You're in your car, driving down
the road. You have a long list of things to accomplish and you are already
running late. Suddenly, you see him—a
dog! There! By the side of the road! With a sinking feeling, you realize he's
alone. You’re coming alongside him now. You have only seconds in which
to act. What should you do?
This is a gut-wrenching scenario for everyone who cares about dogs. Once
you've seen the dog, it's too late to avert your eyes and drive on, even
if you want to. After all, what if that were your own dog standing there?
You, Good Samaritan that you are, make the decision to stop, but do you know
what to do?
Here are some guidelines
for assisting stray dogs safely and effectively.
What to do
if you see a stray dog alongside the road
ready to rescue. If
you know in your heart that you're a rescuer, equip yourself to do the
best possible job. Here are some things to have in your
car at all times: Phone; phone numbers for the local animal control, a shelter,
and a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic; collapsible dog crate or cardboard
box; collars and strong leashes; a heavy blanket; water bowls
foods, such as canned tuna (don't forget the can opener) or dried liver; and
an animal first-aid kit.
about your safety first. You
cannot help a dog if you become injured in the process. Look in your
rear-view mirror before braking, signal your intention,
pull your car completely off the road, turn off the ignition, set the parking
brake, and put on your hazard lights. If you have emergency flares, prepare
to use them.
the safety of the animal. A
strange, frightened, and possibly sick or injured dog may behave unpredictably.
A sudden move on your part, even
the opening of your car door, may spook him, causing him to bolt—possibly
right onto the highway. If the dog looks or acts threatening, or if for
any reason you feel uneasy about the situation, remain in your car.
caution when approaching the dog. Should
you succeed in getting close enough to capture him, you stand a good chance
of being scratched or bitten.
Even a small dog can inflict a painful wound, and if a dog whose vaccination
status is unknown bites you, you will be advised to undergo preventive treatment
for rabies. When approaching the dog, speak calmly to reassure him. Make
sure he can see you at all times as you approach. Entice him to come to you
by offering a strong-smelling food such as canned tuna or dried liver.
possible, restrain the animal. Create
a barrier or use a carrier, leash, piece of cloth, or length of rope to
keep the dog from leaving the area.
Signal approaching vehicles to slow down if you cannot confine the dog,
or divert traffic around him if he appears to be injured and is still on the
you're not able to safely restrain the dog, call the local police or animal
this whether or not the dog is injured, and whether or
not he appears to be a stray or to be owned (meaning he is wearing an identification
tag or flea collar or has recently been groomed). If you have a phone in your
car, call the local animal care and control agency (in rural areas, call the
police or sheriff) and report the situation. Leave your phone or beeper number
with the dispatcher and try to get an estimate of how long it may take someone
to respond. If possible, stay on the scene to keep an eye on the dog until
help arrives. Make sure you report to authorities precisely where the dog
is. For example, say "one mile north of McCain Mall on Highway 167 on
the east access road in front of…" or "between markers 65 and
66 on the I-40 on the north side."
to lure the dog into your car with food, close the door, and wait for
do this only if you are certain someone will come to get the dog very soon.
In most cases it is not a good idea to attempt to drive somewhere with
a strange dog unrestrained in your car; he may become frantic or aggressive
once you're in the car with him. However, a word of caution, don’t leave
the dog alone in the car. One of the volunteers at DogsOnly can tell
you all about the sweet pitbull that ate the inside trim off his car door and
shredded his favorite straw hat when the dog was left alone in his car for
are able to transport the dog, take him to the nearest animal shelter. Or,
if you plan to keep the dog in the event no owner is found, notify
animal control that you have the dog or that you have taken him to
a veterinary hospital for treatment. You can usually place a free "found" ad
in your local newspaper. Keep a copy of the ad to prove your good intentions
should any questions arise later.
Some things to consider
you are dealing with an irresponsible owner. Good Samaritans
who have never lost a cherished companion animal may conclude that the owner
of the found dog callously abandoned him or, at the very least, neglected to
keep him safely confined at home. But accidents can happen to anyone. The frantic
owner may be looking everywhere for their beloved pet.
the limitations of animal care and control agencies. Once you have
taken the initiative, time, and trouble to rescue a dog along the highway,
you may be surprised to find that the rest of the pet care community may not
necessarily rush forward to do what you see as its part. For, instance, you
may take a badly injured stray dog to animal control, only to learn that the
agency is unable to provide expensive surgery to treat the dog's injuries and,
to relieve him from his suffering, euthanizes him instead. Virtually all animal
control facilities have severe budgetary or space limitations and must make
painful decisions on how best to allocate their inadequate resources.
yourself with local laws regarding ownership of animals. To check on any relevant laws in your
state, county, or town, contact your local animal
control agency, humane society, or SPCA. Many times, the dog you find along
the highway will turn out to be unowned, unwanted, and unclaimed. Even so,
the person finding the stray dog does not automatically become the owner or
keeper—as in "finders keepers"—until he has satisfied
certain state and/or local requirements. In almost every state, the animal
is not "owned" by the finder until the holding period for strays
(as specified by state or local laws) has expired and the finder has made an
attempt to reunite the animal with his original owner and/or has taken steps—obtaining
vaccinations, license, collar and identification tag—to prove he is now
you take an injured animal to a private veterinary hospital for treatment,
be willing to assume financial responsibility for the animal before treatment
begins. Good care is not cheap, and many veterinarians have many good Samaritans
in the waiting room every year. Anyone who is committed to trying to save injured
stray animals should discuss these issues in advance with the veterinarian.
A final word of advice.
If you're uncertain about
whether or not to assist or keep an animal you see alongside the highway,
think of what you would want
the finder of your animal to do were he found and his collar missing. You'd
want him to take your pet to a veterinarian, and you'd want him to try to
find you. At the same time, be reasonable about how much you can afford to
that animal if no owner shows up. 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? Thinking these issues through
in advance may stand you in good stead the next time you see that wrenching
sight at the side of a road.