You should always assume that any stray animal you find is a lost pet and has an owner. It would also be safe to assume that the animal may bite you if approached without caution. If you can entice the animal with a bit of pet-safe food or water and gain its trust, you’ve managed the first step in recovering a lost pet. Never chase or attempt to capture an animal that doesn’t want to be caught – this could cause the animal to run out into traffic and be injured or worse.
If the animal intimidates you and continues to linger in your area, it is recommended that you contact your local animal control. Officers will arrive, perhaps speak to you personally to obtain more information, and set out to capture the stray. If however, the animal is friendly and you prefer to take responsibility, your next step is to take the animal to your local shelter. An animal shelter is one of the first places the owner of a lost pet will look. It is possible that the pet you’ve found will be recovered in a matter of hours but it could also be a matter of days or weeks if the owner is away, has simply been unable to locate their pet, or simply does not want the pet any longer.
Since the shelter will only board the animal a few days, you may wish to apply to foster the pet until the owner can be found or apply for adoption in case the owner never reclaims the pet. This will prevent the animal from being euthanized if it is never claimed or adopted. In Greensboro, NC (Guilford County), the animal shelter will only board the pet a maximum of 72 hours before placing it for adoption or euthanizing the pet for lack of space.
If you foster the pet, the next step would be to publish “found” notices in your local area along with your contact information. Many local retailers have community bulletin boards on which you can place notices and may even allow you to place a small poster in the store window. If you like, you can also take out ads in your community newspaper or make good use of social media to announce your find.
All of this assumes that the pet doesn’t have a microchip with its owner’s contact info. This would have been discovered at the animal shelter. Check with the local laws in your area regarding the assumption of legal ownership as it is probable that after only a few days, you become the animal’s new owner.