Sometimes the most wonderful dog just shows up practically on your doorstep. One of the best dogs I ever had was a Miniature Schnauzer that I found late at night in an ice storm as I walked to my car in a library parking lot. No one ever claimed her, and I suspect she was dumped. Even if you don't keep a stray, rescuing a dog from the streets can be very rewarding. Here are some suggestions if you find yourself trying to help a stray dog.
Unless someone else has already caught the dog, catching him will be the first step. Even if a dog seems to be friendly, be careful. Stray dogs are often frightened. The dog may also be injured and in pain. Fear and pain can cause even the friendliest canine to bite.
If a dog threatens to bite by growling and baring his teeth, believe him. Despite the old saying, barking dogs do bite. Be very cautious when trying to catch or handle a dog you don't know.
Don't reach for a dog that growls, bares its teeth, or otherwise warns you off. If he threatens to bite, believe him. A snare, which consists of a loop of rope fastened to a pole, will allow you to catch and control the dog without endangering yourself. Animal shelters usually have snares, as do many veterinary offices. If you are not experienced in handling frightened or aggressive dogs, get help from someone who is. Remember that even if you cannot keep the dog and he is taken to a shelter, even if he is euthanized, he's better off than he would be left to fend for himself. The modern world is not a friendly place for stray dogs, and by removing the dog from life on the street, you have saved him from many horrors, including starvation, poisoning, cars, and cruel people.
A humane trap is a wire cage with a spring-loaded door. You put bait (food) inside the trap, and when the animal enters to get the bait, the door closes behind him. You can then transport him to a safe place. Many veterinarians and animal shelters have humane traps available at a nominal charge.
Learn what you can about canine body language. Being able to “read” a dog will go a long way toward keeping you from being bitten. Few dogs bite with no warning at all, but if you don't understand the warning, it won't do you much good. If you are not confident that you can handle or confine the dog safely, leave him alone. Go for help or additional equipment, such as a snare or muzzle, or a humane trap. Don't take foolish risks. Dog bites are painful, and a dog does not have to be very large to inflict serious, permanent damage.
Sometimes you can walk up to a stray dog or get him to come to you with food or a soft voice. Even if the dog comes to you and allows you to touch him, don't try to guide the dog with your hands on his body, and don't carry the dog unless he is very small and quiet. Don't stand over the dog or back him into a corner—he may bite out of fear. Use a leash to lead the dog to where you want him. Your leash can be make-shift if necessary; a rope or belt will work. If the dog has no collar, you can improvise a slip collar with a leash, rope, or belt. A slip collar is difficult for a dog to duck out of and gives you more control.
If you plan to transport the dog in your vehicle, be sure you can confine him adequately. Although you might simply put a rescued dog in the back of a car and drive home without mishap, the potential for disaster is tremendous. You don't need a frightened dog leaping into your lap in traffic. A crate is the ideal means of confinement. It keeps the dog from moving or being thrown around the car. It limits the area with which the dog has physical contact, allowing for more effective cleaning and disinfecting—a good idea if you have other pets at home. If the dog has fleas, it keeps most of them and their eggs in the crate. Should the dog become ill or relieve itself, the mess is confined and more easily disposed of. Finally, a crate protects and restrains a traveling dog in the event of a traffic mishap.
If you don't have a crate, the next best thing is to tie the dog, preferably in the back, away from the driver. If you must transport a dog in the back of a pickup truck, cross tie the dog, that is, use two leashes or ropes, fastening one to one side of the truck bed and one to the other side, to keep the dog from jumping or being thrown out of the truck.
A stray that has been on his own for any length of time will probably have internal and external parasites that can be passed to your dogs. He could also transmit disease. If you plan to take the dog home rather than turn him in to a shelter or rescue group, have him examined by a vet before you take him into your home if possible. An examination will cost some money, but if it keeps your dogs safe, it's money well spent. Be aware, though, that health examinations aren't foolproof. Some diseases have incubation periods, during which the dog may or may not be contagious. He may appear healthy when examined but become ill a few days later, and he could transmit the disease despite your precautions.
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Dog © 2003 by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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