When You Find A Lost Dog Or Cat


I’ve mentioned before that I seem to be a magnet for lost and stray dogs—so much so, that I now carry an extra leash in the car.  Fortunately, all but one of the dogs I’ve found were reunited with their people or were adopted.  I still think about the puppy we found when we lived in a studio apartment with 2 cats that we had to take to the city animal shelter.  I hope he was adopted by someone who loved him.

If you ever find a lost dog or cat, here’s a good run-down of what the best steps are to reunite them with their owner.

I’ll add to that list that because most of the dogs I’ve found have been in my neighborhood, I’ve taken them to our neighborhood vet to have them scanned for a microchip.  Your neighborhood vet can be especially helpful if the dog isn’t chipped because they just might recognize the animal and know where it lives.  This happened with one of the dogs I found with no tags and no microchip.  I’m really lucky because if they have room, our vet will actually hold the animal for a short time.  Check with your neighborhood vet—they might be really helpful!


DIY: Warm Winter Cat Houses

Pet cats living outside and stray & feral cats have a really hard time in winter—those low temperatures can be deadly.  If your neighborhood has cats living outside and if your living situation allows, here are some inexpensive, DIY shelters you can make to give them a warm, dry place to sleep.

Obviously, don’t place the house where a dog can get to it, or where your indoor cats can see it, if your cats are threatened by strange cats in their territory.  Seeing a strange cat outside can disturb indoor cats and trigger redirected aggression where they attack other cats in your house.  If there are predators like raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, etc. in the area, cut a hole in the front and the back of the shelter so cats have a way to escape.

styrofoamshelterThe Urban Cat League has several designs for easy, low-cost shelters.  The styrofoam cooler house is probably the easiest and cheapest shelter. (Find instructions & materials needed here.)  The shelter intentionally tilted so that in case any water gets inside, the high end stays dry for the cat.


igloocoolershelterThe picnic cooler house is also pretty easy and used coolers can often be found at thrift stores and garage sales.  (Find instructions & materials needed here.)  This shelter will be quite durable.  It’s also tilted to the high end stays dry even if water gets inside.


largetubshelterThe insulated storage bin house is lined with foam core insulation that’s moisture resistant and has a foil covered side to reflect body heat back towards the cat.  (Find instructions & materials needed here.)  This shelter has drainage holes for any water that might get inside.


foilbackedinsulationshelterThe foam core insulation house is made by bolting together the rigid foam insulation using large washers.   (Find instructions & materials needed here.)  This design places the entrance higher to keep bedding inside.  It also has drainage holes.


2tubshelterThe Ian Somerhalder Foundation (yes, that Ian Somerhalder) has a design for an insulated 2 bin house.  This is another easy one that doesn’t take much work or require many tools.  They also suggest lining the inner compartment with a mylar blanket to reflect the cat’s body heat.  These blankets are found in the sporting or camping section of discount stores.


insulatedcondoshelterThis insulated condo won’t win any beauty contests, but it is clever, low cost, and easy to make.  The exterior is rigid foam insulation glued together with heavy-duty construction adhesive.  Two storage bins serve as the inner compartments.

Training Tip: Manage, Manage, Manage!

I was in Texas recently for a business meeting and the same day I arrived at my parents’ place, two black puppies also showed up at their doorstep.  Lost or stray dogs always seem to appear wherever I am, so it figures I travel halfway across the country and end up dealing with stray puppies.  We figure they’re about 3 mos. old, 1 male, 1 female and were probably dumped by someone.  They were malnourished and dehydrated.  (My parents are in a rural area and lots of dogs get dumped or are just allowed to roam.)  I figured I’d be helping my parents get them to a rescue group so they could be adopted.  I think it had maybe been 24 hrs after they showed up that it became clear Bart & Sadie, as they are now named, had already found their new home with my parents.  Yea!

Now the process of integrating Bart & Sadie into their home started.  My parents aren’t really dog people—they have 4 cats.  They have inherited my grandmother’s Yorkie, CoCo, but she is nothing like these wild, semi-feral puppies.  So I had to get those rusty dog-training gears going again in my head and fast!

One of the most important things you need to do when you have a dog is manage their environment.  This is especially critical when you’re teaching your dog what they can and cannot do.  Dogs are explorers & opportunists and once they’re “rewarded” by some behavior, they’ll tend to keep doing that behavior as long as they get the “reward”.  In this case the word ‘reward’ means anything the dogs really like—chasing cats, eating garbage, stealing dirty clothes—not a treat that you give them.  So don’t lay out a banquet of temptations and expect your dog to resist.  Manage their environment and set them up to succeed.

For example, your kitchen trashcan holds awesome smells & tasty scraps, which your dog is likely to explore.  If, in that exploration, your dog tips over the trashcan and gains access to those smells & scraps, your dog is “rewarded” by that access.  The best way to keep your dog from learning they can get to the smells & scraps by tipping over the trashcan, is to prevent them from doing it in the first place by managing their environment.  The level of management depends on the dog.  Our dog, Saffron, gets spooked by things tipping over and loud noises, so our management strategy for the kitchen trash was a metal step-can with a close fitting lid—it’s heavy so less likely to tip over unless she’s really trying, the lid has to be lifted so she can’t just stick her snoot down in the can, & a close-fitting lid means enticing odors are less strong.  Other dogs may need to have the trash behind a closed door.  When it comes to managing a puppy’s environment, I think it’s best to assume the worst!  They’re likely to get into everything.

Here’s how we managed Bart & Sadie’s environment to get you thinking about strategies for your own dogs or if one shows up on your doorstep:

  • We immediately began crating the puppies & kept them closed in the utility room.  Limited access to the house and being kept in a smaller space means they’re less likely to have accidents while house-training because of their instinctive aversion to eliminating in their “home”.  Otherwise they’d learn the “reward” of emptying their bladder or bowels whenever they want.
  • We removed shoes, a trashcan, things with power cords, and fishing rods to keep them from learning the “reward” of chewing on these things.  We did underestimate them on a few things which met their demise—venetian blinds, a straw hat hanging 6ft off the ground, a yard stick  We provided Bart & Sadie with suitable things to chew on instead.
  • We put the pet food bins on a top shelf out of reach, so they didn’t discover the “reward” of chewing them open and eating the food.
  • The puppies kept escaping when we opened the utility room door and were “rewarded” by getting to run around the house, so there’s now a “airlock” created by an ex-pen that encloses the door on our side.  They may slip through the door, but they can’t get past the ex-pen.
  • Bart & Sadie wouldn’t come when called yet and were being “rewarded” by getting to play, sniff, and find dead crabs at their leisure, so we started only taking them out on leashes.
  • We didn’t want them to get the “reward” of chasing the cats, so we kept the puppies on leash when in the house.

No matter what your situation, you can take steps to manage your dog’s environment.  It takes some thinking, but managing like this makes teaching a dog so much easier.  My parents won’t have to unteach chasing the cats or chewing up shoes, because the puppies aren’t having these unwanted behaviors reinforced and “rewarded”.  I’m so happy to say Bart & Sadie are well on their way to becoming wonderful members of the family—they couldn’t have found a better home!