Stray Animals


If you see a loose dog and feel you are prepared and able to help and it’s safe to do so, here are some tips to help you find their owner as quickly as possible:

Safely Catch and Contain the Dog

Approach the dog calmly and encourage them to come towards you. Always be cautious when approaching an unknown animal, as they might be fearful and could lash out defensively. Turning a bit sideways can help you seem less intimidating to a scared dog, along with slow movement.

Offering a treat can help entice a dog to come closer to you. Don’t try and chase the dog, as this can scare them and cause them to bolt into an unsafe area, such as into a busy road.

One trick to try is to open your car door and invite them to ” go on a car ride!” with an excited voice. Some dogs will happily jump in the back of your car.

If the animal is acting aggressively or you cannot safely capture them, contact your local animal control or police department. They will ask you for a description of the dog and the cross streets where you last saw them. Do not put yourself in harm’s way to try and capture a stray dog.

Once you have the dog in hand, think about how you will keep them contained and safe while you search for their owner. Attach a leash to the dog, or keep them in a securely fenced area or room in your home. Only keep them in your car if it is well-ventilated, they have access to fresh water, and the weather is not too warm.

Do not allow the dog to co-mingle with any existing pets you have at home. Not only can this result in fights and possible injury, but you can’t be sure that the dog is fully vaccinated or if it has parasites that could be passed on to your pets, such as fleas or ringworm.

If the dog is injured, you can take it to the closest animal clinic for medical treatment. They will also be able to scan for a microchip and help locate the owner. (However, be prepared to take financial responsibility for any treatment and care.)

Check for Identification and Microchip

Hopefully the dog will have a collar with identification tags that will make contacting their owner nice and easy. Some dogs wear a microchip tag with their microchip number and contact information for the microchip company, who can then notify the owner that their dog has been found.

If you cannot get a hold of the owner right away, it’s helpful to notify animal control, nearby veterinary clinics, and your local animal shelters that you’ve found a dog, in case their owner calls there first.

If the dog does not have a collar or ID tags, you’ll want to have them scanned to see if they have a microchip.

There are a few places that will most likely have a chip scanner:

  • A veterinary clinic
  • An animal shelter
  • A local animal control department

If the dog has no ID or microchip, their best bet for being reunited withtheir owner is through the localanimal shelter, as this is usually the first place owners searching for their pets look. If you would ratherkeep the animal with you, you should give the shelter a photo and description of the dog so they can includethem in their found postings, and provide them with your contact information.

Spread the Word and Post “Found Dog” Fliers

If possible, take a photo of the dog and create a flyer to post in the area you found the pet. You can also distribute these fliers to local veterinary clinics as well, or go door-to-door in the neighborhood where you found them.

There are many groups on social media specifically for posting about lost and found animals. If you’re on Facebook, post a photo in your feed. Many pets have been reunited with their owners this way. Browse any lost pet listings and post about having found a dog. A few larger databases include PawboostHome Again, TriCity Lost and Found. Another great site that connects you with neighbors is Nextdoor. Most animal shelters will post on their Facebook page also.

Beware: Unfortunately there have been instances when people posing as the owner of a lost dog contact the finder and claim the dog belongs to them, especially with purebred dogs or puppies. When posting on sites such as the pet bulletin board, consider posting a brief listing without a photo (or a cropped photo) that asks the owner to contact you and give you more specific physical information about their dog to prove their ownership. Don’t ever disclose the dog’s name (if it’s visible on their tag), as asking this question of the inquirer is a first step in identifying if they truly own the pet, as in most cases if you use that name with the dog, they’ll get excited.


If you see a loose cat and feel you are prepared and able to help and it’s safe to do so, here are some tips to help you find their owner as quickly as possible:

I’ve found a stray cat. How can I help?

Cats often wander away from their families and sometimes cannot find their way back. Sometimes, they are simply out for a stroll and plan to return to their family eventually—but that could be days. Meanwhile, there is a family on the other end of this situation searching for their cat with no idea what may have happened to them. The last thing we ever want to do is take a cat that has a home and make it “homeless.” Lots of people have indoor/outdoor cats – and cats are very curious. Unfortunately, we have found that not everyone who “loses” a cat will come looking for it at the local shelter. Some people assume that something bad has happened to the cat and therefore, they don’t take the time to search for the pet at the shelter. Most of the time, a curious cat will make its way back home as long as it’s healthy and not injured.

Do not assume, then, that the cat you have found is a strayIf they look healthy and well groomed, it is likely they belong to some family. Try to determine if the cat is lost or abandoned, and not simply a neighbor’s indoor-outdoor cat. Here are a few steps you can take to try and identify the cat.

1. If the stray cat is friendly, approach them and check to see if they are wearing a collar. If they are, this collar should have the contact details of their family on it.

2. If the cat is not friendly, do not try to catch it. Take note of whether the cat’s left ear is tipped. If so, this means someone has previously trapped the cat and the cat is spayed/neutered.

3. If they are not wearing a collar, try and ask around to see if anyone in the neighborhood has lost a cat. Word travels quickly. If the cat belongs to a home in the local area, news may travel back to the family.

4. If there are no easy and visible signs of identification or if no family comes forward to claim them, then you will need to take the stray cat to a local veterinary clinic or to the nearest animal shelter. The cat could have a microchip. Your nearest local veterinary clinic or shelter will be able to scan the microchip to learn details of the cat’s family and reunite them with their owners.

Finding the owners

If there are no visible signs of identification, this does not mean that the cat does not belong to somebody. Cats are free spirits and like to wander.

Look at bulletin boards for lost cats and see if any of the descriptions match the cat you have found. Check local newspapers and listings to see if anyone has posted a similar cat missing.

You can also be proactive. Print posters of the cat you have found and place it around your neighborhood. Spread the word. Social media tends to be very effective for this, Twitter especially. Followers can retweet the picture of the stray cat.

Taking care of the cat

While you are hunting for the family, it is important to try and take care of the cat to the best of your ability. If it is not possible to have the cat in your home, do not worry. Try your best to create a shelter for the stray cat. A strong cardboard box (and a blanket) should usually suffice. Provide the cat with food and clean water.

Sometimes, the cat you have found may be injured or sick. In such cases, approach the cat with caution. They are likely to be wary and may be aggressive if they are scared. Try and cover them with a blanket before picking them up—it protects you from their claws.

If the stray cat is injured or sick, you can contact Animal Control at (423) 926-8769.


Don’t be too hasty or judgmental. Do not assume that the mother has abandoned her litter. It is just as likely that she is searching for something to eat or scouting out better accommodations.


If you find a litter of kittens that you think may be abandoned, try these tips:

Step #1 Visual Cues

Your first course of action is to wait and watch. While doing so, try to read the visible cues that reveal the health of the kitten(s). Look for signs to indicate that they may have been without care for a significant amount of time: crying or squalling due to lack of nutrition, fur that is matted or dirty, severely underweight, or significant lethargy.

Where did you find them? Are they in a safe, fairly clean and dry environment? If they are out in the elements, this is cause for concern as they may not be able to regulate their temperature and stay warm. Are they in any danger from predators, like dogs, raccoons, or opossums? Is the nest secluded or near a roadway where they might be hit if they wandered off?

Spring is the beginning of kitten season. As the weather warms up, unspayed female cats bear their offspring and neighborhood cats are looking to find places to nest and give birth. Your instinct will probably be to save and protect those kittens, but it may not be the best thing for them.

Please keep in mind that a cat with kittens that seems feral or appears to be abandoned might still be someone’s pet and, as such, is their personal property. There are no leash laws for cats and cats are permitted to roam freely. Many people assume that a stray is lost or abandoned, when in fact the cat knows exactly where it is!

Step #2 Time and Space

Once you’ve assessed the situation, walk away if there is no immediate danger. Most cats, particularly if they are feral, are not likely to return if they smell or see humans. While they don’t want to abandon their litter, innate self-preservation will cause this behavior. Leave for several hours to give them the time and space to return. You can go back and check on the situation in 4-6 hours.

Note: If you find the kittens are in dire need of medical attention, starving, or vulnerable to predators, then you can remove them.

Step #3 Return Visit

After several hours, return and check on the nest. If mom has not returned but all looks well, give it a bit more time. Try again the next day.

You want to give the mother as much time as possible to return to her litter, which will give the kittens the best chance for survival. Not only do nursing kittens need nutrition from their mama, they also receive antibodies and immune support from her milk. Therefore, it is inadvisable to remove them unless absolutely necessary.

Future Options

There are several scenarios that you may encounter after finding a litter of kittens.

Mama Returns and You Can Leave It to Nature

If, upon rechecking the nest of kittens, you find that their mother has returned, you can rest easier and let nature take its course. She is the best bet that they will survive. Feel free to monitor the situation and make sure that the newborns are progressing, kept fed, and relatively safe from predators or other dangerous situations.

Mama Returns and You Can Provide Assistance

If the mother does return and you want to provide assistance, you may give them food. Ensure that you don’t get too close and scare her off. If you provide food, remember that it may be sought by other cats, raccoons, rats, or other predators that live in your area. Show her where the food will be, but do not leave it too close to the nest. If a predator finds the food, you don’t want them finding the nest as well.

It’s important that the kittens remain with their mother for at least four weeks, preferably six, so that they are weaned or close to weaning. At that point, the mother may be more amenable to allowing you to help her. This could come in the form of offering shelter or a home or removing the kittens and finding them a home.

Mama Does Not Return to the Nest

If the mother doesn’t return to the nest, or you find the kittens in poor health or danger, you may choose to remove the kittens. Here are some great resources if you decide to care for the kittens yourself:

If you cannot care for them or find a home for them, and you live within the city of Johnson City or Washington County limits, you may bring them to the WCJC Animal Shelter for drop off. Make sure they are confined in an enclosure (such as a cardboard cat carrier, sturdy box with lid and holes for ventilation, or a cat crate/carrier) if they are friendly. If possible, please call ahead to schedule an appointment.

If you have them confined, but cannot bring them to our animal shelter, please call Animal Control Services at (423) 926-8769 Monday-Friday between 10:30am-5:00pm, and we will make arrangements to pick them up. Please know that we are unable to accept any stray animals from other cities or counties.

If you’re still not sure what to do, we can help.

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