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What Should I Do If I Find a Stray Animal?

Please note: The Humane Society of Utah cannot accept stray animals.  

Many Utahans don’t aren’t sure what to do if they find a stray pet.
In Salt Lake County and most other counties and municipalities of Utah, it is illegal to harbor a stray animal. When individuals lose their companion animals, they tend to look at their jurisdiction’s municipal shelter. If you harbor the animal in your home instead of bringing the animal to the municipal shelter, you are depriving the rightful owner of reuniting with their companion animal. Do the right thing by informing animal services of the found animal immediately. 

If you find a stray dog

Dogs can be both in danger and a danger to others when at large. If you find a stray dog, you must take the dog to the municipal shelter in whatever jurisdiction the dog was found. The chances are that a family is missing the dog and will look for him at their local shelter.

If the dog is friendly and approaches you, take the dog to your local municipal shelter. If the dog flees or seems aggressive, do not chase him.

Call your local animal services dispatch to retrieve the dog. If animal services officers are unavailable, you may be able to call your local police dispatch to retrieve the dog and take the dog to impound.

dog in snow

If you find a stray cat 

Caring people bring stray animals to shelters to help them, but cats have different needs than dogs. If you find a healthy stray cat, leave them where they are. Data indicates that owned cats at large will find their way home up to 75% of the time when left in place. However, less than 2% of cats (without microchips) may be reclaimed from a shelter. If the cat does not have a traditional home, but is healthy and appears well-fed, the cat is either finding their own abundant food source and shelter or is being fed and cared for by someone who will be missing them. Crowding them into a shelter promotes stress and disease, and lowers the likelihood of a positive outcome even if the shelter has a return to field (RTF) program.

If you find an ill, injured or endangered stray cat, please take the cat to the municipal shelter in the jurisdiction in which the cat was found. The shelter will attempt to find the original owner while the cat is treated. The cat may be altered and released or humanely euthanized, depending on the needs of the individual animal and the shelter’s resources. If you are unable to get the cat into your custody safely, report the cat’s location to your local municipal animal services.

If you see large populations of unaltered, reproducing cats—characterized by adult cats without tipped ears, or litters of kittens present, call your local shelter and inquire about their RTF program and how you can help.  A tipped ear indicates that they have been spayed or neutered and returned to the field already.

Advocating for the animals in your community

Find out about your local ordinance regarding the care for stray cats and dogs by checking your city’s code webpage or calling your local animal control. Many cities do not have any services for cats, even those that are injured.

If your city doesn’t have services to protect companion animals, contact our advocacy department. We are happy to guide you on how to go about getting valuable services for all companion animals in your area. Thank you for caring about the stray animals in your community!

Our new CATNIP program

The Utah Humane Society Clinic recently launched our CATNIP Program to help spay/neuter trapped feral and community cats at an affordable price in an effort to help trap, neuter, return (TNR) efforts to curb the homeless cat population. Appointments must be made in advance for each cat.

This is not a service for the general public. Please visit for more information.

community cat outside

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