Often, good samaritans would like to help a dog but don't know how to go about it. There are various aspects to dog rescue that should be considered.
First and foremost, anyone wishing to help an unknown dog should be careful of their own safety. Most dogs are good dogs and happy for help but some have been treated badly and may react badly in certain situations. Approach any unknown dog (even owned dogs) carefully and exbiting "friendship signals". Do not make eye contact, and do not approach assertively or straight on. Do approach casually, in a round about manner, with a relaxed body. Offer treats carefully with a flat hand or gently toss towards, but not directly at, the dog. If the dog is friendly, loop a slip lead over their heads. It's best if the finder can walk them to an enclosed area, but if they must go into a car, do so carefully and slowly. Some dogs will object to being handled even if they seem friendly enough. If the finder is in any way fearful for their safety, then the finder should call the local animal control for help.
Once the finder and dog are in a safe location, the dog can be examined a bit more thorougly. If there is a collar with tags, call the owner and tell them their dog is safe until they can retrieve him. Accidents do happen and even good owners might have a dog go missing because they scaled the fence or opened the back door on their own. If there are no tags, or no collar, the dog should be scanned for a microchip. Any vet office should be able to scan.
If there is no microchip, the finder has a few options.
- The finder could keep the dog as their own, providing all necessary veterinary care including vaccinations, spay/neuter, heartworm test (and treatment if necessary), and keep the dog updated on heartworm prevention, flea prevention as needed, and annual veterinary visits. In return, the dog will provide unconditional love and companionship until the end of its days.
- The dog can be taken to the local shelter. Most shelters have a "stray hold" policy that will keep the dog safe for 3 to 7 days, sometimes longer, in case their owners come looking for them. Alternatively, the finder could contact the local shelter, providing a description and photographs in case the owner is searching for the dog, while keeping the dog at the finder's home as a foster. It is the best practice to atleast contact the local shelter and let them know you have a stray dog who could be someone's pet. Imagine if your dog went missing one day and someone just kept him because his collar became hung and he ripped it off.
- Hang up flyers around the area in which the dog was found, with pictures of the dog and found location. Provide contact information, cell phone numbers are best, so the owner can reach the finder. Do be careful about who claims the dog and have them provide certain information before relinquishing the dog to them (unusual markings, eye color of breed appropriate, name the dog responds to, tricks/commands the dog knows). Some people will look for Dog Found flyers just to steal the dog, especially if the dog is purebred or a "fighting" breed.
- Place the dog's information on Lost/Found websites. Many shelters and rescues will provide space for Lost/Found dogs and distressed owners looking for their dogs will be able to find them more readily if they are listed on websites.
- Place the dog's information on Facebook on local shelter pages, such as Birimingham Jefferson County Animal Control or Greater Birmingham Humane Society.
- Once all efforts to locate the dog's owners have been exhausted, the finder should contact a rescue and request help for placing the dog if the finder has decided not to keep the dog. Both breed specific and all breed rescues can be helpful in placing the dog. The finder must realize, however, that legitimate rescues are always in need of foster homes and are often low on funds. If the rescuer can foster the dog, the chances of the rescue being able to help are much higher. If the finder can also help to provide some medical care, the chances then go up further. Legitimate rescues with 501(c)3 status can also take donations that are tax deductible to the donor, including veterinary care for the dog. There are many wonderful rescues in the Alabama area, and many more in the southeast. The finder should thoroughly check out any rescue before relinquishing a dog to them. There are rescues who follow poor practices, do not take good care of the dogs they have, and should not be supported. Be certain the chosen rescue is reputable.
Helping anyone in need is a noble, selfless act. Helping a dog in need is even more so.
For more information on working, living, and helping dogs, please peruse my articles on dog care in Birmingham.