When you see a cute dog or cat on the street, perhaps you immediately want to scoop it up, love it, and make sure that it spends all of the rest of its days in pure bliss, right? We all want to rescue and give a home to every animal that we meet on the street, but that isn’t always the best thing that we can do for ourselves or that animal. Here’s what you should know about animals that you find on the street and whether you can, or should, adopt them.

How do I know if a pet is on the street temporarily?

Sometimes, pets that are on the street may have been deliberately abandoned by their owner, but this isn’t always the case. Of course, often pets are on the street simply because they have run loose from their home, or become lost from their family. And some pets are on the street temporarily for various, perfectly safe reasons. The biggest and most common example of this is that they are wandering pets. Quite a few well-intentioned pet owners allow their pets to roam freely around the community with no regard to whether or not they should be allowed to do so.

If you’re wondering if a pet is just free wandering or lost or abandoned, here are signs that an animal on the street DOES need your help:

  • They are dirty and look like they’ve been living on the street
  • They are extremely thin and ragged
  • They are hanging around spots looking for food or care
  • They are visibly distressed
  • They have no tags or ID information

When you see animals like this, you can assume that they are living on the streets and can be taken into your home to care for them — temporarily. Yes, you read that right. These signs indicate an abandoned animal, but you still have a few things that you’ll need to do to ensure that adopting this pet is safe!

Why is the adoption of a pet off the street unsafe?

There are quite a few reasons why adopting a pet off the street without a second thought is not only a bad idea but an entirely unsafe one.

Firstly, an abandoned animal could be in survival mode. This is very common when pets are abandoned, and they have to adapt. They rely on feral instincts, and this can actually make them dangerous if you try to interfere. A pet in survival mode may be suspicious, aggressive, and focused entirely on self-preservation. They could hurt you, your family, and your other household pets. Rehabilitation is often needed in situations where a pet is in true survival mode.

Secondly, an animal on the street may have a home already. If they escaped and made their way to where they found them, they may still be there because they haven’t been able to find a way back to their original home.

The danger in this case, of course, is that you might get attached to a pet that you may not end up keeping simply because they belong to someone else that will eagerly come running when they find out that you’ve got them. 

One more important safety consideration to keep in mind is that a street pet may not be in good health. It’s quite common for street animals to be carrying things like fleas, ticks, lice, and bacteria. This list doesn’t even begin to cover a whole range of other possible illnesses and parasites. When you bring any of that into your home – unknowingly, of course – you could be exposing your family and pets to all of those things!

What should I do if I find an abandoned animal on the street?

The next logical thing then becomes wondering what you should do if you find an abandoned animal on the street that is clearly in need of help and support? Here are some tips that you can consider to help you do your part without making anyone unsafe:

  • First thing – if you do decide to temporarily take in an animal to rescue it from the streets, KEEP IT SEPARATED from your kids and other pets, as you do not know if there are parasites or other possible contagious diseases, or even possible aggressive behavior.
  • Contact your local bylaw officer (city animal control, or local humane society community officer). They often deal with pets that appear to have no homes, and they are familiar with what to do in this situation.
  • Check the animal for ID information: Even dogs that have been abandoned on the streets for quite some time may still have ID tags and information that you can look at if you can get close enough. From a phone number or other ID information, you may then make contact with the pet’s owner and have them come to retrieve their pet.
  • Check them for a microchip: If they have no visible ID information, they may have a microchip. You can buy a scanner online if you want to, but you can just take them to a veterinary clinic instead. Most of those will have a scanner that will show the microchip and also give the available information record about the pet. You or the vet clinic can then contact the owner family through the information recorded there.  
  • Bring them to your local municipal animal services or animal control location. You can responsibly bring a found animal to these locations. They will take the pet in and make sure that they are well-cared for. Most won’t turn away rescued animals (if you are concerned about this from seeing TV shows).   
  • Bring them to your vet: Your vet is more than ready to help a pet in need. If they are in need of urgent care, taking them to the vet is going to help get that care right away. The vet can also refer to the right kind of animal shelter, too. Many will take the animal right off your hands and take them to the shelter for you.
  • Post on social media groups: If you are insistent on bringing the dog into your home rather than a shelter, take a few good photos of them and put them up on social media lost and found sites so that you can get the word out there. Encourage everyone on your own friend list to share the posts too.
  • Put up posters: It’s a classic, perhaps corny idea, but it works! Put up posters around your neighborhood as well as the one in which you found the animal. A lot of animals don’t even wander that far from home; they just are unable to find their way back!  

Can I adopt it if no one claims this dog?

If you still want to adopt an abandoned cat or dog, that you’ve tried to help find its way back home and no one has claimed them, you can choose to do that. Most shelters and vets will ask for a minimum waiting period before adoption opens up to the public. At that point, many rescue organizations may allow you to have the first right of refusal.

While adopting a pet off the street can be a noble thing, it may not always be the right thing. This information will help you know the difference so that you can figure out the right approach for your best interests, as well as those of the animal that you’ve found.

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