- May
Posted By : Clayton G.
What to Do With a Found Pet: A Step-by-Step Guide

Last Updated on July 31, 2023

What to Do If You Find a Dog, Cat, or Other Lost Pet: Creating a Happy Reunion

Have you taken in a stray and are now in possession of a found pet? You’ve come to the right place.

First off, thank you for caring enough to help a lost pet in need. People like you make the world a better place, and you should be recognized for that. So here’s a big THANK YOU from PawBoost!

Many people who find a pet are at a loss for what they should do to create a happy reunion. They want to do the right thing, but they’re simply not sure of what the right thing is.

This guide was designed to fill you on the steps you should take to maximize the chance of getting your found pet back to their loving family.

Important Things To Know About Lost & Found Pets

1. Be aware of local laws and ordinances regarding a lost or found pet

Your found dog or cat might be the cutest, sweetest animal you’ve ever met. But no matter how much you may want to adopt her, you have a moral (and in most states legal) obligation to make a real effort to find the family she belongs to.

Photo Credit: Pixabay via Pexels

The fact that you are reading this guide is a good start to fulfilling your obligation.

It is important to be aware that cities and states have different rules and regulations regarding found pets. Please take the time to review local ordinances to keep you and the pet protected.

You can consult with local rescues, shelters or your local police department if you don’t know how to find the local laws and ordinances regarding found pets. These local experts should be able to inform you on the rules specific to your location.

For more general information, this article from the Animal Legal & Historical Center covers the legal side of animal ownership. However, it does not cover the nuances of different cities/states, so it’s best to consult with a local expert to make sure you are acting in compliance with the law.

2. Keep the found pet separate from your other pets or children

This is important to keep your pets, your children, and the pet you found free from harm.

A found pet is often frightened and may even be in fight or flight mode, or could have infectious diseases or parasites that could spread to other pets.

Keep a found dog or cat in a separate room of your house, or in a spare crate if you have one.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Chan via Pexels

3. Don’t make judgments about the found pet’s owner

It can be easy to think that a pet has gone missing because her pet parent isn’t responsible or just doesn’t care enough to take proper precautions. However, this is rarely the case!

There are hundreds of circumstances that can lead to a missing pet: A pet panicking and bolting due to fireworks or other loud noises, contractors working on the house and accidentally leaving doors or gates open, a friend or family member watching the pet that’s unaware of their escape artist personality.

Photo Credit: Cal David via Pexels

We’ve seen all these things happen many times at PawBoost to even the most loving and responsible pet parents. Unfortunately, some things are simply out of our control.

So reserve your judgment, and assume the best about the pet’s family. More than likely, they are absolutely devastated that their furry child is missing and are doing everything they can to reunite with them.

How to Find a Stray Pet’s Owner

1. Check for identification on the found pet

It might seem obvious, but it bears repeating. Make sure to check the animal for tags that could contain the rightful owner’s contact information.

If the animal is wearing a collar but no tags, inspect the collar carefully. Some have a phone number or address printed on the outside or inside of the collar.

Photo Credit: Stokpic via Pexels

The animal also might be wearing a rabies tag. At first glance, it won’t seem like this contains contact information. However, you can take the rabies tag ID number to your local police department. From this number, they should be able to pull the contact information of the animal’s rightful owner.

2. Notify local animal control agencies and shelters

Your local shelter or animal control agency is among the first places someone with a lost pet will look.

Most shelters maintain a bulletin board or binder of lost pet flyers that you can cross-reference for a match. You can also give them a found pet flyer to keep on file in case the pet’s parent comes in.

Important: Depending on local laws, if you bring the pet you found with you to the shelter, they might force you to surrender it. Be aware most shelters have a finite stray hold period during which the owner can claim their pet. After this, the pet you found will either be adopted out or euthanized.

Photo Credit: catjie522 via Pixabay

Don’t know all of your local shelter organizations? You can use Google to find them.

Try Googling the term “animal shelters near [insert city/town name here]” or “animal control near [insert city/town name here]” to see a list. Look for your local SPCA, animal control facility, pound, or Humane Society.

3. Raise local awareness for the found pet

Use online lost & found pet resources

Time is your most valuable resource, so don’t waste it! Raising local awareness quickly is your best strategy for reuniting the found pet with her family, and the internet is the most efficient way to do this.

If you have not already, be sure to report the found pet to PawBoost. It takes only seconds.

We’ll send an email alert to our local members, post to the PawBoost-powered Facebook page for your area, add the found pet to our lost & found, and make a found pet flyer – all for free. You can also boost your alert to get it in front of even more local people.

Make sure to check the PawBoost lost & found frequently. Over 1,000 lost & found pets are added every single day, so you want to make sure you don’t miss something that could lead to a happy reunion!

Other sites that help you raise local awareness for the pet you found with minimal time and effort are Craigslist and Nextdoor.com. Both of these sites have very active lost & found sections mainly used for pets. We highly recommend you use these resources in addition to PawBoost!

Post found pet flyers

Old-fashioned flyers are still a great way to spread the word that you found someone’s pet.

Put up flyers in your neighborhood and in nearby highly trafficked locations such as grocery stores and popular businesses. Include a picture of the pet and your contact information. Make sure the text on the flyer is easily legible. If you have access to a color printer, use loud colors to make the flyer stand out.

PawBoost creates a free, eye-catching printable flyer (8.5″ x 11″) for you when you report a found pet. If you want an even higher impact sign, follow these tips to learn how to create an eye-catching poster that can be read from inside a speeding car.

Tell neighbors you found a pet

Most lost pets don’t stray more than a few miles from where they went missing (although some do stray much further). Making your neighbors aware that you found a pet is a surefire way to increase your odds of reuniting the pet with her family.

Call your neighbors and let them know you found a pet. Knock on doors and hand out found pet flyers. There’s a good chance the pet might belong to a family right down the street.

Make sure everyone you speak to has your contact information and knows what the found pet looks like so they can get in touch if they find the owner. The more people that know, the better your chance of creating a happy reunion!

Photo Credit: Pixabay via Pexels

4. Get the found pet scanned for a microchip

A microchip is simply a rice grain-sized transponder implanted in a pet that can be scanned by a special device.

If the pet is chipped, you can have it scanned to reveal an ID number that is unique to the pet. If the chip is registered with the microchip company, this ID number will be associated with the contact information of the proper owner.

You can take the pet you found to a local vet or shelter to get her scanned for a chip. Generally, these facilities will scan for free.

You can read more about how microchips work in this article.

Photo Credit: jaminriverside via Pixabay

5. Work with local animal rescues

The pet lovers who volunteer or run animal rescues are often very plugged in to the lost & found pet community. In fact, many of them are among the most active PawBoost Rescue Squad members. These organizations can be a valuable resource when you’ve found a pet.

Consulting with a rescue is helpful because they will “intake” the pet and usually provide a crate, shots, and food for the pet. Once you intake through a rescue you will become a foster parent, or they will take the pet off your hands.

When working with a rescue, be sure to ask how long the stray hold period is. This is the amount of time that the pet is held while waiting for the owner. If the owner isn’t found during the stray hold period, the rescue may adopt the pet out at any time. Furever homes are hard to find, and when the right opportunity comes up the rescue will always take it.

Another benefit of working with a local rescue vs. a shelter is they usually have a network of fosters and a vetting process for new pet parents. You can feel safe knowing the pet will be rehomed with a caring family, and will not be euthanized.

To find local rescues, you can ask local experts or do some research on your own using Google. Try Googling the term “[insert animal/dog/cat here] rescues near [insert city/town name here]” or “[insert breed type here] rescues near [insert city/town name here]”.

Reuniting The Found Pet With The Rightful Owner

Someone has seen one of your flyers and contacted you that you found their fur baby. Mission accomplished! Right? Not so fast.

Despite the fact that most folks are good genuine people, there are nonetheless scammers out there looking to take advantage of a desperate situation. It’s an ugly and unfortunate truth.

It’s important you do the following before handing over the pet you found to make sure you are putting her in the right hands.

1. Ask for proof of ownership documents

If someone contacts you claiming to be the pet’s owner, you must verify their claim before handing the pet back to them.

Vet records, ownership or breeding papers, and even family photos are all viable ways to prove ownership. If the person is unable to produce any of these, it is likely they are attempting to pull off a scam.

2. Ask for specific identifying markings or traits (but don’t ask leading questions)

If someone claims that the pet you found belongs to them but doesn’t have proof of ownership documents, make them describe a marking, trait or behavior that is unique to the pet.

Photo Credit: Pixabay via Pexels

Make sure not to ask leading questions like ‘Does he have white socks on his front paws?’ Instead, ask the person to describe something about the pet that wouldn’t be visible in pictures that may have been posted.

If the person fails to come up with an identifying attribute and doesn’t have proof of ownership documents or photos, it is likely they are attempting to pull off a scam.

3. Meet in a public place to make the exchange

If you are confident this person is the rightful pet parent, that is amazing news! It is always best to play it safe by arranging to meet in a public place to give them back their furry family member.

Reuniting a beloved fur baby with her family is one of the best feelings in the world. Prepare yourself for tears of joy and immense gratitude from the pet’s family!

Photo Credit: freestocks.org via Pexels

Follow the advice in this article and you will be well on your way to creating a heartwarming reunion. Good luck!


  • I don’t know how to post that the dog that I found yesterday has been reunited with his Family? Please help.

    • Hi Barbara! Thank you so much for helping reunite this pup with their owner 🙂 You can update this pet’s status in your PawBoost dashboard. Go to “My Pets,” select the pet you want to update, then you can change their status under “Pet Info.” If you need anymore assistance you can find how to contact us through your “Support” tab 🙂

      • I spotted a medium sized brown with white face pit bull at the railroad crossing at Jonesboro Road and Highway 138 in Jonesboro, GA. He appeared to be guarding a deceased medium sized brown dog. I couldn’t get a picture, and was afraid he would run into traffic if I approached him. I had a hard time reporting this on the web site due to the limit of characters in description and location. It was a heartbreaking sight😞😩😭🐾❤️🐾❤️🐾🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

      • TY, I just reunited too and was thinking the same thing!

    • These 2 cat’s were dropped off 6 yrs ago. C.ocondition. They stay outside good mousers I don’t want them to die but I have to move out of state.

  • we found a dog once at a gas station, he’d been there for hours, according to employees. we took him home about 2 hrs away, a kid, friend of the owners kid, saw my post & they were his humans!
    We LOVED that dog. I had already pd for a neuter cert. for him, so i went back their way 2 hrs, p/u & brought him to be nuetered, brought him to them, he ran again, they never found him that time. I should’ve kept him.😢

    • You did what you thought was right, and it was. Also some folks are just not responsible in keeping their pets contained. If it ran away once, it will again. But don’t suffer guilt over that. You were sweet to become involved and do the right thing..

      • I am sorry but pets get loose for many reasons. Bolting whenever a door is opened, dug under fence or jumped over or gate was left open by a landscaper, delivery person whatever. Please don’t judge others when you don’t have the facts

        • U train them not to. Having a pet is a responsibility like having children, you have to guide them and sometimes they require schooling to minimize or get rid of certain behaviors.

    • So sorry, Florence. The fact that you had to get him nuetered was the red flag that they weren’t very responsible owners. Maybe he found somebody the second time that was. We can only hope.

    • Thats sad but a runner is a runner cant change that i had a siberian Husky i Love him but heute was a runner And that was that but sorry for youre heart ache.

    • Maybe this dog had another family he ran too! I sure hope so. But you did the right thing.,

  • Great article, will Share, thanks!

  • What do you do if you think a found dog has been abused?

    • You absolutely did the right and responsible thing. Some pet owners, are not aware of best practices. They think that a pet can be chained or gated, minimal
      Human contact or affection, live in the heat and or cold, and survive on food and water—-no nurturing. The one true attribute about all living things is the desire for freedom. I hope your “once rescued- and lost again” pup, was found by a responsible, caring family. Let’s continue to use social media, word of mouth and enlist the help of local veterinarian clinics, to pass the word. Every subdivision should have a pet advocate page/person. PawBoost should host a Lost and Found Day to create awareness. Let’s all do what we can to be solution seekers.

  • Donna Chinery Neumeister

    May 27, 2018 at 10:51 PM

    Excellent article, would love to be able to share this everywhere!

  • Very helpful article. Thank you for being there regarding finding a lost pet.

  • Charlene M Westley

    July 22, 2018 at 3:15 PM

    Is there a similar guide for Losing a Pet? Can I get a link to thank please? How can I post these to Craigslist?

  • A little different with a pet bird. Could have flown a distance even though I posted close to where I found it. In a stray cat’s mouth in my yard. He just grabbed it & I grabbed it just as quick. Don’t see any injuries. Just started to chirp. Guess it’s ok. Did canvass neighborhood. Thanks for this post. Fingers crossed. I have 3 birds.

  • What if you think the pet you found may have been abused? Should you still bring it back to its rightful owner?

    • That’s a very good question Hannah. Can someone with experience answer?

    • I would not give the animal back to an abuser and I would do whatever I needed to make sure that didn’t happen. I rescued a dog from an abuser. I didn’t know he was an abuser when we met to get my dog but by the end of that night I knew my new puppy have been severely beaten and abused in a horrible way. He was infested with parasites and couldn’t even hold food. If I could have found that man again I would have turned him in.

  • it’s hard to know if a cat is missing or just running around because owners leave it outside which i think is so sad!

  • I found an orange Tabby cat in our house!–young–a teenager, we think–so adorable–affectionate beyond belief, litter-box trained, and as alert and responsive as a dog! He’s clearly somebody’s special companion. I would have kept him while looking for the owner or for a new home for him if I could have, but my husband is VERY allergic to cat spores. and had trouble breathing immediately. So… I posted photos and info around my neighborhood, left flyers at some doors on our street, created a “Found Cat” post with a photo on PawBoost, and put it out there on Facebook. I don’t know what else to do to help him. He is in the SPCA right now in Long Beach. They call him Roman. I would even contribute some of the adoption cost. Any more suggestions? He captured my heart and I need to find him a good home.

  • Nice general guide on lost or found pets….what I’m asking is on YOUR site…how do I post a found pet free….

    • Hi Joyce, posting a lost or found pet is completely free as well as printing flyers, listing the pet in our Lost & Found database, and notifying our Rescue Squad. You have the option to pay for additional advertising outside of our network on Facebook with an ad campaign, but this is optional. With our premium service we turn your alert into an ad and force it into people’s Facebook news feeds in the area last seen/found. You can report a found pet here: https://www.pawboost.com/?status=101

  • I’m assuming when an animal is pregnant those same rules apply to the babies once they are born?

  • ummmm hey guys anybody see a brindle female puppy with a white tipped tail probably 1 year old very energetic and loves to jump and play bite we lost her 16-18 days ago please look at my post to see if you have her name is autumn

    • Dude- go to their lost pets section, not the blog. From there you’ll be able to create a poster that we posted to their Facebook group. There it will be viewable by anyone who uses Facebook. Celso shareable so you can post it there and then share it and share it to local groups. Searching Facebook for “lost pets of [my town]” and sharing it to that group as well. I really hope you find your dog.


      • Found rabbit in the wood which at one point was a pet because he is friendly. I can’t keep him but I would like to find him a good home

  • my name is gloria barabdon i found a dog may 17 2018 he was at east atlanta road stockbrige ga i have look and look for the owner i put up every thing . what should i do now?

  • I would give any thing to get my tiny back

  • All the information is great. It is the best feeling in the world when you reunite a pet with its owner.

  • what do i do if i have had a dog over a month cannot keep any longer we are getting a new home and we have to take down the fence that is protecting her from the road wild dogs and farmer traps the shelter in my area is full and i am on a waiting list but running out of time i am worried she will get hurt

  • What if a pet I found is never claimed?

  • I will do my best to found this lost dogs owner

    I am adamant that no one call number on a tag nowadays. My dog Jake was found 2,300 miles away in Memphis and had the woman who found him called the number on his tag, she would have given him back to the homeless guy who STOLE him from Boise, Idaho 6 months before!!!! Tags are just jewelry anymore – PLEASE ALWAYS HAVE A LOST PET SCANNED FIRST!!!

  • this applies to lost pet cats. We have a feral cat, young obviously hungry that we are feeding but what to do with it as winter comes. It is very wild but i think we could catch it .in a cage.
    We did take in another feral cat ( not as willd)

    afew years ago and she has become a wonderful pet but we cant do it again.
    What to do???

    • My daughter made a winter shelter out of plastic bin .Dire tions on youtube. It’s not expensive. Leave dry food inside water out. Be consistent . After 2 yrs they come and go but are sAfe and fed.



  • A feral cat had kittens in our neighborhood. They are outside. We can’t keep them due to allergies and we are going out of town. We don’t know what to do. Animal control won’t take them. Please advise.

  • What did u find out where to bring them same position you are in!???

  • I made an attempt to locate the cats owner via Social Media and phone calls

  • Every time tenants move out, there’s yet another abandoned cat. I would advise anyone finding a pet to notify local Animal protection and send a photo if you can and a write-up to indicate if the animal is socialized because then, they will NOT be euthanized and the local protection agency will reach out to various shelters. . Paw Boost has a great article on what to do when you find an animal. If you find young kittens and Animal Control can’t take them (because they require special care), contact local shelters. Our SPCAs find fosters to socialize kittens and make sure they are healthy. I know as I’ve done it many times, esp. after spring when there are so many litters because pet owners are irresponsible and don’t desex their pets and many ferals. There are lots of great resources out there.

  • Neighborhood cat named Jada cannot be caught. She has kittens twice a year and we usually can’t catch them. This time we were able to catch a lb.1oz baby kitten. We bought mother’s milk, CatMX milk replacement powder and KMR 2nd step Kitten Weaning Food plus Nursing Kit from PetSmart. Found it Wednesday and bathed to get rid of fleas. Bought Frontline Plus 8 Weeks and older and weighing over 1.5 lbs. Can’t treat kitten because doesn’t weigh enough. Bought litter box and Fresh Start and she learned to use immediately. She’s in a bathroom inside her kitten tent which she loves. Will give new owner everything. Husband is allergic to cats and we have to dogs so we can’t keep her. Three other kittens are out back with mother but we can’t catch them. They run under our fence to our creek in the back of the house. She’s adorable and is very sweet. She is brownish with lots of white like her mom. Seems like she was biting the mom when she was nursing so mom would walk away. Siblings are about two lbs.

  • I don’t have a lost/ found animal. But I don’t know where to post. I have 2 kittens that I am trying to find homes for, they are 9 weeks old. My mama kitty got pregnant before I could get her spayed. Can someone help me out with finding the right place to post.

  • I found a puppy under my friends trailer. The momma is a pit or pit mix and I haven’t found any more puppies. The papa is apparently a rottweiler. The puppy is approx. 2 – 2 1/2 months old. She is weaned. I am on a fixed income and already have 4 dogs and a cat. I do well to take care of them. I am also 67 years old so I can’t really get out and play with the puppy like she needs. She is very smart as I have only had her with me for 3 days and she already knows to tell me when she needs to go out and potty. She seems very happy and is very playful.
    I will take her to my vet and get her vaxed and dewormed. She’s too young for heartworm test.
    If any one can help finding this baby a loving home or rescue please let me know.
    I don’t know if this is the right place to post but I hope the right person sees this.

  • this was a amazing article

  • a shorthaired black cat has adopted my sister who has to move in two weeksl. cat is afraid, cant get close to him(?) what to do????? dont have a computer and am limited in tech knowledge.

  • Found a kitten look to be about 6 to 8 weeks eats kitten food and drinks water it is a male maybe a tabby long hair with brown strips

  • Sherrill Sue Patscheck

    June 20, 2021 at 2:45 PM

    Good advice

  • Turned on my sprinkler system to water my backyard lawn and saw a cat run out the bottom of my floating deck. The cat hung around my home and i made the mistake of feeding it so it kept hanging around . Well, I hadn’t noticed she was pregnant and she had a liter of 5.
    I would like to find them a nice home to include the momma cat. I’m getting ready to move and I’m not really a cat person but I dont want to leave them behind. I also dont want to turn them into animal shelter and risk them getting put to sleep. So please contact me if interested. Kittens are 6 wks.. old .

  • Found a cat and need home asap

  • I would add one important thing to the excellent article. If you find a pet after dark, when the animal services are closed.. especially a young dog – whose owners may be frantic.. call the police to. The non emergency line will take the call and file it.

    Tonight the inexplicable happened. Our 10 month old Australian Shepherd fell out the window of our car. He was in the back seat, the window was NOT very low, he could just about stick his head out.. yet when we arrived home in Fayetteville, from our stop in Syracuse, he was not in the car. We prayed immediately that God would protect him, and surround him with His angels, then we drove back to Syracuse.. to find what.. a 10 month old BLACK and white puppy, in the dark, along a highway, not knowing exactly where he fell out? Enroute, we called the police. The officer who answered was VERY kind, and took down our number.

    The call from the lady who found our dog came to us in just SIXTY Seconds from the time we called the police. SHe found the dog, took it to a well lit baseball field, and ALSO called the police. We were all reunited within minutes.. If she had waited to call the animal shelters the next day when they’d opened, I’d have been out all night long looking for the dog.

    Thank you for sparing us any unnecessary comments on how to keep a dog in the car, how not to open a window etc. In 45 years of owning Aussies, this has never happened before. The window was a typical height.. just enough for him to stick out his face and suck in the cooler evening air, which he loves to do. We still can’t figure out how he fell, but he did, and not only did God protect him, the lady who found him said another car had also stopped, and a man was trying to get our dog into his car. He refused to get in. When the ladies called him, he got into their car.. and again… THEY called the POLICE.. and we go their heart healing amazing phone call in less than a minute from the time that WE called the police.

    This was all just tonight, June 29th. I hope this information helps someone else in a desperate situation to see it all end well..
    And PS.. don’t forget to call upon the name of the Lord. I know that’s why we found him safe and sound.

  • There are harnesses you can put on the dog and fasten to the seat belt. If properly made, the dog will be safe in a fender bender, and won’t be able to get out of the car until you unfasten the seat belt.

  • Very nice

  • thanks so much

  • thank you for the info

  • Thanks so much

  • Sometimes the unexpected happens.

  • great article

  • Thank you

  • Gracie Ann Gonzalez

    May 22, 2023 at 1:48 PM

    Thank you

  • Thanks for this information.
    Have a great day!🐾

  • Thank you.
    Great information.

  • Wonderful info

  • Thanks for the info

  • Thanks for the info and I have a beautiful cat I found

  • Thank you

  • Owner has been found!

  • Thanks for the information

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