Pet owners are often amazed at the ways their pets can get into places they’re not supposed to be and get out of places they are supposed to be. They’re additionally confounded by behaviors they would never expect to see in their own pets: behaviors that could lead to the escape and loss of their pets. Why, then, is the pet owner who rescues a stray so quick to judge the “bad” owner of the stray cat or stray dog? Why is the owner of the stray pet assumed to have turned their once beloved companion into a heartlessly abandoned waif?
Such negatively judgmental reactions are pervasive in online pet discussion forums and mailing lists. A poster will lament the arrival of a stray pet in their yard or wandering on the street, and quickly the forum jury indicts the unknown owner with communal condemnation. Uninformed and unproven assumptions are made about the hardships of the stray’s previous home life and the animal’s treatment therein. This indictment progresses to a baseless verdict that the owner is both unfit and undeserving to be a pet caretaker. Some jurists will go so far as to impose sentence that no attempt be made to locate the owner or reunite the stray cat or stray dog with this “irresponsible” person.
The forum jury typically recommends that the finder of the stray adopts the pet at once and provides the loving home that the animal has presumably (and obviously, to the jury) never enjoyed before. This sounds very compassionate, selfless, and responsible … toward the stray pet. It also sounds like abduction … of the stray pet.
What if the stray dog caught his collar on a bush and pulled it off while playing in his owner’s yard? What if a neighborhood kid opened the fence, and the collarless dog escaped and ran off? Dogs can run miles and become hopelessly lost. Timid dogs may avoid contact with strangers until intense hunger forces them to finally approach someone with food after perhaps weeks of barely surviving on their own. Scared and starving, this dog still has a loving owner mourning his loss at home.
Kitty lives in a town with no feline leash law. Her owner lets her enjoy time outdoors as allowed by town ordinance, but something spooks Kitty and causes her to run off. She is now a stray cat, far from home with a young owner crying herself to sleep. A stray cat is even less likely than a stray dog to approach an unknown human until in a state of severe malnutrition, injury, or illness.
There are innumerable such scenarios that could account for a pet becoming separated from its owner. The owners of these stray pets are not villains. Nor are they irresponsible. They are victims of unfortunate circumstance, as are their pets … as could be any other owners and pets. These owners and pets deserve the opportunity to reunite, and it is the obligation, both moral and legal, of the finder of a stray pet to facilitate that reunion by reporting the stray to local law enforcement, animal control, and area animal shelters and rescues.
There is no question that many, if not most, stray pets are the result of human abandonment or negligence, but there is an undeniable percentage that have become separated from caring owners through no malicious intent. Once the finder of a stray pet has reported the animal as lost and has satisfied any pertinent local ordinances, then adoption of the stray pet can proceed.
Pet owners are typically very passionate about the care of companion animals. A stray dog or stray cat tugs at the heartstrings of those who love pets as family. It is important, though, to always consider that there may be a loving family looking for that stray pet who is looking to you for help getting home.