Back in May, Richard Christianson was driving along an Arizona highway when he saw a frightened cat holding onto the metal railing.

Without help, the stray was sure to die, so Christianson called local rescue organizations for help. They told him that saving the cat would be too dangerous, so, without another option, he bravely rescued the animal himself.

But so many of us — like a friend of mine who recently saw a dog on a freeway and, without quite knowing what to do, regrettably passed him by — aren’t sure exactly what steps to take if we see a stray animal in need.

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Sarah Sypniewski, a lost pet specialist who owns NinjaDog Concepts, suggests taking photos of the dog, specifically any special markings, and to assume the dog is lost, not a stray.

“No matter the condition or circumstance in which you’ve found the pet, don’t rush to judgment or assume the pet doesn’t have a worthy family (or one at all),” Sypniewski told The Dodo. “Animals are incredibly resourceful, and can stay lost much longer than most of us realize.”

Sypniewski also says if the dog doesn’t have any tags, you should take him to the nearest shelter, vet or groomer and ask to do a full-body scan using a universal scanner to check if he has a microchip. (There are three different types of microchips and their corresponding scanners.)

If the dog does have tags, that’s fantastic, but proceed with caution.

“Checking for an ID can be tricky, because the pet might be fearful and not be too keen on you getting in his space,” Sypniewski said. “Don’t rush it; go slowly and allow him to trust you. Offer him some sort of really delicious food to entice him to chill with you long enough so you can look at his tag and call the numbers. The wonderful thing about ID tags is they can usually lead to a very quick reunion, saving both you and the owner a drive to the local shelter.”

Buster the dog being rescued with the help of NinjaDog Concepts; he’d been missing for four weeks.FACEBOOK/SARAH SYPNIEWSKI

Of course, approaching any animal can be potentially dangerous, so the Humane Society of the United States offers some practical steps for capturing a lost cat or dog in the safest, most efficient way possible — and without scaring her off.

1. Safety first.

You never know how a sick or injured dog will react. Any sort of sudden movement can scare her and cause her to run — possibly right into traffic. If you feel at all uneasy about the situation, stay in your car, but try to not lose sight of her.

If you’re able, restrain the animal. Create a barrier so she can’t escape — whether with something you have in your car or something you find outside. Signal oncoming cars to slow down if you can’t restrain the animal. Or if he is injured and can’t move from the road, divert traffic around him. The goal should be to get him out of harm’s way as quickly and safely as possible.

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2. Use caution.

If you succeed in getting close enough to capture him, there’s a chance you can be scratched or bitten if you aren’t careful. When moving toward the animal, talk to her calmly to reassure her that you’re not there to harm her.

3. Lure him into your car.

Try to lure the animal into your car with a strong-smelling food like canned tuna or dried liver — you know, if you happen to have canned tuna or dried liver on you. It usually isn’t a good idea to try to drive somewhere with a strange dog unrestrained in your car; he may become frantic or aggressive. But if you’re left with no other choice, just use caution.

Chicklet was found by Live Love Animal Rescue. She was living outside after her family  moved and left her behind.                                                  LIVE LOVE ANIMAL RESCUE

4. Call for backup.

If the dog is wearing an ID tag, call the numbers listed. You may be able to find the owner right away. If you’re not able to safely restrain the animal, call animal control or the police. Speak clearly, leave your name and number with the dispatcher and try to get an idea of how long it may take someone to respond. It’s important to report exactly where the animal is by using road names, mile markers or landmarks.

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So the best thing to do if you see a dog by himself is to do something. If you’re most comfortable with calling animal control, do that. If you think you can safely capture the dog, that’s even better. But if you do nothing, it’s very possible the dog may never make it home.