Hello Stranger

We’ve had a couple of strays come to visit us recently at the practice – a female stray dog, found at Kingsway in Derby (chipped but not registered), and a kitten (not microchipped) found trapped in an empty house on Violet Street. The dog was handed over to the dog warden who will do all they can to find her owners and the kitten, who was starved and very poorly on arrival, has gained in strength and found her forever home with new owners who are head over heels in love with ‘Violet’, named after the place where she was found.

Given that there’s been a nationwide increase in stray and abandoned animals (fuelled, no doubt, by the rise in the number of people getting pets during the pandemic and then the subsequent increase in the cost of living) I thought it might be useful to do a blog on what you should do if you find a stray animal…

What to do if you find a stray dog

Your first instinct may well be to go up to the dog but it’s not always a good idea to approach them – certainly not quickly, anyway. They may be very frightened and this fear can translate into aggression. They may also be in pain and hungry which will exacerbate the situation. Make sure you know it’s safe before you make any attempts to approach them. There’s also a chance that they may flee if approached so it’s really important that you don’t startle or scare them, or they could be in a dangerous situation – trapped in a hole or in water – in which case you shouldn’t put yourself in peril trying to reach them.

Who you should call really depends on the situation. If you’re not able to approach or help the dog yourself and you think it’s in distress or imminent danger, you can call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999. Unfortunately though, the RSPCA have limited resources and can’t respond to every call. You should only contact them if it’s a true emergency and a dog’s life is at risk.

If you can’t approach a dog without scaring it away or risking your safety, you can call the dog warden – every local council has one and they will be trained to safely retrieve the dog, before taking it to their kennels and trying to trace the owner. Dogs stay in the warden’s care for up to 7 days (with access to veterinary care if required) before being sent to a charity or shelter to, hopefully, be rehomed.

If you are able to safely get close to a stray dog without endangering them or yourself, or risking them running away, then you can check whether they’re wearing a collar and if there are any contact details on there – in which case you can contact the owner directly for a swift reunion! All dogs should, by law, wear a collar and ID tag bearing their owner’s details but unfortunately this isn’t always the case. If you can’t find or contact the owner directly from the dog’s collar, you can take the animal to a local vet to have its microchip scanned or, ideally, contact the dog warden who will do all they can to reunite the dog with its owner (if we’re unable to directly contact the owner from a microchip here at SLVC we place any stray dogs under the care of the dog warden, as this is the correct legal procedure for dealing with a stray dog). If you choose to take a stray dog home before taking it to a vet or contacting the dog warden, be aware that they may well be scared, injured or aggressive so keep them and yourselves safe, calm and away from children and other pets.

It’s also worth checking social media to see if anyone has reported a dog missing that fits the description, or posting a photo of the dog you’ve found. You can report the dog you’ve found on sites such as Dog Lost, Animal Search UK or, in Derbyshire, Dog SOS Derbyshire to see if it has been listed as missing. However you trace the owners, it’s best to make sure any reunion happens at a

vets or under the guidance of a charity or dog warden as they can check the chip details match up. Make sure they’re legitimately the dog’s legal owners – you don’t want just anyone staking a claim to the dog you’ve found!

You aren’t permitted by law to keep a dog that you find, even if you suspect it has no home. You may be able to adopt it directly from the dog warden if they’re unable to trace an owner or if it isn’t claimed in 7 days, or you can adopt from a rehoming charity after this time. If you’re keen to do this, make sure the dog warden is aware that you wish to give the dog a loving home – but remember this is a long-term commitment and not a decision to be taken on a whim! You will also have to go through the usual home-checks associated with adopting a dog, to make sure you can offer a safe and happy long-term home.

What to do if you find a stray cat

Sometimes a cat may appear to have no home when actually they do! Cats are cheeky and can, at times, ‘adopt’ new owners or a second home just because they quite fancy having somewhere else to sleep and be fed. The Blue Cross suggest “putting a paper collar on the cat you think might be a stray and writing a message and your telephone number on it asking the owner to call you if the cat is theirs.” This will help you to establish whether the cat really is a stray or just a casual visitor. You can also put up ‘found’ posters in the local area, post photos on social media and ask neighbours in order to establish whether the cat has a home locally.

It’s not currently mandatory for cats to be microchipped in the UK (although this is set to become law in 2023) and, unlike dogs, there’s no requirement for them to wear an ID tag or collar bearing their owner’s details (although this is a good idea!). They also aren’t protected by the same laws of ownership as dogs, so there is no cat equivalent to the dog warden. Unlike dogs, councils and local authorities have no obligation to take in stray cats.

In contrast to dogs, you can keep a stray cat as your own pet, but you should make every attempt to establish whether it has an owner first. You can take it to the vets or to a charity to check for and scan a microchip. Cats have been known to get into vehicles and travel a really long way from home (or, sometimes, just walk for miles!) so they may have a loving home and owners who are missing them somewhere a long way away. Again, if you do decide to adopt a cat that you’ve established really is a stray, then be aware that this is a long-term decision and not one that should be taken lightly. If you don’t wish to keep a stray cat that you’ve found, you can take it to a local charity such as Cats Protection, Blue Cross or one of many local animal shelters who will take the cat if they possibly can – although many shelters are currently struggling for room. You can also take it to the vets who’ll make every attempt to trace the owners before finding a suitable rescue centre where it can go to be rehomed.

What to do if you find an injured wild animal

Advice for wild animals is a little different as, obviously, they’re less used to people. When they’re hurt, they will be even more panicked about the situation and your presence. You shouldn’t approach a wild animal that’s injured or in distress unless you’re confident you can do so without risking your safety or further harming the animal. The RSPCA offers the following advice if you find an injured wild animal:

– Monitor the animal for a while before intervening, to establish whether it does need your help

– If you can get to the animal and handle it safely, make sure you wear gloves and keep it away from your face in case it scratches or bites. Put it in a box with holes in for ventilation, lined with a towel, blanket or newspaper. – Contact a local wildlife rescue/rehabilitation centre – search directory.helpwildlife.co.uk to find one close to you. They will advise what to do with the animal. They may come to collect it or ask you to take it to them. You could also contact your local vet to see if they are able to help.

– The RSPCA says that the following animals SHOULD NOT be handled or transported – deer, seal, wild boar, otter, badger, fox, snake, bird of prey (including owls), swan, goose, heron, gull. If you find one of these, contact a local wildlife rescue or the RSPCA who may be able to help or offer advice.

We all want the best thing for animals that have been found injured, lost or homeless, whether they’re pets or wild animals. From vets to charities and relevant authorities, everyone will do all they can to help.