If I Found a Stray Dog Can I Keep It to Me?


Adopting a new dog can bring immense joy to dog lovers. Does that mean as a dog lover you can keep a stray dog that you found?

Answering this question can be a bit tricky as you need to consider several factors, including legal ones. However, if you do not find the rightful owner of the dog after proper searching and fulfilling the legal requirements of your living location, you can keep the stray dog. 

Identifying Stray and Feral Dogs

When you find a lost dog, you need to identify whether it is stray or feral. Keep a safe distance, as the dog can aggressively act when approached.

There are several indications to determine if the dog is feral or stray. Some common indicators are:

  • Tags and collars are clear indicators of ownership. Look for signs of missing tags or collars. 
  • Scan the dog for a microchip. You can scan the stray for chips at any vet, shelter, or animal hospital.
  • A Dog’s behavior may also indicate whether it is stray or feral. A stray might project signs of looking or waiting for someone, while ferals tend to avoid humans.
  • Offer food or treats to the dog. Strays are often hungry and happily accept food from humans.
  • Observe if the dog shows signs of stress, such as anxiety, fear, or relentlessness, which is very common in strays. 
  • See if the dog returns to a specific location. It often suggests that the dog is a lost pet rather than a feral.
  • Check for signs showing a lack of socialization. Strays might be fearful, aggressive, or overly submissive, while ferals avoid close contact.
  • See for signs of untreated health issues. Malnutrition, injuries, or parasites are some common signs in strays.

Can You Keep a Stray Dog?

As mentioned earlier, you need to consider several factors and complete certain steps to keep the stray dog you found. Here is the step-by-step process:

Step 1- Report as a Missing Dog

The most helpful thing you can do for a found stray is to try to return it to its loving owner. 

You can use lost-and-found websites for pets, like PawMaw, to search for the owner. 

These websites can guide you through the proper and effective steps ( like filing missing reports, creating posters and flyers, etc.) to find the stray's rightful owner and return to their loving home.

Step 2- Resolve Legal Requirements

You must fulfill several legal requirements to adopt a stray you find, which may vary depending on the state you live in. 

Firstly, contact the local authority, such as a local animal rescue, which will tend to the furry animal for the state-required holding period.

If the owner is nowhere to be found within the mandated holding period, the local authorities will start the process of finding a new home for the stray. If you want to adopt it, you will need to leave your details with the authorities.

Step 3 - Gaining Custody

If your local animal rescue finds you fit to adopt a dog, they will contact you to go through their normal procedure for transferring ownership. 

They will consider your commitment to nurturing, including patience, time, and resources, during this selection. Your effort to find the pet’s owner, cooperation with the authorities, and previous history with pets will also be considered while transferring the dog’s custody.

Step 4- Health Checkup

Once you gain custody of the found stray, start with a thorough health check-up to ensure that the pup is not harmful to you or others living with you.

Consider vaccinating the stray to prevent the spread of germs and protect yourself and your other beloved pets. You may also need to spay or neuter it. 

A thorough health check-up and addressing any immediate medical issues encountered while living on the streets will help the dog stay healthy for the long term. 

Final Thoughts

Adopting a stray is a life-altering experience. It can be challenging, messy, and exhausting. However, the loyal companionship and unconditional love a dog brings to your home is immeasurable.

Whenever you find a stray, put your best efforts to return it to its owner without making any assumptions. However, if the owner is nowhere to be found, you can adopt the poor animal following the above mentioned procedure and make a loyal friend for years to come.


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