It's a dog owner's nightmare, really. Their dog gets loose, gets stolen, wanders. It happened just last week, with the dog my coworker found. Apparently she was a very very old dog, and had been through medical treatments lately. So, not mistreated. Just old and ill and with doggie dementia, and wandered off as her family cleaned the cellar of a Sunday. They were very grateful and happy to have her back, though I don't know what her real name is; I don't think the vet told my coworker when she called.
It's one reason I have all the tags I do on Elka's collar, on two separate rings. If one dangling rings gets lost, maybe the other will still be there. Plus her microchip. Some breeders tattoo their dogs (under anesthesia, I believe), inside the ear, or inside the inner thigh. That's a visible identifier that cannot be lost. It's why, on our car trip, Elka was on a harness attached to her leash, and with the dogIDs collar on separately, with its name plate.
It happened to me once, when I was little. I found a dog (my dream come true!) who I named Misty on the walk home. Nobody recognized the dog. My grandparents were less than thrilled when I showed up with the shaggy, wiry beast. I can't even say what kind of a dog I thought she was. Irish Wolfhound mix? Giant Schnauzer mix? She was grey and kind of beardy and, as I said, wirey.
I was little, so I don't actually know the process by which my family found the dog's owners, but it was only a couple of days. Apparently, this dog spent a lot of time in her backyard, and got out frequently. I didn't go along when they brought her back, though the house was near to where I found her, certainly along my "walk home from the bus stop" route, and within my permissible play radius. I don't know if the family was particularly happy to have their dog back, or particularly anxious when she was gone. I know I found her again once, again as I walked home from the bus stop. She came up to me affably, and came along with me to her empty house. I put her in the backyard again, made sure the gate was latched.
But, if you find a lost dog, check for ID or tags. That's the first line of identification. A vet or shelter will be able to scan for a microchip. Hopefully the owner registered it, with their information.
Step 2, and this came up recently on the Doberman board, I'm sorry to say,
"By law, you are required to turn found dogs over to local authorities (animal shelter, pound) where their owner/guardian will be able to claim them. One of the primary reasons why lost dogs are not reunited with their families is that the animal shelter is the first (and primary) location where dog owners search for their lost dogs but it is typically the last location where found dogs are taken (due to the fear that the dog will be euthanized). Very few municipal shelters have the resources available to house lost and stray animals more than three days. If you are not willing to take the dog to the shelter, most shelters will allow you to foster (house) the dog while also filing a found report by providing the description, the location where you found it, and your contact information. We suggest that you also create a FOUND DOG flyer to mail or take down to the shelter so they can post it on a bulletin board. Then if the owner/guardian shows up at the shelter searching for his or her dog, the shelter can put the family directly in touch with you."(from Recovery Tips - I found a stray)
See, don't assume any dog you find is a stray. The dog might be lost, or might have been stolen and subsequently escaped. The dog could be any distance, near or far, from his or her original family, who is going nuts and doesn't know where to look. This individual on the Doberman board had a Doberman wander onto his property. He fed the dog, the dog stuck around. The dog had some injuries, so he made some assumptions, but was attracted to the idea of having a Doberman loose to protect his property. The dog is free to wander, both on his property and further. There is a highway nearby. The dog may or may not have been shot by a neighbor; the guy wasn't know, and came online with a picture to see if we could tell if the dog was shot. He was upset when everybody said things like "TAKE THIS DOG TO THE VET NOW" and "So, you found this dog but made no effort to find out if he was lost or stolen?" Oh yes, and also "Maybe a loose dog shouldn't have access to a highway, where he could be hit by a car or apparently shot by your neighbors for coming over."
It's funny how people hear what they want to hear, no more, no less.
But, if you've found a lost dog, and you don't want to leave him at the shelter (no room, bad conditions, etc.) register that "found dog" report with the shelter and authorities. Make posters. Also advertise on the Craigslist you've just checked for lost dogs.
Also, exercise caution. This is a stranger dog whose behavior and history you do not know. Don't just throw him into the mix with your pets and family. Be kind, be calm, and exercise good judgement. Do not assume that because you have fed this dog, it is now yours. Do not assume the dog was abused; dogs have any number of behaviors for any number of reasons. Not liking men could just mean the dog was not well socialized, not necessarily abused.