Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

What Should I Do If I Find A Stray?


If you find a stray, you have no specific duty to take the stray in.  Each county and city in Virginia has to have an animal control officer, and you are certainly within your rights to contact animal control to report the stray.

But if you decide to take in the stray, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6551 outlines what you have to do.  This code section kicks in if you provide “care or safekeeping” to the animal, or if you retain the animal “in such a manner as to control its activities.”  Within 48 hours, you must:

  1. Make a reasonable attempt to find the owner, if you can ascertain who the owner is by way of a tag, license, collar, tattoo or other form of identification or markings; AND
  2. Notify the local pound where the animal was found, and provide the pound with your name and phone number, the location where you found the animal, and a description of the animal along with any information from a tag, license, collar, tattoo or other form of identification or markings.

You can find helpful tips and guidance about stray animals from the Humane Society of the United States and the Missing Pet Partnership.  The most important consideration is safety — yours and the animal’s.  Remember that the animal will likely be fearful, and may be sick or injured.  Be particularly careful if you find the animal in an area with traffic.  Be aware that if you take in the stray, you take on the duty to provide the animal with adequate care.  This includes the duty to provide veterinary care, so be prepared to pay the vet bills if the stray is injured or sick.

The second most important consideration, thanks to the Missing Pet Partnership, is to “think lost, not stray” — and do all you can to get the animal back to its owner.   It is for this very reason that a violation of Section 3.2-6551 carries a civil penalty of up to $50 per animal.  The Missing Pet Partnership has some great ideas, including putting a long lead on a dog and telling him to go home to see if the animal knows its way home, hanging large “Found Dog” posters in the area where you found the dog, and taking the animal to animal control or a vet to see if the animal has a microchip.

Author: Heidi Meinzer

Attorney and Animal Lover, not necessarily in that order

9 thoughts on “What Should I Do If I Find A Stray?

  1. I quite agree. Most strays are just lost and scared. In Los Angeles people have a tendency to take a stray home to where they live which might be miles away from where the dog lives. We owe it to the owners as well as the poor dog to try to find its prior home. I feel so sorry for all those good owners whose dog got out by accident and they worry for the rest of their lives whether their dog is ok all because some other do-gooder found a stray and never reported it so it never got back to its home it loved.

    • Yes, yes, yes! I don’t think that most people in Virginia realize that there is a fine if you take the dog in and don’t report to Animal Control. It’s funny that people will pick a dog up and drive a long ways away, and then post a couple of signs up thinking that was enough to try to find the owner.

  2. Many years ago I had a stray dog find me. He came into a FedGovt building, went up to the second floor, and in my office. GSD type, no collar or evidence that he ever wore one, skinny, young, short toenails. Called animal control and told them I’d keep him if a home couldn’t be found, asking how long they’d keep him – maybe a week or two? Was told they were so overloaded with dogs that they wouldn’t be able to keep him more than a day, if that. We posted notices but were unable to locate his owners. He went from a quiet 72lb boy to a happy healthy 115lb, was a major fear biter which we were able to work with, and spent 12 lovely years with us.

    • That is great, Barb! My sister has a similar story. A beautiful young black GSD followed her home one day when she was in college. She did what she could to find the owner, but never did. And the GSD became her most wonderful pal ever. His name was Aristotle, and he was the most gentle, wonderful dog. In fact, his memory influenced me quite a bit when I laid eyes on Sophie as a puppy!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing Missing Pet Partnership’s “THINK LOST, NOT STRAY!” message. What people think and believe influences how they behave. When the majority of people who see a loose dog assume that it is a “homeless stray” instead of a “lost companion animal with a family trying to find him” then many dogs are displaced, self-adoptions take place, foster homes are filled up, and hearts are broken (by the family whose lost the dog in the first place). Again, thanks for blogging about this topic!

    Kat Albrecht
    Missing Pet Partnership

  4. Are the laws in other states similar to Virginia’s? I think its great advice to try to get the animal to lead you back to their home. A little encouragement might provoke them to head back. More and more people are getting their animals microchips which can be wonderful tools for reuniting lost pets with their owners. Unfortunately I don’t think a lot of non-pet owners know to check for one before deciding it’s a stray and taking the animal in.

    • I would think there are laws like Virginia’s, at least as to your obligations regarding strays. I’m not sure if there are similar penalties like Virginia’s, but it would be worth a look to see. Thanks for your comments, Kate!

  5. Pingback: All is Not Lost: California Becomes First State to Pass Bill Mandating Microchips « Companion Animal Law Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s