What to do about a starving, stray dog?
March 4, 2011 1:25 PM   Subscribe

What to do when you encounter a starving stray dog? I know the ethical answer, but I need help with the common sense answer.

My wife ran across a starving stray in a bad neighborhood of chicago. She called me, and I reinforced her decision to leave it alone and call animal control. Neither of us happy with that solution. So, in the future, what's the right thing to do?

Of course, the ethical answer is to help the dog. My question is, how? Taking it to our home isn't an option. Even if we didn't already have 2 cats, I'm just not interested in opening our home to strange animals/fleas/etc.

Plus, It doesn't really seem smart to approach a stray that may have rabies or other behavior problems, then get it into a car where it might freak out in the confined space and attack.

I actually went to the ASPCA and Humane Society websites, but a few minutes of searching didn't really turn up anything useful. Help me out, folks. What's the right thing to do?

posted by specialnobodie to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well I would have brought it home, fed it, bathed it, and then driven it to the SPCA or local shelter. To be fair, as a dog owner I have food, dog shampoo, etc at home already so it would be easy for me to do. A dog is capable of understanding fear, hunger, cold and abandonment and in my opinion we as the domesticating species owe a certain amount of custody and care. Even if the animal is ultimately euthanize I think the answer is the same.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:34 PM on March 4, 2011 [8 favorites]

(yikes, sorry for my poor writing above)
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:35 PM on March 4, 2011

You call the SPCA and animal control. If you have dog-appropriate food on your person, you could attempt to feed him by placing it in a safe area, calling the dog's attention to it, and backing away. You did the right and safe thing.

You shouldn't feel bad about it at all.

Unless you have a lot of experience in dog health, care, and maintenance, you really shouldn't approach it. Or take it home, geeze louise.
posted by phunniemee at 1:37 PM on March 4, 2011 [9 favorites]

If it's got a collar, that's a sign that it's lost, not a stray. I'd consider trying to approach and see if there were contact info on the tags.

If it doesn't, call animal control. This is what we pay them to do.
posted by valkyryn at 1:51 PM on March 4, 2011

My parents are feeding a stray cat and that's the best they can do. She's like a ghost. They have been trying to trap her for a local cat rescue, but no luck.

Plus, It doesn't really seem smart to approach a stray that may have rabies or other behavior problems, then get it into a car where it might freak out in the confined space and attack.

Yup, you answered your own question there :-) Sometimes stray dogs are best left to professionals and you can only hope that there's a happy outcome. It sucks that is all you can do, as I really understand wanting to do more. You and your wife did more than what most people might have done and I hope you can take consolation in that and in the future.
posted by Calzephyr at 1:52 PM on March 4, 2011

Agree. Approaching a stray, feral-looking dog is not a good idea. You don't know how it will react to you, not to mention what kinds of diseases it may be carrying. (A wagging tail doesn't automatically equal a friendly dog.) I would probably go to the closest store, buy some dog food and leave it near where I saw the dog, and then go home and call animal control.

On the other hand, if it were a dog that looked more like a recently lost pet (i.e. not starving, wearing a collar, friendly-seeming), I would attempt to catch it and bring it to the Humane Society in the hopes its owner would find it there. But I have a fair amount of dog experience, and I wouldn't suggest other people do the same, nor would I think badly of them if they didn't do this.

I think you did the right thing, and you shouldn't feel badly. Unfortunately, we can't save them all. If you want to do something, consider donating some cash or old blankets to your local shelter (or call and ask them what kinds of things they need the most).
posted by Glinn at 1:57 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it looks like it has a collar I'll try calling the dog. Just a generic "Here Puppy! Who's a good puppy?" I never get closer than 10 feet and I let the dog approach me. If it does come up to me I'll give it verbal love, let it smell me, and try to scratch behind it's ears. If I get that far I try to gently get the collar and look at the tags. Then I pull my phone out and try to call the owner.

If there are no tags I just call Animal Control. Honestly, there is nothing else I can do.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:03 PM on March 4, 2011

I'm a dog owner too, so I understand your desire to do the right thing. I tried to rescue a dog in my neighborhood once, and ended up getting bit.

Rabies is really scary. It's agony followed by coma and death. Here's what you're in for with a dog bite:

You're probably required to report the incident to a local health authority. They'll try to find the dog for observation. If you're lucky enough to find the dog, it'll get observed for symptoms of rabies for several days. If nobody can find the dog, book yourself an appointment for some remarkably expensive shots.

Modern rabies therapy isn't the "shots in the stomach" that I always heard as a kid. The rabies part isn't actually that bad; it's actually no worse than a flu shot. The part that is really nasty is the **large** amount of gooey immunoglobulin that's injected into the wound site (it binds with the rabies virus floating around so that it can't infect you). In my case, it puffed up my hand like a sausage - not from inflammation, but rather the sheer volume of stuff being squirted into my hand. It hurts a lot.

I walked out of the clinic that afternoon with a prescription for antibiotics, and a schedule of followup visits over the next few months. My insurance covered it, thank goodness, because each and every treatment costs a couple thousand dollars.

Learn from my idiot mistake. Call animal control.
posted by cr_joe at 2:37 PM on March 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

That's terrifying cr_joe, and I have no idea. I guess I have to revise my answer. I live in an urban environment where the risk of rabies is somewhat lower. That said, better leave it to the experts.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:40 PM on March 4, 2011

Rabies is really scary. It's agony followed by coma and death.

Yeah. It's worth noting that in all of medical history, only six people are known to have survived rabies after the initial onset of symptoms. And half of them suffered severe brain damage.

Let animal control handle it.
posted by vorfeed at 3:44 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

With some exceptions, the purpose of animal control departments is to protect the public from the health risks and nuisances associated with stray animals. Caring for the animal and finding it a home is at best a tertiary concern.

My suggestion is to look for a humane society or animal rescue group. For these organizations, caring for the animal is a much higher priority. This doesn't mean that they won't kill the stray in some circumstances -- but it does mean they will try muchharder not to do that.
posted by driley at 3:50 PM on March 4, 2011

Not a dog, but still applicable. I tried to help a neighbor catch a stray cat to take to the vet earlier this year. I will never do that again.

The seemingly sweet kitty turned on me, lept four feet into the air, grabbed my forearm with all 4 legs & both jaws. Went to clinic for tetanus shots & antibiotics that evening. Waited for hours for the staff to deal with the health department (who acted incompetently at every level, but that's a different story). Our options were 1) go ahead & start rabies treatment (very expensive) or 2) go home, catch the dang cat, quarantine him for two weeks, and if he's asymptotic assume that I'm rabies free. (I think there was a 3rd - catch the cat & take him to health dept for decapitation, but we didn't consider.)

We finally caught the cat. Finally found a vet who would board an animal with no rabies vaccination for 2 weeks. Paid for the $500 in medical & vet bills -- we got the cat fixed & immunized at the end of his vet stay. And now my mom has an awesome new cat, and I don't have rabies.

It wasn't worth it; just call animal control, always. And give your own pets extra love when you get home. (We have a house full of cats & dogs, or I would have kept the costly cat who tried to eat me. He is gorgeous, and I bear him no ill will.)
posted by Kronur at 7:19 PM on March 4, 2011

Here are some things that I have done and some general tips that might help:

1. I always keep small containers of cat and dog food in the trunk of my car. Small cans of cat food don't take up much space and you can fill old disposable containers with dry kibble.
2. Program the numbers of local animal control and stray rescue groups into your phone (the more the better, as you may have to call several).
3. Yes, you should be careful. Use common sense. Don't approach an aggressive animal. You don't want to get bitten. But also keep in mind that rabies is extremely rare. According to the CDC, there are only about one or two cases of rabies a year and most of those are from bats.
4. If I can safely transport a friendly animal to a nearby shelter, I will. Cats are easier than dogs, obviously. But I have found many small- or medium-sized dogs and have taken them to shelter without incident.
5. As other people said, if the animal has tags or a collar, try to get close enough to get the info.
6. If the animal is aggressive or unapproachable you could try to snap a picture with your camera phone. Or at least take mental note of identifying characteristics (size, breed, coloring, etc.).
7. It's also important to make detailed notes of the location (landmarks, cross streets, address, etc.) where the animal is spotted. Then you can post the info and/or pic on craigslist in the Lost and Found section and/or the Pets section. Or you can give this info to animal control.
8. You can also call the Humane Society, APA, ASPCA, etc. and give them the info to see if it matches any of their lost pet reports.
9. If you can, feed the animal and try to wait until animal control arrives. (Some rescue groups have volunteers "on call" and they may actually arrive pretty quickly.)

I'm glad you asked. Doing something, even just making a few phone calls, is better than doing nothing. Animals have emotions and are capable of suffering, just as we are, so I really appreciate your effort.
posted by Surinam Toad at 12:28 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Surinam says it best
posted by whalebreath at 11:39 PM on March 5, 2011

There a so many animal welfare organizations in Chicago. Just Google "Chicago animal rescues" and keeping calling until you find somewhere that can help you.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:01 AM on March 6, 2011

Following Surinam's link,

In 2009, 49 states and Puerto Rico reported 6,690 cases of rabies in animals and 4 human cases to CDC.

A lot more than one or two. Rabies is a big deal where I live; there are wild animals reported annually--most recently, several local foxes were found to have the disease. And wild rabid animals are known to attack other animals. Just don't ever take any chances with strays.
posted by Kronur at 7:43 PM on March 6, 2011

Yes, I was referring to the number of human cases.
posted by Surinam Toad at 7:07 PM on March 9, 2011

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