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Sophie’s Story: What to Do If You Find a Stray

Author: Lynda Lobo | Date: May 31, 2013

She ran in front of my car on my way to work in Olympia, Washington.  I pulled over to see if the owner of the cute border collie mix was anywhere nearby.  No one knew where she came from.  She was shy at first, but I quickly coaxed her into my car.  She hopped in as though it was her normal routine, wore a pink collar with no tag, and seemed healthy overall.  She definitely belonged to someone.

Unsure of what to do, knowing I couldn’t take her home or to work, I stopped by my vet’s office to check for a microchip.  There wasn’t a chip to be found so the vet recommended I take her to the only shelter in town.  The shelter staff informed me that if she was not claimed she would be euthanized.  I felt sick as I walked away from her…  but surely if she belonged to someone, they would check the shelter first, right?

I checked up on her twice a day for the next 3 days.  I posted her photo on Craigslist.  One anonymous response claimed that this dog was allowed to wander, that she had been taken to the shelter many times, and that the owners were not interested in claiming her this time.  The next day at work, a woman came in with her child and a dog.  She said that she just adopted the dog and would like to have her groomed.  I looked down and saw the sweet little border collie mix:  Sophie.  I shared some happy tears with Sophie’s new loving family and made sure she got the royal treatment on her spa day.

Sophie was not the first of my rescue efforts, and she certainly wasn’t the last, but my experience with her really touched me.

Everything fell into place but sometimes I still wonder…  did I do the right thing?  The sad truth is that we can’t save every animal.  Over 19,000 dogs and cats were taken in at Chicago Animal Care and Control last year.  It’s much more difficult to track individual animals here than it is in a small city in the Northwest.  But don’t lose hope!  There’s still a lot you can do if you come upon a stray.

Here are some guidelines courtesy of the Humane Society:

  • Safety first!  Are you able to safely capture the animal?  If not, call your local Animal Control.  If you can stay with the animal until they arrive, be careful not to get close enough to be injured or to scare it away.
  • Many veterinarians are happy to scan an animal for a microchip.  The best case scenario is to find the owner this way.  If the animal is injured, however, be prepared to foot the bill for treatment or risk the injuries going untreated.
  • Understand the limitations of shelters and rescues.  Animals that are sick, injured, or elderly are at greater risk for euthanasia, especially if the required treatment is expensive.  In Chicago, Animal Care and Control will take any animal, but most other shelters cannot accept found animals in the same way.
  • Reserve judgment.  Although the dachshund you found has some tangled hair and bad teeth, these aren’t necessarily signs of abuse and abandonment.  Many people love their pets dearly but can’t afford or aren’t educated about the highest level of care for them.  Also, even the most careful of us can lose a pet.  Some dogs are expert escape artists, especially during thunderstorms or fireworks.
  • Finally, be honest with yourself:  “Are you willing to add him to your household? And will you be willing to return him to his original home if the owner turns up after you’ve started to form an attachment? If you answer “no” to these questions, your best option may be to take the animal directly to the shelter or contact animal control for assistance.”

There’s no shame in only doing as much as you are able to do.

Hopefully, if you do come across a lost pet, he or she turns out to be a Sophie.


At no other obedience school would we have received the kind of attention and encouragement that we have gotten from the AnimalSense staff.

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