Behind Every Stray Is A Story

Has a lost dog ever wandered into your life?
By Lisa Wogan, January 2009, Updated February 2015

A reader comment submitted earlier today to my post about a dog shot in his backyard caused the old cogs to rotate—in not altogether happy directions.


First, here’s what Sarah wrote: “I read this piece with growing alarm...there is a dog, right now, in my backyard barking! It is not my dog. It has no collar and seems lost. It seems to be waiting for us to find its owners, but I gotta say I don’t know how! Can anyone help me? Is there a place out there I can post information about this poor poochie in my backyard? I’m not a ‘dogperson’ and I have small kids so I’m afraid to take the dog into our house, but have offered it food and water. What I’d really like is help finding its owners, sans collar. Thanks.”



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I emailed Sarah, and learned that this self-described non-dog-person had the charity to bring the Husky stray into her home (wisely into a room separate from her children and cat). She’d also checked with neighbors—unsuccessfully—to see if they might know the dog. What next?


The Humane Society of the United States provides a primer on how to respond. The next step on Sarah’s to-do list: Contact your shelter. I know if my dog disappeared, the shelter would be my first phone call. Still my heart did sort of sink at the thought of the handsome Husky in Sarah’s basement carted off to an unknown fate. I entertained, for a moment, images of a happy now-complete-with-dog family tableau.


But then an old bit of advice surfaced in my brain: Never assume a dog’s been dumped. Kat Albrecht, pet detective and founder of the Missing Pet Partnership, once told me, if a stray looks a mess and acts skittish that doesn't mean he's been abused. Every couple of months you read about improbable reunions across thousands of miles or after long periods of separation; those dogs probably didn’t look so great when they surfaced either. (This also illustrates why posting “Found Dog” signs to locate an owner probably won’t cut the mustard.)


On her site, Albrecht (featured in Bark, July/August 2006) offers additional, hard-won advice for troubleshooting a stray, including this interesting trick: “Place a long leash (and secure collar) on the dog and tell him ‘Go Home!’ Unfortunately, some people do allow their dog to roam off leash and it is possible that you found a dog that knows exactly where its home is.”


Twice in my life—when I was younger and denser—I passed strays wandering along the narrow, winding roads of Westchester, New York. Both times, I drove on in a rush to be somewhere important. And both times (I’m a slow learner), I returned along the same road to discover the dog had been hit by a car. I now keep an extra leash under the passenger seat—hoping for a chance at redemption.