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Have you ever seen a cat on the street and thought, “I wonder if it has an owner?” and then had no idea how to find out, what to do or if you should do anything?
Do you know of a cat that has been abandoned? Has a cat found you and clearly doesn’t belong to anyone, what do you do now? Many people don’t actually know what to do or who to contact if they find a cat but it is important to do something for several reasons:
- What if it is lost? You could help to reunite a kitty with their family
- The unthinkable could happen – cars, other animals or even not very nice humans can be a risk to cats outside and leaving them alone in an unfamiliar area can increase the risk
- Controlling the population – the cat may not be neutered and could turn out with a litter of kittens in your neighbourhood and before you know it you have a feral population living nearby causing you more problems.
Whatever your motivation it is important to know where to turn and what to do if you find a cat. But first things first: How do you know if it’s got an owner or not?
Signs of ownership
Collar – This is an obvious one and generally cats with collars shouldn’t look like a stray or be confusing. If a cat has a collar then this generally means it has an owner somewhere so check the tags (if there are any) and contact the owner. If there are not tags then leave the cat be, you may find it wanders back home but if it keeps returning then read down to the following section to find out what to do next.
Coat – Is their coat shiny and clean or does it look dull and matted? One of the key signs of poor nutrition in cats is the state of their coat and fur as well as being an insight into the conditions that they are lived in. If it has a clean, glossy coat then chances are it is being well looked after and warm and dry at night so will probably belong to someone.
Weight – Generally speaking, cats that are well fed and don’t look too skinny have a home (sometimes several!) and you shouldn’t worry too much. On the other hand, in well built up areas cats can often turn into scavengers and find decent food sources regardless of having a home. If this is the case you should also look at their coat (above) or other factors.
Microchips – If you are able to, take the cat to the vets to scan for a microchip so that you can determine whether it is (or has been previously owned). In most cases if a chip is found the vets will keep the cat and contact the owner. If not you may need to get in contact with your local animal charity.
Unfortunately, all of these signs are not always reliable as circumstances and details can change but use your best judgement and if you feel like something is off then act on that. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
What to Do
In normal circumstances, you should follow these steps if you think a cat could be lost or stray.
Ask around – In many instances, a new neighbour or cat has been introduced into the area without you realising and it is simply a new addition to your neighbourhood. Ask around or pop notes in the door to inquire if anyone knows who it is and if it is cared for.
Paper collars – If you live in a heavily populated area then knocking on everyone’s doors is going to take much longer so you can choose to secure a paper collar with your details on, to the cat so that the owner knows someone is looking for them and enquiring about their cat. Here’s a link to some fab pre-made paper collars from Cats Protection that you can print.
Found posters – Also put up posters in your local area and local veterinary clinics so that you can spread the word about the cat that you have found. Remember to take a photo of the cat, add a description and include your details on the poster. You could always consider putting them up in your local shop window and pet store or other places an animal owner might visit. Here is a printable “Cat Found” poster from Cats Protection that is useful.
local charities – Also contact local animal charities who will often have a lost and found database that owners can search if they have lost their pet. It is also important to let animal clinics or vets know if you find an animal because it is one of the first places an owner will call.
Feed/shelter it – In the mean time, while looking for the owner, provide the cat with fresh water and food and some shelter or access (e.g a shed if you don’t want it in the house) so that it is more likely to stay while things are being resolved. Cats who are friendly are often simply lost because they have had positive human interaction, if they are not they could have been abandoned.
Social media – Where would we be without the internet!? There are many facebook groups, social media accounts and hashtags devoted to lost animals to help reunite owners and social media can be a powerful tool. Make sure to include the area you found the animal in as well as a picture, details and contact information to try and reunite them with the owners. Everyone loves a happy ending so ask family and friends to share the post or tag people that they know to get the most coverage.
While I love a happy ending, in many instances, it is not possible to look after the cat and you may need to contact a local animal charity to come and collect it (there is a list of useful ones at the bottom of the post). You could also opt to ask family and friends to look after it in the meantime so you can keep track of the cat while you search for the owner.
Also, unfortunately, sometimes things aren’t this simple and you may find an injured or abused cat or even know of someone who abandoned their cats as well, in that case, things are different.
What if it’s injured/unwell
If you find an injured animal you should try to seek medical attention for it immediately. Many charities have an emergency veterinary service and vets in the UK have a duty of care to tend to any immediate injuries if they are presented with a sick animal.
*Note that not all charities offer this service and you should make sure you check which ones do before contacting them and delaying the process*
What to do for neglected or abandoned cats
If you know of a case of abuse, abandonment or neglect the owners could be fined or prosecuted but unfortunately it is very difficult to prove. Therefore if you suspect this is the case you should call an animal organisation that has authoritative or investigative powers, for example in the UK the RSPCA can help to prepare a case against the abusers although this will not remove the animal from the situation immediately. If you suspect an animal is in an immediate life-threatening situation you can call the local authorities who may be able to help.
In the case, you find a cat that you think has been neglected or abused, you can also still contact local animal charities or shelters to see if they can help to take them in as well as following up with a policing authority and give them as much information as possible. Although it may be distressing, try to take as many photos as you can of the animal and its condition so that these can be used as evidence if necessary, get it emergency medical attention and this can help strengthen the case, even if the cat doesn’t survive.
Contrary to popular belief a stray and feral cat is not the same thing although one can arise from the other because a feral cat has not had human contact from birth. Most commonly, feral cats result from unneutered strays that have litters and then things spiral from there which can lead to feral colonies which are a large group of feral cats.
It is highly unlikely that feral cats can be taken in and rehomed because in many cases they are happier without human contact and it can be too stressful to take them into care however many charities offer a neutering scheme that helps to keep the population down.
Let’s be honest, sometimes we can’t do things by ourselves and we need extra help. Here are some helpful charities that can help with strays, rehoming and neutering schemes.
- Means-tested neutering
- Cat care education
- Trap, Neuter, Release schemes
- Means-tested financial help with vet treatments and bills
- Treating sick and injured animals
- Cruelty investigation
- Preventing animal cruelty
- Emergency support
- Low-cost veterinary care
If all else fails you can use catchat.org to find welfare charities or options more locally to you.
I have less experience with U.S animal charities but you can search by your region or charity on the Animal Charities of America for a full list.