Losing a dog is a pet owner’s worst nightmare. Panic sets in when it’s discover they’re lost – and you don’t know where to turn first. I know that sinking feeling. I’ve been there. It’s scary.
I created this article to assist pet finders with steps that will help them reunite a found dog with its owner.
I hope it also provides owners of lost pets with a handy list to ease the mystery of what to do.
Since I live in Nashville, Tennessee, I have also included information that’s specific to my area. If you’re not in Nashville, the contact information will be different, but you’ll get the picture.
There’s a lot of information to digest, so grab a cup of coffee or tea and dig in!
Is your found pet wearing a tag with a phone number?
If your call goes to voicemail, do leave a message. Also, since many people don’t listen to voicemail, be sure to send a text! (Some people have their phone set to send unknown callers directly to voicemail.)
I have rescued many dogs and reached the owners via text when I couldn’t reach them by phone.
If the phone number has been disconnected, try searching the phone number in your Facebook search bar to see if owner’s profile pops up. (Note: If you find a profile on Facebook, still make sure that they prove ownership as many people can have the same phone # in a short length of time.)
Another helpful free site to search a phone number on is TruePeopleSearch.com. You do sometimes find some outdated info so, just like with info you find on Facebook, be vague when you contact a possible owner and ask for proof of ownership.
Is your found pet wearing a rabies tag?
That series of numbers on the tag is traceable! And a lot of tags now have a QR code you can scan to find out who the owner is, assuming they took the time to register their pet’s tag online.
If you’re in Nashville and your pet has a Davidson County tag, call Metro Nashville Animal Control at (615) 862-7928. If your pet has a State of Tennessee tag, call the Health Department at (615) 340-5616 or go to this link for Tennessee state tags sorted by year.
Choose the year that the tag was issued and then search for the tag number. On the far right, you will see contact info for the vet or shelter that issued the tag. They can also give you owner info many times, especially when the Health Department is closed.
Is your found pet wearing a HomeAgain or Petlink tag?
If so, that’s great news. It means the pet has a microchip! Most tags (but not all) have the microchip number and you can call the phone number on the tag to get contact info for the owners.
Check for a microchip.
Take the pet to any veterinarian, animal shelter (or emergency vet if it’s nighttime or a weekend), and they will scan for a microchip at no cost.
If there is a microchip, keep your fingers crossed that the owner remembered to register the chip with their contact information!
Please note: Microchips cannot be seen by eye, found by human touch, or with stud finders. A proper scan must be done by a professional.
Contact Animal Control and your local Humane Association to make a report about the found pet.
It’s easy to fill out a found report for the shelters online.
Remember, not everyone thinks of looking for their lost pet via the internet. Many people call their local shelter first when looking for their lost pet!
If you live in Nashville, here are helpful links:
Metro Nashville Animal Control (615-862-7928)
Nashville Humane Association (615-352-1010)
Post on and search through Lost and Found Pets groups on Facebook.
Search Facebook for the Lost and Found Pets page that’s specific for the area where the pet was found (by using city name, neighborhood name, area of town, etc. with the search term “lost pets”) – then join the group and create your post.
Do not use photos that show the pet’s collar or anything that they were wearing when found. Also, try to crop out any specific markings or areas that might show their sex. Keep as much info as vague as you can.
In Nashville, Skippy Lou’s Lost and Found Pets covers the entirety of Davidson County. Post there and if you have had trouble finding smaller neighborhood and area pages to post on as well, ask page members or admins for those links when you post. In most areas of Nashville, there will be multiple pages to post on for proper coverage for a found pet.
(I once found a dog in the alley behind my house during a storm! Through the magic of social media, a woman who no longer lived in my area saw the picture on Facebook and reached out to me. She recognized the dog because her dog had given birth to it five years before and it had very distinct markings. She was able to put me in touch with the dog’s adopter!)
Post on Nextdoor.com.
Nextdoor.com is a very helpful site that has a Lost & Found section.
Include surrounding neighborhoods in addition to where you found the dog, since dogs can easily travel many miles in a day.
Look through past posts, just in case the dog you found is a “frequent flyer” (one that gets out or is let out frequently). Someone may have posted about it in the past and has the contact info you need to quickly reunite it with its owner.
Post on Craigslist.com.
Craigslist has a Lost and Found section as well as a Pets section. Be sure to check listings for lost pets on Craigslist.com daily.
Post brightly colored signs and flyers in your neighborhood.
Include a clear, color photo of the found pet and your contact information.
Put signs up at the largest intersections that most people use in your area as well as on neighboring streets and in your own front yard. It’s also a good idea to post them at dog parks. Keep it simple – “Found Dog”, a clear pic, your phone number in large bold lettering.
Remember: do not use photos that show the pet’s collar or anything that they were wearing when found. Crop out any specific markings or areas that might show their sex. Keep as much info as vague as you can.
Talk to your neighbors.
There is a good chance that neighbors may know who the pet belongs to and your search for the owner will be very short. Use the eyes and ears of your community to help get a found pet home. According to Petco, most dogs are found within 1,000 feet of their home.
File a “Reported Found” posting free online on the following sites:
24 PetConnect (formerly PetHarbor)
Run a classified ad in your local newspaper.
Many local papers will allow you to post a lost pet ad for free. Be on alert that you might be contacted by scammers. Please see the additional tips below to help you navigate dealing with someone who claims you found their dog.
Take fliers to local vets’ offices.
Most veterinarian offices have lost and found books or bulletin boards where you can post AND look through any fliers that may have been brought in by owners.
Here are additional points to be mindful of:
Please treat this pet like you’d want your own to be treated if they became lost and were found by a stranger.
When posting signs, flyers, internet posts, or classified ads:
Use photos that don’t show the pet’s collar or harness colors;
Leave out any special identifying factors;
Do not tell spay/neuter status or the exact street where the pet was found;
Crop out any specific markings or scars that only an owner would know.
(An owner should be able to correctly tell you their pet’s sex, spay/neuter status, markings, scars, collar/harness description, when and where lost, etc., AND be able to show you photos that match exactly. Blurry, cropped photos of similar pets do not count.)
Know what the laws are in your state.
For example, pets are considered “property” in the state of Tennessee and it’s illegal to rehome a found pet.
In Nashville: If someone would like to adopt a found pet or take it into rescue, the pet MUST go to Metro Animal Control to do a legal “stray hold” first. Signs and ads must be put up and a concise effort must be made to find the owner of that pet.
In Tennessee, found pets cannot be given away without a very thorough owner search. This includes surrendering pets to rescues. There have been known to be a few bad people who run “rescues” and therefor it’s not safe for pets, nor is it legal. Know that most legit rescues want pets to have a legal “stray hold” first so if a rescue contacts you and doesn’t want that, then that may be a very serious red flag.
If someone calls you to claim a found pet, let THEM tell YOU about their lost pet including when and where lost, sex, spay/neuter status, any scars or markings, what their pet was wearing, etc.
They must also email or text over photos that match EXACTLY. Do not tell them anything and do not ask leading questions.
Do not hand over a found pet to anyone other than a proven owner.
If they cannot prove ownership to your satisfaction, take the pet to the Animal Shelter in your area and let the possible owner prove ownership to shelter staff.
Many bad people do call and try to claim found pets, especially bully breeds and small or purebred dogs. Do everything that you can to keep that found pet safe!
In Nashville, you can take the pet to Metro Animal Control.
Do not let anyone come to see the found pet unless they have already proven ownership.
You do not want an awkward situation in person where you feel pressured to give up the pet.
Do not give the pet to anyone who says that they are with “a rescue.”
Legitimate rescues do not shop for found pets.
If someone calls from a blocked number or says that they do not have photos of their pet, those can be serious red flags.
Do not respond to anyone who does not give you the info that you need to feel safe in returning that pet. If something feels wrong, it probably is.
Do not trust someone just because they are on a lost and found or community page.
Many people troll these pages to get pets who are not theirs. Anyone, no matter how they contact you, should prove ownership completely. (In addition to clear pictures, do they have vet records they can show you?)
If you feel pressured to hand over a pet and you do not feel certain of the owner, talk to animal control for help and guidance. Just remember that you never, ever have to hand over a pet to someone who cannot prove ownership.
Do not assume a pet has been abused if it appears to be under weight, has matted fur, or very long nails.
The pet could have been lost for a very long time and what you’re seeing could be signs of that.
(I have a friend whose border collie was missing for one whole month. He travelled a huge distance and lost 40 pounds by the time he was found!)
Do not assume a dog has been abandoned if you find it in a rural environment.
Its family could be searching for their long-lost pet!
(I once found a dog in the middle of nowhere after paddling a remote river. I was able to reach the owner and learned they had given up hope in finding their dog because she had been missing for so long!)
Do not assume that shelters will automatically euthanize a dog you bring in.
In closing, thank you for your big heart and for wanting to do the right thing. I hope you’ll save this post and use it for quick reference should you be in a situation where you find a lost dog.
My faith in humanity is restored every time I see online posts by people who have found lost pets!
Thank you to Jack Kitsch, and others whose names I do not know, who have shared info that led to this post. You have given so much to the Nashville rescue community and made writing this so much easier!
Copyright © 2021, Gracie H. Vandiver