Spotting an abandoned pet is an all too common occurrence. For an animal lover, it's often difficult not to try to rescue every abandoned dog but you need to be more careful, for everyone's sake and follow a strict procedure.

1. Stop/Pull Off of the Road Safely

If you see an abandoned dog while driving, do not cause an accident trying to “capture” the animal. Carefully come to a stop a little further away. Use your signals and always park somewhere that is completely off of the road. Turn your hazard lights on and turn the engine off and get ready to approach the dog.

2. Carefully Approach the Dog

Generally, it's best to call the animal rescue instead of doing this yourself. However, if you must do this alone, always approach an abandoned dog with extreme caution. If the dog seems in any way aggressive, stay in your car, call the local animal control authorities (if you are in a small town, you might need to call the police).

Read the dog’s body language for signs of fear, which can trigger aggression, including: cowering, hiding, tucked tail, ears back, trembling, growling, or showing their teeth. If the dog isn’t showing any signs of aggression, you can approach them with caution.

3. If You Can, Use Food/Treats

Use Food or Dog TreatsHaving dog treats, or any food that is safe to feed to a dog, will be extremely helpful at this point. Use it to get the dog to trust you and possibly come towards you, instead of running away from you. The stronger the food smells (burgers, hot dogs, tuna, turkey, or chicken meat) the more it will entice the dog to approach you.

Have the treats in a fully extended hand, and drop them on the ground in front of the dog instead of having the frightened dog take the treats directly out of your hand, to ensure you won’t get bit.

Make sure the dog can see you at all times as you approach them. You’re a stranger to this animal and they may be afraid. You're also unaware of how the dog behaves with humans. The dog could be unsocialized and/or aggressive with people. The dog could be rabid, injured, or ill and in a lot of pain, which could cause them to lash out.

4. “Capture” the Dog Safely

Because the abandoned dog will likely be frightened, any abrupt movement, such as raising or moving your arms quickly, or even the opening and closing of your car door, may cause them to make a run for it.

As you move towards the dog, approach from the side (not head-on), moving slowly. Speak calmly, quietly, and in a friendly tone. Never stare at the dog as this can be taken as a sign of aggression or intimidation.

If you are able to get close enough to capture the dog and the animal is not showing any signs of aggression, you can use a leash or a long piece of rope, cloth to try to get a lead on the dog.

If you have a dog kennel, use a piece of cloth or rope to contain the abandoned dog in a small area, then coax the dog into going into the kennel. Having treats to throw into the back of the kennel would be helpful. Once the dog has entered the kennel, calmly shut the door behind, then praise them for cooperation.

5. Check for an Identification Tag

If you are able to get close enough to see if the dog is wearing an ID tag, and what is written on it, store the information somewhere safe immediately. This information could be valuable in helping to locate the real owner.

6. If You are Unable to Capture the Dog Safely…

If you are unable to capture the abandoned dog, call the animal control authorities to assist you.

Wait until they arrive, and do anything you feel comfortable doing to try to keep the abandoned dog in the area and in sight until animal control arrives. For instance, if the dog will take treats from you, keep giving the dog treats until animal control arrives.

If the dog is in the middle of a road, or near a road, signal approaching traffic to slow down, and direct them to go around the dog. If you must signal traffic without emergency flairs, be extremely cautious to avoid being struck by a car.

7. Safely Entice the Dog into Your Car

If you were able to capture the dog and they're not aggressive, you can entice the dog to come into the safety of your vehicle.

Using food or treats would be the best way to motivate them. Once the dog is in your car, shut the door and wait for animal control to arrive. If it is above 65 to 70 degrees outside, use the air conditioning to keep the dog cool, or they risk getting heatstroke.

It's not recommended for anyone to drive with a strange dog, unless the dog is safely locked inside of a kennel. However, if the dog seems calm and if they're hurt and require medical attention, take them to the nearest veterinary clinic or animal shelter.

8. Have the Dog Scanned for a Microchip

Most veterinarian clinics and animal shelters have a microchip scanner that can be used to instantly determine if the abandoned dog has a microchip.

If the dog has a microchip, it's likely they're lost rather than abandoned, and the information attached to the microchip will allow the authorities to locate the owner.

9. If You Want to Take the Abandoned Dog Home with You

Pros and Cons of Adopting Abandoned DogsYour first concern and obligation is to make sure that the dog is safe and healthy.

Regardless of your future plans, however, the first thing you should do is take the dog to a local veterinarian clinic for evaluation. This is especially important if you have other pets at home that the abandoned dog could spread any contagious illnesses to.

But be aware of the fact that veterinary care is often expensive, and as the person who takes the dog to be seen, you will be responsible for paying the vet bill for this dog, so make sure to speak with the veterinarian about what you can and cannot afford to pay for.

Once you have taken the dog to the vet, you will need to check your local Dog Abandonment Laws. You may be required by law to try to find the dog’s owner. Even if the dog ends up not having an owner at all, in many states the law requires that the dog’s owner is searched for 30 days before the dog can be legally adopted by a new owner.

If you do decide to keep the dog with you in your home for the legal period of time in which the dog’s owner is being searched for, you still need to call your local animal control agency, and/or local animal shelter(s) to provide them with information about what the abandoned dog looks like, and provide your contact information in case the dog’s owner contacts animal control and/or the local animal shelters, looking for their dog.

For further information about Animal Abandonment Laws, please see the following documents for examples of previous cases, and descriptions of various cases and laws related to this topic:

Animal Abandonment and Georgia Law published by the Animal Law Source.

Overview of Lost Dog Legal Issues published by Michigan State University of Law, and made available on the Animal Legal and Historical Center website.

10. Pros and Cons of Adopting Abandoned Dogs (And What to Do If You Bring the New Dog Home)

It is in no way your responsibility to give the abandoned dog a place to live. But please know the vast limitations of animal shelters to do anything for a sick or injured dog.

If you take a sick or injured dog to an animal shelter, there is a good chance that it will be euthanized because animal shelters are overcrowded and inadequately funded. They often cannot afford to pay for the costly care that an abandoned animal might need.

If you have the means to help the dog, and the heart and desire to do so, the very best thing that you can do for an abandoned dog is provide them with a new home.

You must also consider the fact that the animal’s owner could be desperately looking for the lost dog, and want them back as soon as they locate the dog.

If you are a person that becomes attached to animals quickly and won't be able to give the dog back to their rightful owner, your best option might be to take the dog directly to a shelter, or have animal control do it for you.

If you have considered the above aspects of taking the dog home with you and believe that you can handle any of the potential outcomes, taking the abandoned dog home with you, after a visit to an emergency veterinary clinic, is a selfless thing to do for the pet.

Consider that you'll need to welcome and introduce the abandoned dog into your home appropriately and cautiously, with the safety of all other pets and people in your household taking first priority.

Because you do not know how your new pooch behaves around other pets and people, it is important to keep everybody in the home away from the new dog until you can safely introduce them, preferably while they are restrained with a leash and have some sort of barrier between them (such as a baby gate or a pet gate).

If keeping the dog doesn’t work out for you and your family, you are allowed to try to find a different home for the animal instead of taking them to a shelter.

11. Spread the Information About the Abandoned Dog

Anyone who finds an abandoned dog should first assume that the dog is simply lost, and that the owner would like to be reunited with the dog. Here are some things you can do to help with that.

Walk the Dog in the Area You Found Them: This can be a very effective way of locating the owner of the dog, as he or she might be walking around the neighborhood in search of their lost pet. Or, you might come across someone who recognizes the pet and knows who their owner is.

Social Media: Social media have been very helpful in the past. Pretty much everyone is on social media these days, and many towns have their own social media pages for sharing information such as “Lost Dogs” and “Found Dogs”. Post the “Dog Found” information on your social media pages, as well as any town or dog specific social media pages that might exist for the area in which the dog was found.

Craigslist: This is a great place to post a “Dog Found” advertisement, because it is free to do so, and many people look at Craigslist. However, be aware of puppy scams and be very careful about criminals trying to “adopt” dogs and then use them as bait in dog fighting.

Post Dog Found Fliers: You can create “Dog Found” fliers that are printed on paper, to post around the area in which you found the dog.

Notify Dog Shelters and Local Pet Businesses: Also post the “Dog Found” fliers in dog shelters and pet businesses in the area in which the dog was found.

12. What to Keep in Your Car to Be Better Prepared for Saving Abandoned Dogs

If you know that abandoned dogs are known to appear on any of the routes that you drive, and you would like to try to rescue said abandoned dogs, here is a list of essential items to keep in your car that can help you with this.

  • Cell phone and charger
  • Collars and leashes (big and strong enough for large dogs)
  • Blankets
  • Dog crate
  • Pet first-aid kit
  • Fresh water and bowls
  • Strong smelling foods (tuna, chicken, turkey, hot dogs) or dog treats
  • List of phone numbers: for local animal control agencies, 24-hour emergency veterinary clinics, and local animal shelters.

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The 12 Things to Do When You Find an Abandoned Dog

Shelly lives in Iowa with her husband and Australian Shepherd named Tex. She's been an animal lover since she was a child. Currently, she enjoys reading and writing about dogs, and spending time with her family and getting involved in all things pets.