When any dog is noticed wandering in the street or on the pavement there are numerous factors to be taken in to serious consideration. Are you driving in a rabies endemic area? Will the dog bite me? How do I find its owner? What is the law regarding stray dogs?
Every stray dog should immediately be taken to the nearest veterinary practice or animal welfare shelter to be scanned for a microchip which is routinely implanted under the skin between the shoulder blades. If the scanner identifies a computer code the owners can be contacted within minutes and arrangements of reuniting can be made. The finder cannot take the dog home under any circumstances unless the do-gooder wants to be charged for theft. If it is after-hours there are all-night veterinary facilities which can accommodate until suitable plans are made around the animal.
By law, all stray animals are, automatically, the property of the SPCA and the dog needs to be sent there as soon as practically possible. In most areas where SPCAs are established they will usually collect from veterinary practices. If there is no microchip which proves no true ownership the dog will be boarded at the SPCA for, usually, four days, after which the dog may be put up for adoption or euthanased depending on its health, any injuries incurred, age and temperament.
There is no such consideration as finders-keepers. Anyone holding on to a dog not belonging to them may be accused of theft and sued no matter how good the intentions are and how noble the people may be. A dog picked up from the pavement, an entrance to a panhandle or off the street may be on a routine “illegal” walkabout in the neighbourhood and if the rightful owner in the vicinity has efficient CCTV coverage of putting the dog in your car then you may be in for litigation which may be highly stressful, expensive and regrettable. So, don’t do it. Check all the houses first and if no one claims knowledge of the stray then drive directly to the nearest vet or SPCA.
If you are driving through an area en route to business or holiday and a stray dog is found take it to the local facilities. It does not help the dog or its owner if you hand it in at animal welfare or a veterinary practice far removed. The chance of uniting dog and owner is then greatly reduced because of networking issues.
It is highly dangerous to pick up stray dogs in rural or rabies endemic areas. You could be risking your own life, the well-being of your entire family and you could initiate an outbreak if the dog is picked up in Kwazulu Natal or the Eastern Cape and brought home to Gauteng or western Province, particularly if the dog is in the incubation of this dreaded notifiable disease which is totally incurable once symptoms develop in humans and regarded as one of the worst deaths known to mankind. It is a criminal offence to initiate a disease listed by the State Veterinary Services as a threat to human life. Dogs cannot be moved from province to province without a valid veterinary inoculation certificate.
Placing a flea-ridden stray dog in your car can set up a flea infestation in the carpets of the vehicle which requires fumigation and vacuuming to eliminate.
If you have it in your heart and mind to rescue a stray dog it is entirely your own decision. It is unrealistic to expect any veterinarian in private practice to abandon his clients to go around chasing a dog on the highway and in the neighbourhood.
Some people phone vets to ask how they can get the stray dog into their car and the advice usually meted out is to never chase after the dog because it will continue its flight out of fear. The dog does not know you are trying to help or showing kindness. You are a stranger chasing after it. So, it has to keep running further and faster. The best behavioural approach is to overtake the dog in your car, stop further up the road, get out of your vehicle, crouch down and call the dog to you in a confident comforting tone hoping the dog associates your presence and sounds with a historical positive experience and may then trust the interaction and run toward you. If you do not have a lead to place around its neck then use a belt as a noose to control it and lead it into the car. You can then shut the car door on the edge of the belt or lead or rope to hopefully restrain the dog to the rear car seat and prevent it from jumping to the front and potentially cause a motor accident, especially if the dog climbs under your feet and around the pedals.
Another reason why accommodating a stray dog at your home is not a bright idea is that you have no history of its attitude and social skills towards children and other pets. It may enter your property cowering and insecure from fear and lack of familiarity but it may attack if allowed unnecessary access. Isolation is an essential emergency measure such as a courtyard with high walls until further arrangements can be made.
If the finder or friends of this person want to adopt the stray dog there is a specific protocol and legal process through the SPCA which must be followed, including an inspection of the suitability of the adopter’s premises.
There is no guarantee that the adoption of a stray dog is without its own hassles. A dog does not “appreciate” a clean, well-manicured home and good food with all the loving kindness in the world when it is a free spirit. Confining a stray dog can cause claustrophobic stress resulting in the animal trashing the garden and property. Many dogs cannot tolerate restriction of movement and lack of visual stimulation being imprisoned behind four walls of a townhouse or cluster complex. It is cruel to place such a dog in a small unstimulating environment. Dogs do not really want what people think they need. Good intentions can backfire. Animal behaviourists can also assist in evaluating the dog’s tolerance levels and adaptation potential.
One also has to be careful of the dog’s temperament. Some may be nervous and anxious when approached while others may be assertive and aggressive if people get too close. Any person not being equipped with the knowledge to read the body signals of dogs will get seriously hurt.