If you ever happen upon what appears to be a stray cat or dog, there are a couple of ways to approach the situation. The first option is to call a local animal rescue group, animal control, dog shelter, or the Human Society and notify them about what kind of dog or cat you have seen in passing and where they are located. However, some people try to catch the dog or cat while they are waiting, to protect them from busy streets or from any other danger. If you are inclined toward the latter option, here are some helpful tips and cautions about catching a stray.

Warning Note: Whenever you approach a wild or stray animal, you put yourself at risk. The animal might be rabid, diseased, or become aggressive or defensive. They might have been abused, or be hungry or afraid, and lash out if they feel threatened. Be sure to exercise caution, and note any changes in body language if you attempt to approach the animal yourself.

Safe assessment: If you are driving on the road and you believe you saw a stray, pull over on the side of the road, and put your hazard lights on. Investigate to ensure that the animal is really alone, and look to see if he has any identification tags or a collar.

Approach with caution: Note if the animal seems frightened or defensive toward you when you approach. Be patient, talking to them calmly, being sure to stand where they can see you. If the animal starts to get skittish or look as if he feels threatened, hold still and just wait. If you begin moving again use slow steady motions, and speak in a soothing voice. Once you are fairly close, and the dog or cat does not seem to be hostile, call to them and see if they can be coaxed to approach you.

Catching the pet: Try to draw the animal over to you, by holding out your hand. If you have any food such as meat, tuna, fish, or any pungent treat that might entice them, try to use it to get the animal to the car. If the animal seems friendly, willing to come toward you, and looks fairly well-kept, he might be the escaped pet of some nearby family. See if the animal is willing to get in your car; where you can keep him safely until help arrives.

Note: In most circumstances, it is not advisable to get in the car with a strange pet, or to attempt to drive anywhere with them in the back. The noise and movement might throw them into a panic which could be dangerous for both the animal and for you.

Get help: If you were not able to get the pet into your car, call animal control so that they might be able to catch him and bring the pet to a safe place. Some people choose to wait while a rescue car in on the way, so they can keep an eye on the pet. If you feel 100% safe to drive with the animal, (or if there is a back compartment to your car, a separating device, or (for a small pet) if you were able to lure him into a crate), then you may consider taking the creature to the nearest shelter home. If you plan to keep the animal at your house until you can reconnect the pet with their owner, first stop by an animal hospital to verify that the cat or dog does not have fleas or any diseases. When you go home, make sure you keep the animal separate from your other pets, and that you notify the local shelters and rescue homes in case an owner is searching for their pet.

Note: Once the dog or cat is found to be without a microchip, and no owner has come forward in search of the pet, or in response to any “FOUND DOG” posters you may have distributed, and you might decide you want to keep the animal. If this is the case, check the laws in your state about finding animals, to see if there are any required “holding period” for strays before the pet can legally become yours.