By former CFPU board member and shelter worker, Ann Wigham:
Now that the weather’s warming up, many pets feel compelled to escape their yards and follow their noses toward all the fresh spring scents. Do you know what to do if you find an animal roaming your neighborhood?
While we want to do what’s right for these temporarily displaced pets, we need to remember that there are laws to follow, and that their families are likely searching for them. What’s best for the animal may come as a surprise. Follow these tips for your best chance at reuniting lost pets:
-Lost animals should be taken to the nearest shelter as soon as possible. The shelter will be the first place an owner will look for their pet. If you are unsure of the animal’s temperament, call animal control to pick them up. Before leaving the animal in the care of an animal control officer or shelter staff, it is a good idea to take a few pictures of the animal.
-Make sure you obtain the animal’s automatically generated ID# before you leave the shelter. Many animals have similar characteristics, and this ensures you are getting updates on the correct animal.
-While at the shelter, be sure to claim “first and last rights”. Claiming first rights gives you an adoption privilege if the animal is not claimed by the owner. Claiming last rights gives you an adoption privilege if the animal is not claimed within a given time period and is due to be euthanized. It is a good idea to call the animal control facility daily to let them know you are interested in the animal’s welfare.
-While in the care of shelter staff, the animal will be scanned for a microchip. If an owner is found, they will be contacted.
-Check the lost and found section in local newspapers and in the newspapers of nearby towns. Lost pets can travel some distance (either on their own, by hitchhiking on a vehicle, or by being rescued and then lost again in a new location) and may be farther away from home than you think. If you have already dropped the animal off at the shelter at this point, contact anyone listed in the ad, and let them know where the animal is (assuming it is theirs – this is where photos come in handy).
-If you find an animal after hours, if at all possible, put the animal up for the night (or two, if found on a weekend). If there is a concern about how the pet will interact with other pets or family members in the home, make a temporary shelter in a garage or someplace similar (with suitable temperatures). Take the animal to the shelter as soon as it reopens, or contact an animal control officer to come pick the animal up from your home.
-It is possible that the animal will be in bad shape, if he or she has been missing for a while. This does not necessarily mean they are missing from a bad home, or that nobody is frantically looking for them.
-Whatever you do, DO NOT try to rehome the animal yourself before taking it to a shelter. No matter their condition, that could be someone’s pet, and the sooner you get them to the shelter to be reclaimed, the better. If no one claims the animal, adoption or foster arrangements may be made.
-Last but not least, DO NOT keep the animal as your own. Just because you found the animal, does not automatically mean it gets to live with you. Not without going through the proper channels first. If you are caught harboring a stray animal, you are likely to face criminal charges. Not to mention the devastation it would cause the family it came from.