As part of our mission APL strives to reduce the number of animals that come into Stockton Animal Shelter. Prevention is always best when it comes to keeping your pet safe. Dogs that wear collars with a name tag and phone number are more likely to be returned. Every day lost animals end up in the shelter, with no identification, and no way to return them home.  A registered microchip is of vital importance, because your dog’s collar could become lost or removed. Always have a good photo of your pet on hand for identification purposes. 

What to Do if You Lose Your Pet

Time is of the essence! Here are a few steps to guide you:

  1. Make a flyer. Include your pets’ photo, date they went missing, area they were last seen, a description of them, gender, and contact info.  Use a clear and recent photograph and search areas you think your pet could be, ask neighbors as well as mail carriers and delivery people. Leave flyers with everyone you talk to. You can make flyers quickly using a template from www.PetFBI.Org, which is totally FREE. You can also use a service such as www.FindToto.Com, which also provides a free template and for a fee they will send out text alerts within a specified area. Lost and found templates don’t have to be fancy, they just need to be bold. Be sure to include the following info: Bold lettering stating LOST DOG/CAT, Clear photo, Pet’s Name, Date Missing, Location Last Seen (a crossroads is best), Contact Info., description of pet, behavior info (skittish, friendly, etc.).

2. Post online. Use local Facebook groups and national search databases to your advantage. Social media is the easiest and fastest way to bring awareness to your lost pet. Be sure to include the same info that you included in your flyer. View this guide for effective social media use.

3. Log into the microchip registry where your pet is registered. Make sure the info is up to date. If somebody finds your pet, the first thing they should do is take them to a vet or shelter to check for a chip.    

4. Check shelters in person. Do not just call. Check ALL area shelters; pets don’t know boundaries. You may live in a city, but if your pet is found in the county it will likely be taken to the Stockton Animal Shelter. See this list of area animal shelters.

Stockton Animal Shelter serves the City of Stockton, and the unincorporated areas of San Joaquin County. The Stockton Animal Shelter Policies are as follows:

  • Animals that are NOT microchipped are placed on stray-hold for 3 days, then made available for adoption.
  • If a dog is microchipped, it will be held for 6 days before it is available for adoption. Shelter staff will make every attempt to reach the owners with the information on file at the microchip registry.
  • Check shelter online databases. For Stockton Animal Shelter database check here
  • Walk through the shelters at least every 3 days.   
  • Your pet may be lost for days or weeks before it is brought to the shelter, so keep checking!

You must keep checking!

Post flyers in areas such as community centers, pet supply stores and vet offices (if somebody finds your pet and brings it to a vet to check for a chip, they will see the flyer). Every shelter is different. Ask if you can post the flyer or file a “missing pet” report. *Stockton Animal Shelter has a binder in the lobby where you can leave your flyer. 

What to Do if You Find an Animal

  1. Check with neighbors. Take the animal with you if it’s safe to do so, or take a photo, and go door to door. 
  2. Take to a vet or animal shelter and see if the animal has a microchip. If it’s after business hours, you can take the animal to a veterinary emergency clinic to check for a chip. 
  3. Ideally, you will be able to temporarily house the dog, or have a friend/contact that is willing to do so, until an owner is found. 
  4. Post FOUND flyers in areas such as community centers, pet supply stores and vet offices. Every shelter is different. Ask if you can post the flyer or file a “found pet” report. *Stockton Animal Shelter has a binder in the lobby where you can leave your flyer. Make flyers quickly using a template from www.PetFBI.Org, which is totally FREE! Be sure to include a photo, date found, cross-street where they were found, a description of them, and contact info. 
  5. Post online in local Facebook groups and national search databases.  Social media is the easiest and fastest way to bring awareness to a found pet. Be sure to include the same info that you included in your flyer. View this guide for effective social media use.
  6. Put up posters near your home and where the pet was found.  Larger signs on crossroads and near stop signs, where people stop and/or wait, can also be effective because they have time to read your poster. 
  7. If you are not able to house the animal, contact the Animal Shelter that manages the area in which it was found. See this list of area animal shelters.

California Penal Code 485: “One who finds lost property under circumstances which give him knowledge of or means of inquiry as to the true owner, and who appropriates such property to his own use, or to the use of another person not entitled thereto, without first making reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him, is guilty of theft.”

What to Do if You Find a Litter of Kittens

Before moving kittens, you think have been abandoned, please consider: Newborn kittens are very fragile. These kittens get around-the-clock care from their mother for their first 4 weeks of life. The mother offers her kittens the best chance for survival, but she will likely leave them from time to time to seek food or water and to eliminate. It is very likely that she will likely come back!

It is also common for mothers to give birth in protected places, safe from predators. This may include places that are awkward or uncomfortable for her to spend long periods of time. She may come and go just to nurse them.

Stockton Animal Shelter does not have the staff to provide newborn kittens the around-the-clock care they require. We must get these tiny kittens into a foster home the same day they are brought in.  If you want to be on our emergency foster list to save these kittens’ lives, please sign up to be an Underage Foster, and check out our Kitten Handbook.

Before you disturb a litter of kittens, we recommend the following:

  • Wait and watch to determine whether their mother is coming back for them or if they are truly orphaned.
  • Observe the kittens from afar – a minimum of 35 feet or more. Do not stand too close! Use binoculars or your camera zoom if needed. You may need to go completely away before the mother cat will return, which could be several hours, or even up to 6 to 12 hours. 
  • Avoid checking too often, as continually checking on the kittens can put the mother on alert and keep her away. Healthy kittens can survive this period without her.
  • Assess if the kittens are in immediate danger and weigh risks: Are there reactive dogs in the yard? Are the kittens located near heavy vehicular traffic? Are temperatures dropping dangerously low? Remove the kittens ONLY if they are in immediate danger.
  • If there is a single kitten or two, it is possible that the mother is in the process of relocating them. Remember, she can only move them one at a time in her mouth.
  • If the kitten’s bellies are rounded and feel warm/full then their mother has recently fed them. If the kittens appear sick (i.e. eye and/or respiratory infections, diarrhea) they may need to be removed from their mother’s care for treatment. 

If the mother cat returns:

Leave the kittens with their mother until they are able to eat on their own. Consider providing food and water for the mom while she raises the kittens. Keep the food and water a distance away from the kittens to not attract or concern the mother about potential predators, and so she is not tempted to relocate them.

When it’s time to separate kittens from their mother

Kittens can go into heat as young as 5 months, and females can become pregnant with a new litter while they are still nursing! It’s best to separate and socialize kittens between 4 and 6 weeks of age.

Kittens will begin eating wet food around 4 weeks of age, but 5 to 6 weeks of age is the optimal age to separate them from a feral mother for socialization. They will tame quickly after being isolated to a large crate or bathroom where you can work with them in a controlled environment.

Older kittens (8-16 weeks and up) require more effort to socialize and some may not become fully socialized. These can be Trap-Neuter-Returned AT NO COST to you. This usually includes spay/neuter, vaccinations and a left ear tip to indicate they have been altered. Learn more at ACT Spay & Neuter Clinic, a great resource for treating cats and kittens right here in Stockton.


If the mother cat does not return, and the kittens are not old enough to eat on their own:

If you are willing to raise and socialize them as a foster parent, thank you! Learn how to become an Underage Foster and check out our Kitten Handbook. APL foster parents are provided with training, needed supplies and veterinary care. You will need to care for the kittens until they are approximately 2 pounds or 8 weeks old, which is when they can be altered and adopted.

Kittens that are eating on their own but are not of age and weight to be spayed and neutered for adoption, are at risk in a shelter environment. They have undeveloped immune systems and in a high-density shelter environment, often develop serious respiratory infections which may become chronic, cause damage to an eye or loss of vision, and can even be fatal.

If you are willing to re-home adoptable kittens, we urge you to PLEASE get them altered first. ACT Spay & Neuter Clinic a great low-cost clinic that can help. Unsocialized, wild/feral cats are not considered adoptable as pets in shelters and should be Trap-Neuter-Returned. The same is true for kittens that are too old for socialization in the shelter. Find out more about our Feral Cat Program.

What to do if the kittens are abandoned

A kitten that appears to be abandoned can be deceiving, as the mother cat is never far from her young. She may be out hunting for food. If you find what appears to be an abandoned kitten(s) please do the following before removing them:

  1. Assess the situation. Does the kitten(s) appear to clean, well-nourished, and sleeping in a bundle? If so, DO NOT disturb them, the mother cat is not far. Do they appear to dirty and/or crying continuously? Is the nest heavily soiled? If you answered yes to these questions, it is then it is safe to say the kitten(s) are abandoned and you may remove them from their nest.
  2. Assess the abandoned kitten(s). Most people want to immediately feed the kitten(s). However, it is essential to test their body temperature. If they are cold to the touch, it is vital to bring up their body temperature. Kittens that remain cold, will die. Place the kitten(s) in a crate or box. Then place the kitten(s) on a warm heating pad, leave an area for them to move away from the heat when they become warm.
  3. Feeding the abandoned kitten. Kittens need the proper nourishment to stay alive. DO NOT feed the dairy milk, goats’ milk, etc. The kittens will slowly die from not getting the nourishment they need. Pets stores, such as Carter’s Pet Mart, PetsMart, or Petco carry KMR (Kitten Milk Replacement). If you cannot afford to purchase the formula, as long as you agree to take care of the kitten(s), the City of Stockton Animal Services will supply you with the necessary items needed to take care of the abandoned kittens. IMPORTANT: Formula MUST be at room temperature. Feed kitten(s) in upright position to prevent aspiration.
  4. Stimulating the abandoned kitten. If the kitten is 3 weeks or younger, you will need to stimulate the kitten before and after every meal to assist them with relieving their bowels and/or bladder.

These are just the basics to get you started. Remember newborn kitten(s) eat every two hours until they are about three weeks old. At three weeks the feeding process is every 3-4 hours and the kitten(s) will be able to relieve themselves. At four weeks, you can start to introduce them to wet food mixed with formula (slurry). Once they can eat the slurry, just provide them with wet food. You can also, litterbox train at this time.

Please view the following instructional videos: