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What To Do If You Encounter a Stray Dog

Finding a Stray Dog

When you come across a loose dog remember to stay calm first and exercise caution. Your safety is the first thing to ensure before all else. A dog is more likely to run off or respond aggressively if approached too quickly. A few things to keep in mind:  

  • No quick or threatening movements
  • Turn your body to the side to eliminate the threatening nature
  • Let the dog sniff you, it’s how they figure out the situation. Sniffing is good!
  • Do not run after or away from any stray dog
  • If the dog seems aggressive, record what the dog looks like and where you spotted them and call animal control as soon as possible.

A stray animal experience is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to find. It’s important to remember that not all strays are lost pets and equally important that some strays are just lost. 

PetStep: Is there anything that you should avoid doing? For example, we know it’s dangerous to post pictures/descriptions of the animal, as it opens you up to malicious actors, and makes it hard to verify ownership for anyone who steps forward. Are there other things people should be aware of?

Wisconsin Humane Society: If you do find a stray dog or cat, remember that you don’t know that animal’s health or behavioral status. Don’t put yourself at risk by chasing or cornering a stray animal. Don’t be afraid to reach out to law enforcement to help. Posting pictures online of an animal you’ve found is a great tool for owners to quickly be found. You can share that the animal was taken to X shelter, who is responsible for verifying owner information to make safe, happy reunions happen!

Lost Dog - Check for Tag

When possible check for a tag, which could have the owner’s information or information on the pet’s microchip.

PS: How do you check for a microchip, and where can you take the animal to be scanned? Typically, what information is available through the scan?

What should you do if the animal has no chip or collar/ID? What resources are available? (eg. animal shelter, social media, city services)

WHS: The answer to both of these questions is really the same. If the animal doesn’t have a tag with owner information and you can’t immediately reach that person (or choose not to), you do need to contact your local animal shelter. Wisconsin law requires that all stray animals be brought to the entity contracting with the municipality to provide sheltering services (Wis. State Statue 173.13(9)c) to provide owners the opportunity to claim their lost pet. If you don’t know what organization takes in lost animals in your area, or if it’s at night/holidays, contact your local non-emergency police department for next steps.

The Wisconsin Humane Society is responsible for housing stray/lost animals in Ozaukee County, Door County, and most municipalities in Brown and Racine Counties. In Milwaukee County, all stray animals must go to Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC), which is not affiliated with the Wisconsin Humane Society. In Kenosha County, most municipalities contract with Safe Harbor Humane Society. All stray animals are scanned by a microchip reader upon intake to check for ownership information.

Shelter Information

Shelter intake can be checked with certain resources. Be it when dropping off a stray or seeing where a stray may have ended up. When a stray is in the shelter’s care a hold is kept on them for a certain amount of time. This timeframe is given for any owner to locate a potential lost pet before adoption is considered. With so many stories of dogs finding their forever homes while out on the streets, it’s hard not to just set up a loose animal in your home. Which can still be an option! At some shelters such as Wisconsin Humane Society they offer adoption holds. Which they’ve detailed when asked as “In most cases at WHS, finders are given the option to place an adoption hold on the animal at the time of intake, allowing you to be first in line for adoption if the animal is not claimed. Exceptions may be made due to severe medical or behavior conditions evident upon intake.”

PS: Are there any laws that might come into play? (I know this varies by area, but are there any aspects of this process that might be generally regulated in a given area? eg: How long is an animal held? What rights and responsibilities do you have for the stray?)

WHS: The laws that pertain to taking custody of a stray animal can be found here: WHS does all we can to find the animal’s family and get them back home, including posting flyers on social media and pursuing all ownership leads. Per Wisconsin State Statute 173.21, WHS holds animals for a period of 4 days, plus 1 for the day of intake – 5 days total. After the hold has lapsed, ownership of the animal is transferred to the Wisconsin Humane Society and the animal can begin their journey to adoption. If the animal cannot be placed, the animal is held for 7 days, plus 1 day for the day of intake – 8 days total.

In most cases at the Wisconsin Humane Society, finders are given the option to place an adoption hold on the animal at the time of intake, allowing you to be first in line for adoption if the animal is not claimed. Exceptions may be made due to severe medical or behavior conditions evident upon intake. Other organizations may have similar policies.

PS: Where do owners often report missing pets? How can you check those resources?

WHS: Missing pets are reported most frequently to local animal shelters, as well as Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, which is the largest online network for lost and found dogs in Wisconsin. There are also innumerable online social sites such as Nextdoor and Facebook neighborhood groups that you may want to check if you’ve lost an animal, or post on if you’ve found an animal.

And for more information on Wisconsin Human society, check out their FAQ here:

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