Found a Cat, Now What?

Becky Robinson, founder of Alley Cat Allies, discusses how you can help a found cat, whether it be someone's pet, a stray or feral.

By Becky Robinson | Posted: January 27, 2010, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: There is a cat living behind my office building – how can I help her?

A:  The first step is to determine whether the cat is feral, a stray or someone's pet.

Here are a few tips to help you to distinguish between a stray cat and a feral cat:

  • A stray cat may approach you, while a feral cat will keep her distance.
  • A stray cat might immediately approach food you put down while a feral will wait until you move away before approaching the food.
  • A stray cat may be vocal and meow, while feral cats are generally silent.
  • A stray cat may look disheveled while a feral cat will appear groomed.
  • Stray cats may be seen at all hours of the day while feral cats are generally nocturnal.

If you believe the cat you've found is someone's pet, take her in and report a found cat to your local shelters. Bring the cat to a veterinarian or shelter to check for a microchip. Place an ad in your local newspaper or online.

Regardless of whether the cat is stray or feral, do not take her to a shelter. You should be wary of bringing any cat to a shelter, even friendly, adoptable cats. More than 70 percent of the cats entering our nation's shelter system are killed there. Always ask the shelter about its adoption procedures, typical duration of stay, and “euthanasia” policies and be aware that they may not be completely truthful about their policies and kill rates. If you do turn over the cat, realize that you may not be able to reclaim her if the guardian is not found.

If the cat you found is feral and in good health then carry out trap-neuter-return or TNR. TNR involves neutering the cat and returning her to her outdoor home.

There may be a TNR program or group in your town Go to Alley Cat Allies website and request a list of Feral Friends to find out about local TNR programs in your area. The Alley Cat Allies' Feral Friends Network is a group of organizations and individuals with hands-on Trap-Neuter-Return and feral cat expertise. The site also offers a comprehensive list of veterinary practices and clinics that spay and neuter feral cats, a critical resource to communities nationwide.

Thanks for taking action to help stray and feral cats.


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Reader Comments

kristen    International

3/29/2013 12:57:45 PM

Good info but are strays like domestic cats that are left alone? Okay so anyway
I have many stray or feral cats and kittens but the ones that usually come are 6 kittens and 1 cat. 5 males and 1 female and 1 unknown
My family feeds them daily and some let you pet them

Tiffany    Moose Jaw, SK

1/8/2011 5:17:22 PM

To Marie in Bristol,
We got one of our cats in this exact way - we are pretty sure he was simply left behind when his owners moved - we live in a cold climate so as winter neared we simply took a chance and brought him in. If she is friendly you could treat her for fleas with something like Advantage before bringing her in. Keep the cats in different areas of your home so your current cat can get used to her smell, and of course get her spayed as soon as possible. I assume your male is already neutered. We have 3 cats - all of which have come into our home at different times, but were all homeless - not only do they all get along (after a bit of time), but I always feel like they seem to love us in such a loyal and grateful way.

Teresa    Tulsa, OK

1/7/2011 9:53:11 AM

Iam feeding a cat in my yard.(S)he is feral.Do not no gender or trap methods.

Marie    Bristol, PA

9/1/2010 8:50:38 AM

This is mostly a question and/or advice. I've been feeding a stray cat in the rear of our complex apt. house. Personally, I feel that someone moved out and simply left the cat behind. I am interested in taking in this cat to own, but I have one male cat [who,presently has a sneezing problem]. I suppose the best thing to do would be to have her examined & tested for feline Luekemia. also, possibly she may have fleas. Obviously, I simply can't bring her in yet. any advice?
Sincerely, Marie Engel [an avid cat lover]

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