It’s happened to many of us, we are walking along when a cat starts to follow and doesn’t seem to go home. You have the feeling it is lost but aren’t sure. What do you do?
The same goes for finding a cat in an area that clearly isn’t safe for them, or if they’re stuck out in the cold and desperate. What do you do when you find a cat and aren’t sure of whether it has a home?
The first thought that comes to mind is to drop them off at a shelter, but there are a few things you can and should do before going to that length. Let’s triage our response.
Is the Cat Feral?
This is the first and most important determination to make. If the cat is hissing, extremely aggressive, and absolutely refuses to interact with you, it may be feral. Feral cats need to either be left alone or handled by professionals. We all know the damage a cat can do, and a feral cat will assume any interaction is a threat to its life. Watch out.
If you find a feral cat, if it is an adult, it may be best to just leave it, but also contact a shelter so they can attempt to track and spay/neuter it. If it is a kitten or a mother with kittens, contact a local no-kill shelter to ask for their advice. The kittens may benefit from a safe and warm place.
Check for a Tattoo
Not all cats will be friendly enough for you to lift their ear and look for a tattoo, but some might be. It’s also possible to see the tattoo if you get down and look at the right angle. A tattooed cat likely has a home or did at one point in time. If you can, get a photo of the tattoo or write it down, and either post it online or call a shelter.
*Note: You can bring a stray cat to a vet and they will check for a tattoo or a microchip. If they have either, the vet can determine from the information what gender the cat is and its age. They may also be able to locate the owner.
Take a Photo
While the cat is still near you, take a photo of it as it will be a lot easier to find its owner with one. There are numerous groups on social media to help find lost pets and a photo is going to be infinitely more successful than a description.
If the Environment is Dangerous, Bring the Cat with You
Cats stuck on a highway, left in the cold, or around a place with lots of sharp objects would not benefit from being left there. A feral will not let you pick them up, but a housecat likely will with some convincing. If the situation is bad and your gut tells you to help the cat, then go ahead and help them. If you bring them home to look after while you find their owners, be sure to set up the essentials – litter box, food and water.
Get on your phone or computer and join a local lost pets group on Facebook. You might see a photo of the missing cat posted by its owners as soon as you sign up! These groups are often run by volunteers and have thousands of members. If you don’t see the cat you found there already, post your photo! By posting a photo of the cat in one of these groups, chances increase exponentially for its owners to find it.
Contact a No-Kill Shelter First
No-kill shelters, if they aren’t overwhelmed, are the best place to take a lost cat. By their nature, they do not put down animals who have been there for too long. While it is not feasible for all animal shelters to operate this way, there are still many that exist. This is the safest option for a cat if you are unable to care for them yourself. If the no-kill shelters are full, you may need to bring them to a Humane Society.
Additionally, when a cat is lost, owners will often call all the shelters in the city to see if they have them. Calling all the shelters in town to notify them you found a lost pet is a good way to get the word out that this cat is lost. The shelter can pass along your contact info if anyone calls.
We hope this has been helpful. Ideally, all lost pets would be given a chance to find their owners before they are brought to a shelter, but that is not always how it goes. Be sure to join those lost pet Facebook groups as they do really important work.