My coworker was recently telling me about her friend who found a kitten. He was about 8 months old, very sweet, loved humans, and well-fed. The friend fell in love and decided to keep the cat. My coworker privately expressed concern to me that the cat obviously belonged to someone, and that her friend had not tried at all to find the original owner.
As the owner of a pet who ran away, my heart ached to hear it! I honestly believe that is what happened to Jera - that someone found her and took her in, never bothering to check to see if she belonged to anyone else. They sometimes justify it to themselves by saying, "Well if the original owners really wanted their pet back then I would know about it." That breaks my heart. We tried so hard to find Jera, but living 4 hours away it was too hard. We did the best we could, but we had to draw the line at some point.
So what do you do if you find an animal wandering around? Here are some ideas:
1) Use appropriate caution when approaching a strange animal. This goes without saying.
2) Watch the behavior of the animal and study its health and appearance. There are many signs of it being a stray: it is scared of humans, very thin, has wounds that have healed over, the coat is matted and/or rough to the touch. If the animals is friendly, well-fed, has a clean and soft coat, etc. then it is probably someone's pet. (Though it could have been taken care of and then abandoned.)
3) If you have pets, be cautious about keeping the stray around them until you can get it to a vet. A lot of strays can carry diseases and/or parasites that are potentially dangerous, and you don't want to spread that around.
4) If you can catch the animal, take it to a vet or animal shelter. Check it for potential health problems, and also have it scanned for microchips. That will definitely help you know if the animal is a stray or has an owner desperately looking for it!
5) Put up signs, check out sites like petfinder.com and Craigslist. Do a search engine search for local "Lost and Found" sites. Post a listing of the found animal and see if there are any labeled "missing" that might match the animal you find.
6) Let local veterinarians and animal shelters know of a found animal. Those are definitely the first places someone will contact if they have lost their pet.
These are just some ideas to make sure that lost animals are able to find their way home.
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