What to do if you find a stray dog

I’m back from vacation and it was absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit an animal shelter, but it was nice to simply relax with nowhere to be. Another fun thing that I’m excited to finally share, we’re moving! Before you worry I’m abandoning Chicago, we’re moving 15 minutes north of our current home. Such a small distance but it feels like a huge change. The biggest change of all is that we have a (very small, teeny) yard for Rawlings and our next foster! Plus, the kitties will get to roam three full floors and continue being crazy.

While we were on vacation, my parents found a stray kitten. I’ve already written about what to do when you find a stray cat, but I haven’t touched on what to do about a dog. Every week I get two or three messages from people who find a dog. While I don’t mind sitting down and helping them through the steps, I figured it was probably time to write about what to do if you see/find a stray dog.

Catch the dog

This may seem obvious, but sometimes catching the dog is the hardest part. Safety is always the priority so don’t approach the dog if it seems agitated or aggressive. Instead, call 311 to report its location, this will alert the local Animal Control Officers. They’re trained and have proper tools to capture the dogs.

If the dog is running, don’t chase it. Most likely, the dog is scared out of its mind so running after it will only spook it more. Instead, call local animal care and control and try to keep a visual on the dog until the officers come to get the it.

If the dog greets you with a wagging tail and comes to you easily, try to get a hold of it. Hopefully the dog has a collar you can grab on to, but if not, you can fashion a slip lead out of a shoelace or a belt. It’s not ideal but it will work until you can grab a proper leash.

Identify the dog

If the dog was friendly and approached you easily, you’ll need to get it checked for a microchip. In Chicago, every police station has a microchip scanner. A microchip is a small device underneath the skin that will have the current owner’s information. You can also take it to a local veterinarian, and even some pet stores and they will scan the dog for you free of charge.

If the dog is microchipped, great! Your work is mostly done. A microchip is a small device (about the size of a grain of rice) that holds a unique ID number. When the dog is scanned for a microchip, the unique ID number will show up on the device. From there, the police/vet/pet store can assist with contacting the owners. 

More often than not, the dog is not chipped and your job just got slightly more complicated. You now have two options:

1. Hold on to the dog for two weeks and make an effort to find its owner – Two weeks is the “stray hold” if the dog is in a private residence. Meaning, the owner has two weeks to claim their dog while you are making an honest attempt to find the owner. This includes hanging flyers around the area you found him, entering the dog in local lost dog databases (Lost Dogs Illinois), and posting to Facebook groups/Next Door letting people know you have the dog. After those two weeks, if the owner has not come forward, then you can keep rehome the dog. You can do this privately or work with a rescue (see below) to find a permanent home for the dog.

2. Bring it to local Animal Care & Control – If you are not able to hold onto the dog for two weeks, you can bring the dog to your local municipal shelter. The dog will be put on a stray hold. In Chicago, a non-microchipped dog will be on stray hold for three days. Meaning, that dog is not available for adoption/rescue for those three days. The owner has three days to come claim the dog, after that, it becomes the property of the city of Chicago. Once the dog is property, it is available for adoptions or for rescues to pull.

Rehoming the dog

If you’ve held onto the dog for the two-week stray hold, you can now rehome the dog. If you can “foster” the dog for a while, reach out to local rescue organizations to see if they will take him into their program while you hold on to the dog. Usually, if the dog is well socialized and you can foster, the rescue will happily support and market the dog. You can find local rescues by googling “your city + rescue” and finding their contact information.

While trying to find a rescue to work with you, post pictures to your social media accounts with a description of the dog. Make sure to add details like age/health/characteristics that you know about the dog. The more information you have the more likely the dog will find its home! You can use social media as a way of rehoming the dog and finding the perfect family.

Finding a dog is rarely convenient but having a game plan will help with the unknown. There is nothing wrong with taking a dog to the local animal shelter. While it’s far from ideal, it’s also the place where people go when they lose their dog. So, never feel guilty or bad about that. The most important thing is getting the animal off the street and safe!


Walker – I had never heard of a Treeing Walker until I met this boy and now, I’m obsessed. He is long and lean and has the sweetest disposition. Walker was easy to…walk… and knows all the basic commands. He’s about three years old and ready for his forever!

Filbert – I can’t with his name or his face. This dog/people-friendly boy is so much fun. He’s super sweet and was easy to walk on leash. Filbert is about two years old and would make a great addition to any family that’s up for adventures. 


Every time I wear this sweater, I get no less than three compliments. You can find it at one of my favorite local shops, Belle Up. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’ve been working on partnering with local female-owned boutiques. Belle Up was the first one I collaborated with and I will always love supporting this Beverly shop!



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