A stray street dog, abandoned family dog, runaway hunting dog or curious puppy comes up to you. But there is no trace of the owners. How do you behave properly when you meet an abandoned dog? What to do when he’s injured What rights and obligations do you have with regard to the found dog? And what rules apply abroad? We have put together answers to these and other questions for you here.
In southern vacation countries, stray strays are almost part of the street scene. They lie in the sun or beg the tourists for food. But you can not only come across an abandoned dog on vacation – in Germany, too, it can happen that you run into a four-legged friend who does not seem to belong to anyone. According to statistics, around 100,000 dogs are reported missing every year in Germany alone, and German animal shelters take in around 70,000 four-legged friends every year.
How do I know if a dog has no owner?
Homeless stray or just the new neighbor? If you spot a dog running free on the street, in the park or in the forest, who is not wearing a collar, is visibly emaciated and neglected, it is very possible that you have come across an abandoned animal.
However, the lack of a collar or an apparently unkempt condition does not necessarily mean that the dog does not have an owner. Often a person comes around the next corner to whom the four-legged friend belongs. Usually, however, there are a few signs that can help you differentiate:
Signs of a home dog
- The dog looks well-groomed and well fed.
- He has clear eyes and the fur is shiny.
- The dog is wearing a collar.
- The dog has a microchip under the skin. A veterinarian can determine this.
Signs of an abandoned dog
- The dog is extremely thin and emaciated.
- The fur is shaggy, dirty and looks very neglected. It has bald spots.
- The dog appears intimidated, scared, aggressive or disoriented.
Abroad, dogs do not always enjoy the same status as we do and are often left to their own devices – despite an existing owner. In contrast, in this country the probability is rather low that an abandoned dog will just go for a walk with itself. If no owner appears even after a while, you should therefore act.
Signs that a dog may not have an owner are neglectful looks or very shy behavior.
First steps in finding an abandoned dog:
- Exercise caution:
An unknown, stray dog always means a certain danger. After all, you do not know what he has experienced, how he reacts to strangers and whether he may be sick or injured. Before you approach the dog, you should therefore first observe it inconspicuously. Never approach the animal head-on, but always slightly to the side. Stay calm and relaxed.
If you are very nervous or anxious yourself, it is better to keep your distance. Despite all love for animals, your own safety should be the top priority. In addition, your fear could spread to the dog and you never know how a nervous or anxious four-legged friend will react.
- Secure the dog
If the animal appears friendly and open-minded, you may approach it carefully from the side. Since a free-running dog is not only a danger to itself but also to other road users, it should be secured if possible.
The easiest way to do this is to have a leash on hand. If not, you can try to lure the dog gently – with luck and dogged sense, it may follow you.
Another option is to ask a passerby for help. He can then help you back up so that you can carry out the next steps in peace.
- Look for the owner
Next, you should look around to see if you can find the dog’s owner after all. Talk to passers-by whether they know the four-legged friend or whether they have seen someone looking for their dog.
You can also ring the doorbell in the surrounding houses and ask there. With a little luck, the residents will know the four-legged friend or can help you find them.
If you are in the forest where no one can be seen, you can also shout out loud and stand on a path with the dog in a clearly visible position.
- Report to the animal shelter or the community
If, despite your best efforts, the owner cannot be located at first, you must contact the responsible municipality or the local animal shelter and report the dog that has walked in. You are required by law to take this step.
As a rule, the authorities require that the dog be handed over to the nearest animal shelter. Together with a veterinarian who checks the dog’s registration in an animal database, the animal shelter tries to find the owner.
If the dog is wearing a collar with a tax stamp, you can also call the German pet register or the Tasso animal welfare association directly and report the dog there. In the best case, the owner can be determined directly via the number and informed about your find.
- Alternative to the vet
Another option is to take the dog straight to a veterinarian. This is particularly useful if the dog is visibly ill, injured or the nearest animal shelter is simply too far away.
Using a tattoo in the ear, on the inside of the thigh or an implanted chip that many pets have, the veterinarian can use a special reader to determine the number of the four-legged friend. In the best case, the dog is registered with this number in a pet register.
If such a notice is missing or the owner cannot be reached easily, the veterinarian will arrange for temporary accommodation in an animal shelter.
- Call the police (if steps 4 and 5 are not possible)
If you have no way of taking the dog to a veterinarian or an animal shelter, or if you have legitimate concerns about taking the unknown dog with you, call the police. She will come by and take care of the next steps.
If you find an abandoned dog, you can also take it straight to a veterinarian. It is better not to consume it, as it may have parasites.
What do I do if the abandoned dog is injured?
A special case exists when the stray dog is obviously injured or in pain. In this case you should contact a veterinarian immediately or, if you find the dog in the evening, call the animal emergency service.
Your own protection is paramount when helping an injured animal! Animals in pain may react aggressively and bite out of fear. Incidentally, this not only applies to strange dogs, but also to your own four-legged friend.
If the abandoned dog also looks neglected and already has bald spots, it can also be infested with parasites that can be dangerous both for you and for your own animal companions. Therefore, if possible, keep your own dog away from the stray dog - not only because there might be an argument between them, but also for health reasons.
Can I take him home a stray?
Taking the strange dog home with you is not advisable for several reasons. On the one hand, you do not know your four-legged friend and you do not know how it reacts to a strange environment. On the other hand, you cannot always see possible contagious diseases that could be dangerous for you as well as for other pets. In addition, you are obliged to report the dog to an authority immediately.
Do I always have to report an animal that is found?
You must report a dog that is found in any case. This is true even if you are certain that it has been deliberately abandoned or that it is obviously a stray animal with no permanent home. If you simply take your four-legged friend home with you, you will make yourself liable to prosecution. This action counts as misappropriation and can be punished with corresponding penalties.
How can I help find the owner?
After the found dog has been presented to a vet or an animal shelter, the staff will organize the search for the owner. If the dog does not have a chip or a dog tag that can be used to quickly identify the owner, you can certainly support the animal shelter in the search for masters.
For example, print out information sheets with the heading “Dog found” or “Who knows this dog?”. You should also post a photo of the dog and the phone number of the shelter where you left it on the notice board. You can hang these notes in supermarkets near the site and on street lamps.
In addition, there are of course various search portals on the Internet through which you can report an escaped or run-in pet. Social networks such as Facebook or Instagram are also suitable for posting a search message. Maybe you are lucky and the owner of the dog can be found this way soon.
Dog run up: may I feed him?
If the abandoned dog is clearly emaciated and has obviously not been fed for a long time, you can carefully put some dog food in front of it. Make sure, however, that you give him little food and what is well tolerated. The empty, small stomachs cannot cope with too much food!
Reading tip: You can find more about the correct feeding of dogs and the different forms of nutrition in our dog nutrition section.
Who cares for a runaway dog?
If the dog is neither wearing a collar nor a microchip and does not have a tattoo that can be used to identify the owner, the search for its origin can take more time. Meanwhile, employees of the local animal shelter take care of the found dog. If you would like to look after it yourself until the owner is found, you may only do so with the official consent of the competent authority.
Of course, you can ask for such permission. Before doing this, however, you should make sure that you have enough time to look after your four-legged friend. The dog must also show you enough trust.
You should also be aware that living with the unfamiliar animal can be quite stressful. After all, you don’t know what the dog went through in the past. Behavioral disorders, sudden fear and aggressiveness cannot be ruled out. If the dog seems nervous towards you, if he is sick or if you have to work a lot yourself, temporary accommodation in the animal shelter is undoubtedly a better decision.
When can I keep a dog that I have come to see?
It often happens very quickly: You have taken the stray dog into your heart straight away and would like to keep it. But remember: it does not belong to you and may be sorely missed by its owner.
Only when the animal shelter or the authorities have not been able to determine the owner and after six months no one has reported to whom the found dog belongs is it usually possible to adopt the found dog and give it a new home.
Which rules apply abroad?
In many southern countries, such as Spain, Turkey or Romania, numerous homeless dogs live on the streets. Since animals are usually not neutered here, they continue to reproduce in an uncontrolled manner. For the animals affected, life on the street means a daily struggle for survival.
The sight of such a four-legged friend naturally arouses pity in many animal-loving people. Just leave the half-starved dog behind? Some do not have the heart. But simply taking the street dog home with you from abroad is not allowed. This attempt usually fails at the border or at the airport.
The import rules are very strict. Dogs may only be brought into Germany with a pet passport and a valid rabies vaccination. In addition, the animal must be identified with a microchip and must not be younger than 15 weeks.
In order to help the stray stray, you must first contact an animal shelter or a veterinarian abroad. It is also advisable to contact a recognized animal welfare association that looks after animals in need. Adoption of the found dog is also possible under certain conditions.