​The Dos & Don’ts When You Find a Stray Animal

Animal lovers almost always want to help and rescue a wandering cat or dog. But before you do, it’s best to determine if your actions will bring about the best outcome for the animal, as well as your safety.

Stray animals are often fearful of approaching strangers, and may bite or scratch if touched or even approached. If it’s not done right, your rescue attempt could do more harm than good. Follow these tips for the next time you find a stray animal.

The Dos

  • Always be Prepared - You never know when you might run into a stray, so be prepared by having an animal rescue kit available in your vehicle. This rescue kit should contain the following:
    • Leash
    • Food and water
    • Warm blanket
    • A pet first aid kit
    • Pet transportation box, especially for cats


  • Approach with Caution - Stray animals may not be as friendly as a lost pet or a free-roaming cat.
    • The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) estimates that 75% of the 500 million dog population are classified as strays.
    • A scared, sick, or possibly injured animal can be unpredictable and may lash out at you in fear.
  • Try to Get the Animal to Come to You - Try using food to lure the animal to you.
    • Once the animal is close enough, attach a leash or put them into a crate for safer transportation.
    • Keeping the animal secure in your vehicle will help prevent them from acting out in fear, causing injury or harm to you or even an accident while driving.
  • Check for Tags and Injuries - Once the animal is safe and secure, check for identification tags and any possible injuries.
    • If there is a tag with a phone number, contact the owner to schedule their reunion.
    • If there is no tag, there still might be a microchip, so bring the animal to a nearby shelter to have them scan the pet.
  • Find the Animal Proper Care
    • If the animal is injured, immediately them to the nearest vet or shelter for care. Proper care for stray animals is best left to professionals.
  • Spread the Word - Take photos of the animal and post flyers as well as posting online using social media to assist in finding their owner.
    • When posting the flyers, try to stay within a two-mile radius of where you found the animal and make sure to include a photo as well as your contact information.
    • When utilizing social media, include photos and ask others to please share.
    • Consider searching for local Facebook groups specifically made for finding lost pets.

The Don’ts

  • Approach Aggressively - When you find a stray animal, you should take slow steps towards it and speak in a calm voice to reassure that you don’t want to harm it.
    • Look for a tell-tale sign starting with the tail. If it is tucked underneath, that means the animal is scared. If it is rigid and stiff, that means the animal might be aggressive.
    • Crouch down to make yourself appear smaller and less intimidating to the stray.
  • Drive with the Animal Unrestrained - Many animals will get agitated and fearful of being in a vehicle and may become frantic and aggressive.
    • Cats will often lodge themselves underneath the car seat, and getting them out could cause you harm.
    • Dogs may try to jump out of the window while the car is in motion.

Photo: Javier Brosch/Shutterstock

In the end, if no one claims the animal, you may decide to adopt the stray. But be careful! The animal may be someone’s pet and have a home to go back to. And if the animal has never been a pet, give them the time and space they need to acclimate to a loving family.

Make sure to be a responsible pet owner by spaying or neutering your new family member as well as taking them to the vet for regular checkups, and don’t forget to bring poop bags on all your outings together!

Aaron Smith is a writer and copy strategist for several companies and nonprofits. He often covers topics important to pet owners, and is a dedicated dog dad to his three pups: Buddy, Roxy, and Kaya.