What to do if you've found a stray dog

The dog you’ve found could be a much-loved pet. Here’s what to do if you see a pooch on the loose.

Arthur the Spaniel with Canine Carer Alice

If you’ve found a dog that appears to be a stray, here are some practical things you can do to help reunite the dog with their owner. Remember that they may not be a stray at all, but a much-loved pet who has wandered away from their family.

Check their collar for a tag 

If it’s safe to do so, check to see if the dog is wearing any form of identification that will enable you to return them directly to their owner. It’s a legal requirement for a dog to be wearing a collar and tag containing their owner’s address and contact information – it’s part of responsible dog ownership. 

If the dog is wearing some ID with contact details, then get in touch with the owner straight away and arrange a place to meet them with the dog. We have some tips in the box below to make sure you stay safe as you return them. 


Contact the local dog warden 

If the dog isn’t wearing any ID, of if you can’t safely get close to them to check, then you’ll need to contact the dog warden at your local authority. 

Contact them straight away and arrange for them to collect the dog. They will ensure the dog’s microchip is scanned and make every effort to return the dog to their owner. Your local vets or rehoming organisations can’t take strays directly off the street or from well-meaning members of the public except under certain emergency situations.

What if I want to look after the dog in my home, instead of contacting the dog warden?

If you cannot identify the owner yourself, and you decide to take the dog home temporarily, then by law, you must inform your local dog warden. The authorities can then take up responsibility for finding their owner. 

This is likely to be better for the dog and their owners for a number of reasons. They can deal directly with any owners who have lost their dog, and decide whether the description matches the dog they have. 

The local authority kennel will also be able to scan the dog’s microchip to see if it has current registered owners. 

By keeping the dog, you could also become emotionally attached to them, then handing the dog back to the owner can be very traumatic.

If the owner reclaims the dog through the dog warden, this will enable the dog warden to discuss the responsibilities of dog ownership, give advice on identification and follow up the case if necessary.

The loss of a dog often causes great distress to the owner. So it’s best to hand the dog over to the dog warden as soon as possible. That will give the owner the greatest chance of being reunited with their much-loved companion.


What if I would like to adopt the dog?

Even if you are keen to adopt the dog, you will have to contact the dog warden and wait the seven days period (five days in Northern Ireland) to see if their owner comes to collect them. 

The dog warden can then pass on your details to the kennels. If they feel you are suitable you will be expected to go through their normal adoption criteria for transfer of ownership if the owner is not found.

If you keep the dog in your home, you must inform the dog warden. You are then obliged by law to keep the dog for a period of 28 days. 

After this period, you can keep the dog until such time that a person with proof of ownership claims them. This means that legal ownership is not transferred to you, and the original owner may demand the dog back at any time, no matter how long you have kept them or how much money you have spent, including any vet fees.

As mentioned in the section above, it’s best not to keep the dog in your home, to avoid getting emotionally attached to them. 

Staying safe as you hand a stray dog back to their owner

Pick a safe location

When contacting the owner, consider an appropriate location to meet them. You may want to ask that they meet you to collect their dog in a public place.

Protect your personal details

Don’t give away any personal details to the owner if you’re uncomfortable doing so. The important thing is that the owner knows where and when to collect their dog. 

Ask a friend to join you

If you have committed to reuniting the dog with owner at an agreed location but feel nervous about the handover, consider asking a friend to join you. Alternatively you could tell a friend or family member what you are doing, where you are going in advance and when you plan …

Bring your phone

Take your phone with you to the handover so that you can make contact with friends, family or the dog warden if you need to. 

Trust your instincts

If something about the reunion doesn’t feel right then it’s best for both you and the dog that you contact the local dog warden and so that they can take responsibility for the handover

Act quickly to help reunite the dog with their owner

If you find a dog that appears to be a stray, it’s important to act swiftly to help them get back to their owner, if they have one.

If you can’t locate the owner quickly (ie by using the collar ID) then it’s best to let your local dog warden know as soon as possible. They have the best chance of reuniting the dog with their owner. 

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