What Should You Do If You Meet A Stray Cat? Steps To Be Taken & Feline Resources 2021


For the last day or so, I’ve been writing about stray cats and have been lost in happy memories. There was a huge feral with one ear who decided to move in with us and was my spirit guide for many years. And then there was a very cool furry dude who also moved in with us and was my close friend and walking buddy for years.

The latter dude was a mostly outside cat, but he’d come in every morning and evening to eat. At night, when he went back out after dinner, I’d go with him and the two of us would walk around the block together. I’d watch him pounce on shadows and chase bugs. And when we got back to my doorway, I’d kiss him goodnight and tell him to stay safe. Then he’d sit on the sidewalk and watch me go up the steps to our condo.

But not all the stray cats I’ve met have moved in with me, and that’s the way it should be because not all strays are in need of homes. Some are indoor/outdoor cats who are just stopping by for a visit and some are lost and want nothing more than to be reunited with their families.

As good Samaritans, we’re sometimes too quick to “rescue.”

There is another cat I loved. He’d show up at my door promptly at nine every night. He never wanted to come in, but he did want to eat. I’d give him a can of Fancy Feast, which he enjoyed. Then he’d be on his way.

As winter approached, I began to worry about him, so I put a collar on him with a note: “Does this cat need a home?” The next day, I got a call from his “mom,” who’d been wondering where her boy went every night at nine. We became friends and loved talking about our cats’ adventures.

So what should you do if you meet a stray cat? First, assume he’s someone’s cat and is just visiting. Don’t rush to bring him in. He can’t go home if he’s inside your house! Another assumption, that is almost always correct, is that the cat is lost and someone is looking for him.

Losing a cat is heartbreaking. When you meet a stray, the kindest thing you can do for the cat and the people who love him makes every effort to reunite him with his family. After all, if your cat got lost, you’d want someone to do that for you.

What To Do When You Meet A Stray Cat?

Sometimes the best cats are the ones who find you. They’re the ones who follow you home, show up in your backyard or suddenly appear in your office parking lot. But there are some things to think about before you decide that stray cat was meant to be with you for life.

The Missing Pet Partnership would urge you to “think lost, not stray.” The vast majority of cats found on the street are not dumped, abandoned, or abused. They’re simply lost and want nothing more than to go home to the people who love them and are probably searching for them. It’s also possible the cat is someone’s indoor/outdoor or outdoor cat and is just stopping by for a visit.
Before you take a stray cat in, make sure she doesn’t already have a home. An easy first step is to put a breakaway collar on her with a note, “Does this cat need a home?” Add your phone number or email address. If the cat lives nearby, you’re sure to get a call or note.

Other steps to take include:

  • Call in a found report to your animal control agency. Don’t take her there! Just call in the report.
  • Take the cat to a vet to be scanned for a microchip. There shouldn’t be any charge for this.
  • Post fliers in the exact location where you found the cat or in your neighborhood and the neighborhoods adjoining yours. Cats can travel a long distance when lost and confused. Include a picture of the cat, but leave out some details about her personality or appearance. You want anyone who contacts you to be able to describe the cat and all her eccentricities.
  • Check the lost cat listings on Craig’s List, PetFinder.com and the lost and found pets pages for your area on Facebook. Post her as a found cat on those websites, too. On Craig’s List, post her in both the Pets and Lost and Found sections. 
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. Cats who have been lost and outside for a long time can be matted, covered with fleas and very emaciated looking. A cat who’s in bad shape hasn’t necessarily been dumped or abandoned. More likely, she’s just been lost and on her own for several weeks or even longer.
  • Try not to impose your beliefs on other people or their cats. Maybe you think cats should live strictly indoors. But many cats prefer the indoor/outdoor lifestyle or want to live completely outside. “Rescuing” a cat because you think she shouldn’t be outdoors isn’t fair to her or her family and can cause no end to heartache for both.

There’s nothing more heartbreaking than losing a cat. Many people search for their lost cats for months or even years. If you find a stray cat, please assume she’s lost and make a real effort to find her family. That will be a true act of kindness from one cat lover to another.

Before You Take In A Stray Cat…

We all have the urge to rescue an animal in need. But with rescue comes some responsibility. If you’re not prepared to keep the cat if you can’t find a home for her, it might be best to leave her where she is until you find a safe place for her to go. If she needs medical care, be prepared to pay for it. Very few rescue groups have money to donate or loan for veterinary care, and very few vets are willing to treat a sick or injured cat for free.

In most jurisdictions, taking a stray cat to a shelter is almost always a death sentence, especially if the cat is sick or injured. Not all no-kill rescues are willing to take strays or “owner give-ups,” and it might be hard to find one that has room.
If you do give the cat to a no-kill rescue, find out where she’ll be living. Will she be in a cage? In a foster home? And if she goes to a foster home, how many other cats will be in the home? Will she have run of the whole house, or will she be confined to a room or bathroom? Think about whether you’ll be comfortable with her living arrangements and, more importantly, how she’ll feel about them before you give her to the rescue.

Taking in a homeless cat is more than an act of kindness. It’s a big responsibility and a major commitment. Giving some thought to whether you want to make that commitment is only fair to you and the cat.


About Feral Cats

Feral cats are not strays or homeless. Their homes are the woods behind your house, the parking lot where you work, the warehouse down the street. While their living conditions may seem harsh to you, the woods and parking lots are what the cats are used to, and that’s where they want to stay.

Mother cats with kittens tug hardest at our heartstrings. But remember that while feral cats look exactly like our house cats, they have very little in common. They’re domestic cats who have returned to their wild state. While that mom and her babies will benefit from some human assistance, they don’t want to be rescued. And the last place a feral mother and her kittens belong is a shelter where they will most likely be killed.

The kindest thing you can do for feral cats is getting them neutered/spayed, vaccinated and ear-tipped and return them to their outdoor home. Feed them every day, and give them shelters so they’ll be warm when the weather turns cold and dry when it rains. They’ll appreciate your kindness and will long, happy lives.

If you must relocate them, look for one barn home for all of them so they can stay together. Cats form strong bonds with their family members and friends, and it’s always best to keep feral cat colonies together.

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