Friday, November 2, 2012

I Found A Stray... Now What?

You found a stray by the side of the road. It's cute, and hungry, and homeless.

Now what?

Step One: Accepting Responsibility

Before taking action, keep this in mind: do not pick up a stray cat or dog unless you are willing to take on full responsibility for that animal. You should be prepared to provide food, shelter, and veterinary care for the animal if needed.

HSEC does not accept strays for two reasons. Lost pets are best returned to their owners through a central agency or location, which in our community is the animal shelter. Also, North Carolina law mandates that strays must be held for at least 72 hours, to give their owners time to locate them, and HSEC does not have the space or resources to provide these stray periods. (70% of our intake does come from PCAS, so we do get strays in a roundabout way.)

The Pitt County Animal Shelter (which is not a no-kill organization) will accept strays, but they may not have immediate available space. Facilities have limited space and sometimes all kennels are already full with strays waiting out that 72 hour hold. This occurs at Pitt County Animal Shelter about one day a week on average.

That means the little guy may have to crash with you for a while. And if he needs veterinary attention, you will be expected to pay for it (except scanning for a microchip, which is free). If you are not willing to take care of the animal, then the best thing you can do is call animal control (in Pitt County, 252-902-1725) and leave the animal where it is.  It may simply be lost and trying to find its way home. Please, don't involve yourself unless you are going to take full responsibility for the animal.

Step Two: Retrieve the Animal Safely

Evaluate the situation and determine if you can safely retrieve the animal. If they appear aggressive or unfriendly, are acting strangely, or are in an unsafe environment (the middle of the highway, the top of a tree), you may be unable to collect the animal in a way that is safe for you and for them. Animal Control is an excellent option if you are concerned about your ability to safely take control of the stray.

Step Three: Spread the Word

Sometimes people wait weeks or even months to contact HSEC after finding a stray. All strays should be treated as lost pets! Those who have had a missing pet will tell you that it is a terrible experience. Act quickly and do your best to find the owner. Don't assume the owner is negligent or uncaring. Even the best loved pets can sneak through an open door or slip out of a leash.

  • Make the first call to the local Animal Control to see if anyone has reported an animal missing matching the description of your found animal, and leave a description with them so they can contact you.  
  • Contact local vets, especially those near the location where the pet was recovered. They may even recognize the animal.
  • Put up signs, concentrating on the area where the animal was found. (This is particularly important for cats. Dogs may roam widely, but lost cats won't generally move out of the area where they became lost). This site has good suggestions for how to make signs easily visible. Make sure you include your contact information on the sign. Consider making a large sign to put in your own yard that can be seen by owners if they are driving around looking for their pet.
  • Contact your local newspaper. For Greenville, that's the Daily Reflector. Lost and found animals are listed in the Sunday paper. 
  • Take advantage of social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Craigslist are great places to spread the word. People love to help, so ask them to share. Maybe someone on your friends list knows the owner!
Don't assume the owner will find you, actively work as well to find them. Have the lost pet scanned for a microchip. This can be done at any vet or shelter for free and can instantly connect the critter to its home. Look for lost posters that match your new little friend, and check out the local paper as well as Craigslist and other local lost/found posting areas.

When you describe the pet, include details like where it was found and whether it was found with a collar or tags. If the animal is mixed breed, be careful in your description. If your flier describes the dog as a lab, but the owner considers the dog to be a hound, they may not call. We've seen it happen! Use coat length, coat color, eye color, ears (floppy, pointed), tail (fluffy, missing, docked, curly), and unique markings. Take the time to get a few good photos and include these in your posters and in social media outreach.

Step Four: If No One Comes Forward...

If you can't find the owner, it is time to make a final decision about the pet's future. Perhaps your family is in a position to welcome a new addition. You may choose also to leave the stray at the Animal Shelter.

Or you may wish to wait until a space becomes available at HSEC. It is important to understand that there is no process for HSEC to accept strays. You will be acting as the animal's owner and must abide by all requirements of the surrender process. There is no guarantee that we will accept the animal. In order to begin the process of surrendering to HSEC, fill out and submit an owner surrender form (available through our website). All surrendered animals must have up-to-date vaccination records, including a rabies certificate. Prior to admission, the pet will be evaluated for health and temperament. The surrender fee is $50.

Finally, you may choose to take on the task of rehoming the animal yourself. This may be a less stressful experience for the pet than going through any animal welfare organization.

If you choose to take on the responsibility of a stray, we thank you for helping an animal in need!

Other good resources on this topic include The Humane Society of the United States and Missing Pet Partnership

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