When Your Listing Has a Stray

Here are some tips for dealing with lost pets and feral animals you might encounter while on the job.

Although she’s clearly a collie, Lassie she ain’t. Dirty, bedraggled, and frightened, she’s camped out on the front porch of your new listing and not adding a cent to the property values of the neighborhood. There’s also what appears to be a stray Rottweiler one block over who has the run of the neighborhood, and that could mean puppies in everyone’s future. According to the North Shore Animal League of America, it only takes around six years for one female dog and her offspring to bring forth a mind-boggling total of 67,000 animals. 

These situations don’t happen to real estate professionals very often, and most say when they do encounter it, it’s in less urbanized areas. But unstable climates and severe weather events plaguing much of the country means more agents will wind up with injured, traumatized, and lost animals near their listings, even if their properties are not officially in an emergency zone. Animals often desert their homes before their owners are aware of the dangers of the situation, meaning record heat waves, speedily spreading fires, floods, and hurricanes are creating legions of lost pets.

The Humane Society offers these easy steps to take when you first encounter an animal that appears to be a stray. Always use extreme care and move very slowly when approaching any animal you don’t know. First, try to see if they have any obvious injuries. Attempt to offer them water and food, and try to take a photo of the animal. That way, even if you can’t secure the stray, you can use one of these “found pet” poster templates to get the word out.

Of course, most agents don’t normally go to their listings prepared for stray animal emergencies, but it pays to keep a small kit with a dedicated water bottle, bowl, small packets of cat and dog kibble, a rope or leash, and towels tucked next to your first aid kit in the trunk. 

Ira Liss, a probate and trust sales specialist with SD Homes in San Diego, finds that being proactive about solving stray issues helps in his prospecting efforts. When introducing himself to neighbors through door knocking, he’ll ask residents if they know about the lost dog he’s seen around, offering pictures when possible. Liss says most people are happy to talk about these neighborhood animals, and will log your professional and caring attitude in their all-important first impressions. While technically not your problem, leaving your card with anyone you contact while attempting to find the stray’s home will positively raise your visibility and help to reunite the animal with family.

You can also reach out to others who know the area well. For example, if you see a postman or UPS truck in the neighborhood, ask them if they know about your stray. They’re often aware of outdoor animals on their normal routes. If you have a poster or photo they might be willing to take it back to their facility to show it around and see if someone knows more.

By convincing the stray to come to you, you can do even more to help. If Lassie is a bit skittish, taking time to create a bond of trust with a bit of kibble will do wonders. Check for a collar and phone number first. If there’s no usable contact information there, head to the nearest vet and ask them to scan for a microchip. The vet may even recognize your stray. Vets don’t charge to scan, but be aware that there is not one single database for microchipped animals, so this isn’t foolproof. Also, there are three standards of microchip, so the vet needs what’s known as a universal scanner.

Another item to add to your toolkit is a variety of animal rescue contact options. There are likely many small rescue groups doing great work in your area. They’ll often foster strays, work to find the owners, or help get the animal adopted. Searching for “animal rescue” and your neighborhood or city should uncover some local help. If the animal appears to be a purebred of some sort, you might have additional resources. The collie in our Lassie example above might benefit from a local collie rescue society or collie owners club. These breed clubs are often fully prepared to rescue animals, and may have techniques targeted to the specific needs of the animal you are trying to help.

If you can’t take the stray back to your own home to foster until her family or another permanent home is found, find out if there are any nearby no-kill shelters. The last resort is often the local shelter, because so many are forced to euthanize unclaimed animals after just a few days.

One very important caveat to keep in mind is that there’s a significant difference between lost pets and feral animals. In the case of cats, the house pet version will generally come up to you with some encouragement. Feral cats, on the other hand, don’t trust people and usually insist on living outside, catching their own dinner when they can. While they may accept dishes of kitty chow now and then, most won’t ever become affectionate pets. Some animal control authorities have what’s called a “capture-neuter-return” program, which allows these cats to do their self-appointed mice and rat catching duties without adding to the local cat population. Often, authorities will mark feral cats that have already been neutered by snipping off the tip of their left ear.

If the animal gracing your listing is truly feral, local wild-animal rescue groups are your best resource, since such situations require specialized skills. Stacy Brunson, CIPS, GRI, with Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty in Austin, Texas, learned this lesson again recently. Walking the yard of a listing she was utterly surprised to find a full-grown buck on the lawn. Not knowing what to do to encourage him into the brush nearby, she offered him a chocolate bar she had in her hand. The deer, unimpressed, sauntered off. Brunson got the idea chocolate wasn’t a favorite on his menu. Live and learn.

Learn these basic first aid tips for pets from the American Veterinary Medical Association.