Stray Dogs and Cats: What to do with a stray animal in Oklahoma

One of the most common phone calls we get at OK Humane is along the lines of “I found a stray dog/cat. I can’t keep it, it doesn’t have a collar on. What should I do with it? I don’t want to take it to the shelter.”

First of all, take a deep breath. You did a good thing by picking up the animal. However, when you took that animal home with you, you did something else–you took responsibility for it. Now that animal’s fate–and whether it finds its way back home–is up to you.

Should I take the stray animal to the shelter?

The shelter is NOT some bad place from which the stray animal will never emerge! Your city shelter (most cities have one–Bethany, Edmond, Del City, Norman, etc.) is the central place for people who have lost or found missing pets. If someone is looking for the stray animal you found, changes are they will look first at their city shelter. If you lost your pet, you would look at the shelter, wouldn’t you?

And taking an animal to a municipal shelter is NOT an automatic death sentence. No shelter wants to euthanize animals, and most do it far less frequently than you’d think. All Oklahoma shelters have active adoption programs. Sure, they can’t make you any guarantees about what will happen to the animal if it’s not reclaimed, but taking an animal to a shelter is not an evil thing to do, especially if the alternative is turning the animal back out onto the street.

Tips to help identify the stray animal:

Look for a tattoo or any sort of marking on the animal. Many shelters tattoo their animals, and this might be a clue to where the animal came from–and a way to find its owners.

Take the stray animal to an Oklahoma City vet or shelter to be scanned for a microchip. If the animal has this tiny device implanted, it may have its owner’s contact information inside! A ticket home in a microchip the size of a grain of rice.

If there’s no microchip or tattoo, you still want to take the animal to your city shelter and register it as “found.” Put up a sign with your contact information so that if someone is looking for the animal, they know how to contact you. If you live in a city like Bethany or Moore, you might want to go by the Oklahoma City shelter as well, since the animal might have been found in your jurisdiction but might actually live in another.

Help find the stray animal’s owner

Put up signs at local veterinarians’ offices. If you can take a photo of the animal and make a quick “Found” poster, most veterinarian offices, as well as pet stores like Petco and PetSmart, will let you post it.Here’s a flyer maker tool to help you get started and do the graphics for you!

Post signs around the area where you found the animal. It might be far from its home, but if you focus on major intersections, you can cover a lot of ground. Even if the pet’s owner doesn’t see the signs, someone else who knows the animal might see them.

If the animal is a stray dog, are they potentially a pure breed? You should check with local breed rescue groups. To find them, just do a web search for “boston terrier rescue oklahoma” or whatever the breed is. Most breeds have a rescue represented in Oklahoma, because there are so many puppy mills here. They may be able to advise you.

“Found” ads are free in most local newspapers. The Oklahoman is the state’s largest paper, and people who are looking for a lost animal are very likely to look there. You can place a free found ad in the Oklahoman online, or by calling (405) 475-300.

More and more people are also looking for their pets online. You can place a free “found” at at Petfinder.com. Pets911.com is also good.

If you place an ad, be sure to leave out some detail about the animal, so that a person calling has to identify it and prove that the animal is really theirs. This will prevent bunchers from claiming the animal that is not really theirs (this is also why “free to good home” ads are never a good idea).

If you call local rescue groups and limited intake shelters (like the Central Oklahoma Humane Society), you will likely be told that the programs are full, that there is no room to take in the animal you’ve found. These people aren’t lying to you or blowing you off–it’s true. Most don’t have a shelter facility, and work only out of foster homes. The foster homes are pretty much always full. They don’t have anywhere to put the animal you found. And, if they did take it, what if its owner is searching for it? Once it’s taken in by that rescue group, it loses its chance to reconnect with the family that may be trying to find it.

Most rescue groups (including OK Humane) transfer animals out of the municipal shelters (when they have room). So don’t be too surprised if they can’t take in the stray you found.

So what if you just CAN’T keep the stray animal at your house? It’s okay. You shouldn’t feel bad about it! After all, you saved the animal’s life by picking it up off the street. The BEST thing for you to do in this situation is take the animal to your city shelter. It has the best chance of being reunited with its family, and if not, of getting transferred out into a rescue adoption program.

These are just some ideas for strategies you can take if you’ve found a stray. If you have the animal for a long time, and realize that no one is probably looking for him, you can switch gears and start trying to rehome the animal. We’ll talk about that in a later post.

Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty about what you did or didn’t do, or what you could have done. If you take the animal to the shelter, it’s much better off than it was. We all have situations that dictate what we can and can’t do. Just stopping and picking up a stray animal is more than most people would do, so don’t feel bad about it! Know that we are all working together towards a day when there will be no more homeless pets, and you’re doing what you can to help in that effort.

What can you do to help other stray animals get found?

Here at Central Oklahoma Humane Society, we do everything we can to educate Oklahomans about animal welfare and improve the lives of animals in our state. Find out how you can help our organization below.

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