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What to Do When You Lose (Or Find) a Dog: Step By Step Guide to Lost Pets

Photo: (Dogtime.com)

Jessica Arguelles for TAPACT

A lost dog can be one of the most stressful experiences for any pet owner- new or old. Whether you come home and find that your sweet pup isn’t greeting you at the door or find a scared dog wandering your neighborhood, there are so many mixed messages on what the “right” thing to do is. Do you search near and far for your beloved pet? Do you stay home and leave their dinner out to find their way back? While the possible solutions may be seemingly endless, taking action as soon as possible can help get any lost dog back into a safe and loving home.

To help guide our TAP family whenever they find themselves in these scenarios, we’ve compiled a list of what to do when you lose AND find a dog. Follow these steps, vetted by our TAPACT team, to help reunite pet parents with lost pups.


1. Contact Babs Fry, Pet Detective.

Photo: (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Babs is a pet recovery specialist and animal rescuer who offers FREE services to help reunite pet owners with their furry friends. With several years of experience in pet recovery, Babs is always willing to help and is just one call away. 

Call or text (619) 249-2221 to report missing dogs and get connected with Babs Fry.

2. Submit a Lost Pet Report to the San Diego Humane Society

Submitting a lost pet report to SD Humane can alert their database if someone brings in your dog. Immediately report your dog as missing and include as much detail about their appearance and personality, and the last location seen.

Website: www.sdhumane.org/lost-and-found

By Phone: 619-299-7012 and press Option #2

By Email:  lostandfound@sdhumane.org

3. Search the Found Animals Database

Another way to utilize San Diego Humane Society’s resources is to search through their existing database of found pets. You can search by the type of pet and date lost, as well as breeds, colors, sex, and more. 

4. Stay Home.

As tempting as it may be to search every block in the neighborhood, searching for your dog can spread your scent, and may make it harder for lost pets to find their way back. Send a friend to check your neighborhood and have them periodically call out their name and jingle their favorite toy or leash. 80% of lost pets are found within a mile of home, so have a friend check your local area and speak with your neighbors.

5. Immediately Put Dirty Laundry Outside (Preferably Worn Within The Last 24 Hours)

Place recently worn clothes in the front and back of your home with a bowl of water and your pet’s favorite toy. This will help guide them back to your home using your scent!

NOTE: If your dog was lost far from home, put used clothes and toys in their last known location.

6. Make Simple Lost Pet Flyers

Photo: (Med Vet for Pets)

Create flyers with a clear photo of the dog, your and/or Babs Fry’s phone number, with “Do Not Chase” highlighted on the flyer. Follow the below example flyer and remember to keep it simple. Post flyers at the following locations:

  • Local Veterinarian Hospitals or Clinics
  • Pet Stores
  • Coffee Shops
  • Local Newspaper Stands
  • The Center for Lost Pets
  • Your neighborhood or the last place your pet was spotted

7. Check For Scanned Microchips

Photo (Times of San Diego)

If your dog was microchipped, you can check to see if it was scanned at Microchip Registration Center. Similar to SD Humane’s database, you can see if someone has found your lost dog, and reach out accordingly.

8. Post on Social Media and Forums

Photo (Trendjackers)

Post photos of your dog with contact information and where they were last seen on social media like Facebook and Instagram, and forums like Pawboost, Nextdoor, Craigslist, Pet Hub, Petco Love Lost, and more. Spreading the word will help neighbors and nearby residents know who to contact if they run into your dog!

If You Find a Dog:

1. Secure the Dog (If it is Safe to Do So)

If you feel safe enough with the dog, secure it with a slip lead into your home or yard. Lost dogs frequently get away from their finder since they are scared, so it is important to keep them on a leash and in a completely secure environment.

If it is not safe to approach the dog or the dog runs away, call Babs Fry at (619) 249-2221 immediately to report the dog and gain assistance. If Babs Fry cannot be reached or is unable to give you the next steps, call your jurisdiction’s animal services with identifying information about the dog and their last location.

2. Check Tags for Owner Contact Information

If you can secure the dog (or can take a photo of the tag from afar), check for the owner’s contact information. You will hopefully be able to call the owner and coordinate the next steps.

3. No Tag? Here Are Some Options:

If you cannot find a tag or receive the owner’s contact information, here are some actions you can take to safely assist the lost dog.

  1. Animal Control: You can take the dog to your jurisdiction’s Animal Control Center (see above graphic) or call them to pick up the dog. From there, they will be able to assist in reconnecting the pet with its owner.
  2. Keeping the Dog: If you would like to keep the dog until the owners are found, take the following steps.
  • Take the dog to the nearest shelter or vet office to have them scanned for a microchip.
  • Create a “found report” with the San Diego Humane Society.
  • Check with the San Diego Humane Society’s lost pet database.
  • Take photos of the dog and post them to Facebook, Nextdoor, and other online platforms. Make sure to require proof, such as a photo with the animal, before giving the dog to anyone.

Some Important Notes

1. Keeping a pet forever or rehoming them, no matter the amount of time they are in your care while attempting to find the true owners, is illegal. If you would like to adopt the pet you must bring them to your local animal services (like the San Diego Humane Society) for the required stray hold period before adopting the pet.

2. Rescues like The Animal Pad cannot take found pets.

TAP and other rescues are not affiliated with any city or state animal services, therefore it is against the law for rescues to intake found pets, unless they plan to take the pet to animal control themselves. If you find a dog that you think would make a great TAP dog, please take them to your local animal control and record its intake number. Email (info@theanimalpad.org) or message (@theanimapad on Instagram) TAP with the intake number and any additional information you have about the dog. We may be able to pull the dog after their stray hold if the owner is not found, but this is not a guarantee and depends on the number of animals already in our care.

3. Recently found pets should always be considered a flight, bite, and disease risk.

Because many pet finders are unaware of their history and whereabouts, make sure to keep them on a slip lead in a secured area and handle them with caution as they may be bringing in potential fleas, ticks, or other diseases into your home. Allow them space to come to you for affection and avoid introducing them to any pets at home. If you plan on fostering the dog while you search for its owner, you can safely and carefully introduce your pets in a neutral area after a vet visit.

Adoptable Bebe says thank you for helping her animal friends find their way back home!