What to do about a possibly dead dog?
February 17, 2011 9:11 AM   Subscribe

A family I know of, but do not know personally, has been looking for their lost dog for two months. Today on my way to work, I saw a deceased dog on the side of the expressway that matches the general description of the lost dog. What do I do next?

The snow we’ve had for a while has started melting, and now this dog is visible, but it’s obvious from its condition that it’s been there a long time. Use your imagination (if you dare) to picture what this poor creature looks like. I wasn’t able to stop right then, as traffic was too fast and heavy.

What do I do now? I can contact the family directly, but what if it’s not their dog? Wouldn’t it be awfully traumatic to have to see a dead animal in this condition, when they’re still hoping to find their pet alive?
I don’t know if there is a collar or tag on this dog so that a stranger can make a positive identification. I suspect that someone familiar with the dog could possibly identify it from [what’s left of] its markings, but I don’t know for sure.

Should I call the highway department or animal control, and assume they’ll make the effort to identify the dog and contact its owner if possible? Should I attempt to inspect it myself? I’m totally not sure if I can manage to look and smell a dead animal in poor condition close-up without fainting or puking.

I’m positive that I need to tell *someone*, so that’s not my question. If I was missing a beloved pet, I would want to know if it had died. But who should be responsible for identifying this particular dead dog?
posted by SuperSquirrel to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Call your local Animal Control, and let them know the situation exactly as you have put it here. Make sure to tell them that you think the dog might be the missing dog in question. If you can't get hold of Animal Control, try the non-emergency number for your Police Department.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:17 AM on February 17, 2011

If you can't do anything yourself, call Animal Control and explain the situation.

The one time this exact thing happened to me, I went out and picked up the dead cat with a plastic bag, and put it into a nice cardboard box. I then contacted the owner, explaining that I think I had their cat, and explaining the nature of the find. They buried the box without opening it.

I like to think it gave them some closure.

If it turns out later not to the be the dog ... well, that's the kind of happy miracle you read about in the papers, right?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:26 AM on February 17, 2011

Animal Control may not take the time to contact the family. It happens. I'd contact them per jamaro's suggestion.
posted by cyndigo at 9:42 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our cat has been missing now for nearly a week. We are trying to remain hopeful, but honestly have pretty much assumed the worst. The not-knowing is the hardest part. If it were possibly our cat that you had found we would want you to call us, and would thank you profusely regardless of the final identification.
posted by Lokheed at 9:46 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you know someone who does know the family personally? That person may be better able to ID the dog at a distance than you are, and know the best way to approach the family about the find.
posted by apparently at 9:51 AM on February 17, 2011

Of for goodness sake, I know it is not easy but do the right thing and tell the family. Do it today, do it as soon as possible, before the animal you saw gets moved. They are the ones that will have to identify it anyways.
posted by edgeways at 10:02 AM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

I once had a missing cat that I expended every legitimate effort I could conceive to find. Someone who saw a poster called me about a dead cat matching the description on a highway on-ramp about a mile from my home.

It was high summer, about 90 degrees and that cat was in a serious state of decomposition. But it was indeed a mackerel tabby coon cat of about the same approximate size. But it was so far gone that if I couldn't be sure just by looking from a few feet away. I couldn't NOT know, so I put some rubber kitchen gloves on and pried open the mouth of that rotting carcass because checking for a broken right incisor was the only way I was going to be able to know for sure if it was my cat.

It was one of the most awful things I've ever done, both because of the emotions and because I don't have the constitution for that sort of work. And it turned out that it wasn't my cat. But I'm thankful that they called me, because it really could have been him and years later I still find myself wondering what happened to my cat.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:07 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, I sent a note to the contact email on the flier. I feel horrible, but I think I just needed the kick in the ass from you guys. Thanks.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:52 AM on February 17, 2011

You did the right thing. Don't feel horrible. Feel good that you did the right thing despite the discomfort it raised. Ignorance isn't always bliss.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:01 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have called Animal Care and Control a couple of times to report dead cats in the street. I'd rather do it before any more cars come along and turn the street into real carnage.

The last time it happened, I actually heard the cat get hit by a car outside my house, so I figured it belonged to a neighbor. We put the cat's body in a box, and ACC came along later and took it away. (Later, they checked him for a microchip and contacted the neighbor whose pet it was.)

The ACC in S.F. keeps photos (slightly gruesomely) of roadkill pets, which they recommend you browse through when you've lost an animal. When it's something as decomposed as yours, they list a description as well as they can, along with the location ("tan shorthair dog, found at intersection of xxx and xxx."). So that could help a family know what happened, too.
posted by vickyverky at 11:40 AM on February 17, 2011

I'm glad that someone who had such a thoughtful, compassionate reaction is the one who found the dog and contacted the family; think of how much worse it might have been if a less sympathetic person had done so. I'm sure you took care of this in the best and kindest possible way under the circumstances based on the way you worded your question.
posted by pineappleheart at 11:44 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

The sadness is theirs and not for you to borrow. Don't wallow in pity because you are simply the bearer of bad news.
posted by rhizome at 12:03 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

OK, I sent a note to the contact email on the flier. I feel horrible...

Don't feel horrible. Feel glad that you could put a family's mind at ease about their missing pet (if it is indeed their pet). Yes, you had to tell them the pet they love is dead, and that is horrible, but now they don't have to worry that it's being abused or neglected, or be disappointed every time they see a similar-looking dog and realize with sadness that it's not theirs. They can bury the dog now and get some small comfort out of saying goodbye.

I'd want to know, and I'd be glad somebody like you told me.
posted by Rykey at 12:56 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Follow-up: The folks I contacted replied that the dog I had seen was not theirs. In fact, I was one of several people who contacted them, and they were very grateful that so many cared enough to let them know. They did go out and look at the poor thing, and also contacted the highway department. But alas, Poor Deceased Dog is still there as of this morning.

In better news, the bad juju of the dead dog I see every morning was counterbalanced a little today by meeting a litter of Chihuahua puppies that a rescue friend saved from a dumpster.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:12 PM on February 22, 2011

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