If you have ever had your dog go missing, you may remember how wonderful it felt when someone took the initiative to call the number on your dog’s collar, or when your dog came running to you when you checked your local animal shelter. In most cases, a stranger took time out of their day to bring your dog to a safe place, and this is why you were able to get him back. Or, perhaps you have been on the other side of this situation and seen a stray dog and you didn’t know the best way to handle it. The Humane Society offers some helpful tips in what to do if you come across a stray dog.

Safety First

If you see a dog while you are in traffic for example, it is important to not react impulsively. Brake carefully, turn on your signal and pull your car safely off of the roadway. Go ahead and turn off the ignition and put on your hazard lights to make sure you don’t get into an accident while you are trying to help a needy animal. If you are somewhere that you cannot safely pull over, call animal control and provide them with as much detail as you can about the dog’s location.

Another safety measure you must take is to look for signs to determine the state of the animal itself. The dog is likely afraid, but it may also be injured or even rabid. If it appears that a possibility exists that the dog may bite or attack, don’t come near it. If the coast is clear, approach the dog slowly and carefully. You don’t want to move too quickly and risk scaring the dog to run into oncoming traffic. Speak calmly when you approach the dog and if you are lucky enough to have a strong-smelling food with you, this will help you lure the dog over to you.

What to Do Next

What is the best course of action after you have lured the dog into your car? This depends on who you ask. The Humane Society recommends calling Animal Control at this point and waiting for them to come to you, instead of driving somewhere with an unknown animal in your car with you.

On the other hand, dog expert Cesar Millan says it is acceptable to go ahead and drive off with the dog in your care. However, he does recommend stopping by your local animal shelter before you decide to take the dog home with you. Should the dog not have a collar or a tag, the shelter will be able to scan the animal for an embedded microchip, which will contain the owner’s contact information. The shelter may also take a picture of the dog and obtain your contact information in case the owner’s show up looking for their dog.

Just because the dog’s owners have not been found, don’t assume that the dog has been abandoned or his previous owners aren’t missing him. The right thing to do at this point is to take a few more steps to reach out. You can post flyers of the dog around town or put an ad on Craigslist, for example.

Taking the Animal to a Veterinarian

You may be concerned if the overall health of the dog is in question. It is a charitable act to take the dog for a veterinary checkup. However, you should be aware that if you do this, in most cases you become financially responsible for paying the veterinarian or animal hospital for their care.

Adopting a Stray Dog

If some time has passed and no one has come forward, you may be considering keeping the dog as your own. If this is the case, contact your local animal shelter to find out how long the waiting period is before you can formally adopt the pet. Take an honest assessment of your lifestyle to make sure you are ready to commit to taking care of another family member. If not, the best course of action is to take the animal back to your local animal shelter.