Help me – I found a Stray!

Actually, the stray most likely found YOU!  Why you?  Because you care!

If you’ve found a stray, do the obvious first thing – check for a tag! If there is a tag and the owner’s name is on it, call and arrange for a pickup and know you have done your good deed for the day. If the animal has no tag, they may be microchipped and easily identified through a veterinary clinic or shelter where they can scan for a microchip.

If there is no tag or microchip, contact your local animal services agency to report a found animal. In some communities, finders of lost animals are legally required to either surrender found dogs to the agency or to report to the agency that they have a stray animal. Even if you’re not legally required to notify animal services, it’s still a good idea to let them know that you have a stray. If the owner of the animal is looking for their pet, they may be able to be matched up when they call this agency.

If you found the lost animal in Washoe County, you can register the animal on Washoe County Regional Animal Services’ (WCRAS) website (, posting a photo of the animal with the hope that someone will recognize their lost pet and be reunited. You can call WCRAS at 775- 353-8900 for additional information.

Many people do not know to call animal services when their pet is missing, so creating a simple FOUND PET poster – even if you do end up turning the animal into animal services – can be a real lifesaver. If you can take a quick photo for the poster, that is ideal, but if not, write a description and include your phone number or one for your local animal services. Distribute multiple posters in the area where you found the pet.

What if the stray is sick or hurt? If you feel you can afford it, take the animal to your own veterinarian. If you can’t afford veterinary care, it is best to contact your local animal services agency immediately.

One word of caution: A stray that is injured may bite or scratch even when you are trying to help them. There are safe ways to move an injured animal out of harms way, but in most cases it is best to call animal services for assistance when the animal is hurt.

I’ve got the stray – now what? If it is possible for you to keep the stray while you try to find the original owner, it will minimize the impact on local shelters that are usually very full and will be less stressful for the animal. It’s usually best to keep the stray separated from your other pets. A bathroom, spare bedroom, laundry room, or enclosed, heated porch or garage can make an excellent guest house.

If you have some hesitation about trying to find the owner, keep in mind that just because an animal is injured, frightened, or without identification, it does not mean that the pet didn’t come from a loving home. The animal might have lost the identification tag or might have been lost for a long time and now have a matted coat or become very thin. If the animal is hand-shy or nervous, these are things that could have been learned on the streets. None of these conditions are sure signs that the animal does not have a heart-broken person looking for them somewhere.

Besides notifying your local shelter and creating posters, you may want to place a found ad in the local paper. Some papers publish them free of charge. You can also post the found pet on Craig’s List and you’ll want to check lost-and-found ads in the local newspapers. Neighborhood children are a valuable resource and often make it their business to know all the pet animals on the block. Ask them if they recognize the stray or if they know of a family that recently lost a pet.

When someone answers your flyers or ads, make sure the person gives you a detailed description of the animal. To ensure that you have found the animal’s real owner, here are a few additional tips to consider:

  • Withhold one detail about the animal, something someone who did not own the pet would not be able to know from your photo and description alone.
  • Ask the caller to bring a photo of the animal to the meeting place.
  • Ask for their veterinarian’s phone number and make a follow-up call.
  • Watch how the animal reacts to the caller in person. If you are not satisfied, ask for more proof of ownership.
  • Remember to get the owner’s phone number and address.
  • Ask them to bring their photo ID or offer to deliver the animal yourself.

Maybe the stray is not really a stray. Feral cats are common in every community. The best solution for them is not to be brought into a shelter, but rather to be neutered and cared for as part of a trap-neuter-return program. If you see or are feeding feral cats, contact the Animal Help Desk at 775-856-2000 for free advice and assistance.

If you must take the animal to your animal services shelter and you feel you can provide a new home if the animal is not reclaimed, be sure to let them know that you are a possible adopter. This will give you a chance to adopt if the animal is not claimed within a given time period.

Remember – the odds are the owner is looking for their dog or cat so you should make every effort to find the owner. I was unfortunate to have lost a dog years ago that escaped. Fortunately, a friendly Good Samaritan found my beloved Bailor ten miles away, dodging traffic. He kept him over night until the local shelter opened; we were reunited only because of this kind soul.

You can make a huge difference in the life of grieving humans and wandering, scared pets by taking a few small steps. And if you have pets, be sure they all have an identification tag and a microchip so they can quickly be reunited with you if ever lost.

For more information on this topic, please contact our Animal Help Desk at

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