pet with his family.

Last week, we found a little Chihuahua wandering the neighborhood and fortunately, we were able to reunite the dog with her owners within 12 hours! But that experience made me realize that many animal lovers may not know what to do if they encounter a lost pet!

Once you’ve caught the lost pet, place it in a safe location like a kennel, a bathroom or another safe location that’s inaccessible to other pets, children, etc. Remember to include food, water and a litter box if you’ve found a cat.

Making “Found Pet” Posters and Canvassing the Neighborhood

The first step involves making up a few “Found Pet” posters. Include the following information:

  • Type of animal — “Found Dog” or “Found Cat”
  • Animal breed/appearance — “Red Long-Hair Tabby Cat” or “Brindle Pit Bull”
  • Time and location found — “Found 2-6-2012 near Main and Franklin Streets”
  • Contact info — “Call John Smith at 555-5555”

When making up the posters, don’t provide a full description. You will need to withhold identifying information that only the rightful owner will know. (Some people can’t resist the opportunity to claim a cute pet!) For instance, if the animal was found with a pink polka dot collar, omit this information from your posters, as this could be the identifying feature. Alternatively, the pet may have another unique trait like a spot on her nose or a scar that can serve as the identifying feature.

Print out a few dozen posters and bring them with you on a walk around the neighborhood. Place the posters in prominent locations, like on a stop sign or on phone polls. Also, hand out the posters to anyone and everyone you encounter on your walk. Ask them if they know of anyone who owns a pet like the one that you’ve found. If not, provide them with a poster, as there’s a good chance the pet owner may wander the neighborhood asking people if they’ve seen his or her pet! This is one way for you to make a connection with the animal’s rightful owner.

I do recommend knocking on doors in the immediate neighborhood. Many cats and dogs won’t go very far, so there’s a good chance that the animal lives in a neighboring home.

Also, remember that people who own a pet are more likely to notice the neighborhood cats and dogs, so they’re more apt to know where a specific dog lives. Therefore, be sure to ask anyone who owns a pet!

Using the Internet to Advertise a Found Pet

Visit a number of lost and found pet websites. Immediately post a “found cat/dog/etc.” advertisement and check daily for missing pet ads with a description that matches the animal you’ve found.

Your found pet ad should not include a photo (this makes it more likely that a random person will claim the animal.) Post the same information that was published in the found poster.

The most popular sites include:

  • Craigslist (in the “lost/found” and “pets” section)
  • PetFinder
  • FindToto.com
  • MissingPets.net
  • FidoFinder.com
  • PetAmberAlert.com
  • LostPetUSA.net

Also, Google a few key terms like “lost dog [city where you live]” to see if it comes up with any lost pet ads that match the animal that you’ve found.


Within the first 24 hours of finding an animal, it’s important that you take him or her to a local veterinary clinic to be scanned for a microchip. You don’t need an appointment and it be done free of charge. If the pet has a microchip, it will be linked to a databank containing the owner’s name, phone number and address.

Contacting Animal Control

Within the first 24 hours of finding a lost pet, it’s important to report the find to animal control.

Most animal control departments will simply log your contact information and the animal description in case the owner calls in to report the animal as lost.

In some cities, the animal control officer may wish to take the pet into custody. Whenever possible, I recommend keeping the animal at your home for 48 hours, as there’s a good chance he will be reunited when the owner sees the “found” posters (alternatively, you should look for missing pet posters too!)

After 48 hours, the animal may be transported to the Animal Control facility. In most jurisdictions, the pet will be held for 72 hours. If the owner does not claim the pet within 72 hours, it will be made available for adoption. If you’re interested in adopting the animal, you can typically do so at this time.

Unfortunately, many animal lovers are tempted to keep the animal that they’ve found and while it’s tempting, it’s important to remember that there is someone out there who loves this pet! It’s vital that you make every attempt to find the rightful owner. I urge you to consider how you would feel if your beloved dog, cat, bird, etc. was lost.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with providing a home to an animal who is not claimed and reunited with his family, but it’s important that you make every attempt to find the pet’s home before calling him your own.

When you’ve found a lost pet, it’s important that you make it as easy as possible for the owner to find the animal. With lots of posters, neighborhood canvassing, posts on Craigslist and other lost pet sites, an owner who is seeking his or her missing animal should be able to find him without much effort. See our related article which discusses what you should do if you’ve lost your pet!

You may also wish to read our article with tips for making a lost pet poster.

Also, stop by the PetLvr archives for tons of additional articles on pet care.

Photo Source: Bethan Hazell at Sxc.hu

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

2 Responses

  1. Catherine
    | Reply

    it’s important that you make it as easy as possible for the owner to find the animal. With lots of posters, neighborhood canvassing, posts on Craigslist and other lost pet sites, Thank you for the info..

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