Helping a Stray or Lost Animal | PAWS Chicago

Helping a Stray or Lost Animal

Thousands of animals roam the streets of Chicago.

Some have been separated from their families while others are strays looked after by community caregivers. What do you do if you find a lost or stray cat or dog without tags?

  • Step One: Walk Around the Neighborhood. You may run into someone searching for their pet. Or you may pass neighbors or community members (delivery drivers, postal workers, landscapers, pool technicians, etc.) who know the pet and can help identify where they live.
  • Step Two: Check for a Microchip. It’s a small tag (about the size of a grain of rice) implanted under the skin, typically between the shoulder blades, that links to the owner's information when scanned. It takes seconds and can make a huge difference. Here are some locations in Chicago that can check for and scan a chip free of charge. It’s best to call ahead:
    • Chicago Animal Care and Control, 2741 S. Western Avenue
    • Animal Welfare League, 6224 South Wabash Avenue
    • PAWS Chicago Medical Center, 3516 West 26th Street
    • PAWS Chicago Adoption Center 1997 North Clybourn Avenue
    • The Anti-Cruelty Society, 510 North LaSalle Drive
    • The veterinary clinic or animal hospital closest to you
    • Your local CPD precinct
  • Step 3: Get the Word Out. Social media can help you find the owner or connect with friends, family or community members who recognize the pet. Be sure to post a large photo (and/or video clip) with details about where the pet was found as well as your basic contact information and where the pet is currently housed. Here are some websites to help you get the word out:

You can also make and distribute flyers around the community using the same information. Start by posting in the area you found the pet, then branch out with a special focus on essential-needs locations, like gas stations, grocery or convenience stores, parks, community centers, coffee shops, bus stops, houses of worship, veterinary clinics, and animal shelters. Calling these locations can be helpful, too.

What happens next?

  • Tips for Returning a Found Pet to the Lawful Owner. When someone calls or emails about an animal, ask their name and telephone number and tell them you’ll call back right away. Do not offer a description of the pet; let the person describe identifying characteristics (e.g., scars, an ID tattoo, behaviors, color patterns, etc.). Then, ask for one of the following as proof of ownership:
    • Vet records (call their vet to confirm)
    • Rabies certificate or license
    • Adoption papers, registration papers, transfer of ownership or bill of sale
    • Photos (dated, with family members)

When returning a pet, be sure to let a friend or family member know where you are meeting or ask someone to come along.
We suggest meeting at your local police parking lot, your vet office or any public place in daylight. 

  • If No Owner Comes Forward. If the pet doesn’t have a chip and you have waited three or more days after posting online and putting up flyers, you can choose to take ownership of the pet, rehome with friends or family, or seek placement at a local rescue. Please click the following link if you would like to enroll your found pet in the PAWS Chicago adoption program: Allow a few days for your application to be reviewed. Our admissions are by appointment only.
  • When Holding Onto a Lost Pet Is Not Possible: Most stray animals are found less than 1,000 feet from their homes. Keeping a lost dog or cat in your care temporarily and following the steps above can be the best way to quickly reunite them with their owner, and it can prevent a pet from experiencing the stress of entering a shelter. If you need immediate placement for a stray animal, reach out to the shelters below:

In Chicago, stray and lost pets are impounded at two main locations:

These shelters are open seven days a week and accept strays. If you take an animal to CACC, you can email the Intake Team at PAWS Chicago at or call 773-475-9462 with the pet’s ID number, and we will try our best to take the pet into our adoption program. However, intake is determined based on our existing population.