Picture this scenario: You’re at home relaxing, looking out your window at the view of your yard or neighborhood. But then something unexpected catches your eye. A dog or cat you’ve never seen before is wandering through your yard. What do you do?
The fact of the matter is, it’s nearly impossible to tell if that new animal is someone’s lost pet or a stray, or if it’s just exploring the area in which it lives. But if you’re an animal lover, chances are you’ll wonder which category the animal falls under, and what you should do about it.
“Dogs typically are in a yard or in someone’s house. If you see a dog wandering loose, it is, percentage wise, more likely to be a stray,” said Sarah Moody-Cook, assistant director of animal welfare at the Kitsap Humane Society. “This day and age, most people keep their dogs close to home.”
So if you see a dog that, as far as you know, doesn’t belong to any of your neighbors, maybe try to lure it closer to check for a collar or tag. If none are found, consider taking the dog to a local vet or KHS to check for a microchip.
Cats are more difficult to determine what to do.
“Indoor/outdoor cats are still fairly common, especially in Kitsap County,” Moody-Cook said. “It’s beautiful here, lots of people want their cats to enjoy the outdoors.”
Brigid Wasson, board president of Missing Pet Partnership, said, “Generally, friendly, healthy cats seen around the neighborhood should just be left alone because, nine times out of 10, they’re just hanging out where they live. If you see them around and they look healthy, best to just leave them alone.”
Moody-Cook said that being able to tell the difference between a pet and a stray is really difficult because each animal has its own personality.
“It really depends so much from animal to animal, how they’re going to act, if they’re stray or if they’re adjusted to the area,” she said. “Animals temperaments are so different that one cat might be kind of skittish just by nature. The fact that it’s acting a little scared or flighty isn’t necessarily a good indication whether it’s a stray or an owned pet.”
Wasson said the opposite can be true as well.
“There’s a few things that are very important, and the first thing we like to say is, think lost, not stray,” she explained. “The reason we say that is so often when people find a dog in the street, they assume the animal has been abandoned. It might look dirty, matted, it might have ticks or be injured — there’s a lot of things that make the animal look really lost. (But) maybe they’ve been out surviving on their own for days or weeks (because it got lost).”
Wasson said that while some recommend putting collars on cats as well as dogs, the likeliness of that collar not getting lost is pretty low. It’s easy, she said, for cats to lose collars while exploring outside, or even for collars to get caught on something, even the easy-release collars designed to ensure the collar opens should it get stuck and a cat tries to escape.
But, as Moody-Cook said, cats are more likely than dogs to show up at shelters as lost pets.
That’s why the best thing a pet owner can do is get their pet microchipped.
Moody-Cook said it’s now considered a best practice to get a pet microchipped, and said any animal that goes into KHS doesn’t leave without one, even if the animal was picked up as a stray and is lucky enough to be sent home with its family.
“Every pet should be microchipped, especially cats,” said Wasson. “They should all be chipped, and people need to keep track of the chip registry.”
Though the registry isn’t going to delete an entry off their list, Wasson said that oftentimes when someone moves or changes their phone number, they forget to update the information registered to the microchip.
“Of pets who are micro chipped, roughly only about 50 percent of them are currently registered,” Wasson explained.
But what if the animal doesn’t have a microchip?
Don’t assume it’s an animal that has no home or human family. Instead, still consider taking it to the shelter. Or, if you want to foster the animal until its family can be found, or if not, give it a new home, just remember to do your due diligence in finding the animal’s family.
“If you’re going to keep the animal in your house, you’re going to want to call the shelter (and) make reports,” Wasson said. “Basically, do all you can to try and find the owner, and check every day for any lost reports you might see.
“The problem that happens a lot a lot a lot is that people find the animal, make the assumption (that it is abandoned) and they don’t make that attempt,” she added. “So you have a lost, loved pet with an owner trying to do all they can to find the animal. It’s a lose-lose situation.”
Kitsap County has resources to help someone find a lost pet or a lost pet’s family. Facebook groups exist for each community in the county, including Bremerton, Manette, Port Orchard and more. Also, there is a specific Facebook group for lost and found pets: www.facebook.com/groups/kitsaplnfpetsearch, as well as lost and found sections on Craigslist. Even the Kitsap Humane Society website has a section dedicated to reuniting lost pets with their families.
“If your pets go missing, act quickly,” Wasson said. “Just like a missing person case, it’s best to act within the first 24 hours. Statistically, you’re going to have the best luck if you start searching right away.”
To learn more about lost and found pet resources and what to do if you find or lost a pet, visit kitsaphumane.org or missingpetpartnership.org.
Michelle Beahm is a reporter for the Central Kitsap Reporter and Bremerton Patriot. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.