Coming across a stray dog, especially one in bad shape, tugs at the heartstrings of any animal lover. Our first instinct is to help as we would want someone to help our dogs if they got out, but personal safety should be your first priority.

Here are several ways to help when you see a stray dog.

Safety Is Key

Keep in mind your safety, the safety of others, and, of course, the safety of the dog. A dog’s behavior can be unpredictable. Remain calm and avoid sudden movements. Panicking may make the situation worse.

If the dog refuses to come to you and/or seems dangerous, call Austin 311 (or use the Austin 311 app) to submit a report about the dog.

If the dog is cooperative and friendly, try to get it to come to you and check for a collar and any informational tags. The owner’s name, address, or phone number could be there, making returning the dog to its owner a simple matter.

If the dog is missing a collar, or has no tags on, transport it to the local animal shelter or call 311 for animal control. The shelter can scan the dog for a microchip which would make reuniting dog and owner a breeze. If you can’t manage a shelter, you also could take the dog to your vet to have it scanned.

Taking the Dog Home

If the animal has no identification and you plan on taking it home instead of the shelter until you can find the owner, please reconsider. Many owners of lost pets will check with animal control and shelters first.

If you do opt to keep the dog in your home, be careful if you have pets as not all animals welcome newcomers. You should crate or otherwise keep the dog in another room separate from your own pets to reduce exposure to diseases and to prevent fights. If the stray appears ill, you would be wise to have animal control get the dog instead of taking it home with you.

Websites like Facebook, NextDoor, and PetFinder are excellent ways to spread the word of a found pet. You might even find the owner looking for their lost fur baby! Posting fliers around the area where you found the dog is also helpful for locating people who might be familiar with the dog and its owner, so take some pictures and jump online, and post fliers!

Making a Decision

If you are positive the animal is a stray it might be time to make a decision. You may decide that it would be better for your family and the stray for it to be handed over to a shelter. Or you may decide that you would like to keep it as your pet.

Your local animal shelter can provide you with information about the length of the waiting period mandated by state laws before you can consider the dog as yours. If you want to keep the pet, you need to be prepared for the possibility of the animal’s owners eventually reclaiming it. With their proof of ownership, they very likely can take their pet from you.

Lending your hand to a dog in need is instinct for us animal lovers. Kindness goes a long way. If our own dogs went missing, we would hope someone would take these same steps to reunite us with our pet.