One day, you’re walking down your block and suddenly you spot a furry feline face poking out from behind a bush. Or perhaps a cat you’ve never seen before dashes across the yard and disappears under a parked car. You want to help, but what can you do?
The first rule of helping stray cats: hands off! Don’t go chasing after him right then and there. It’s unlikely you’ll catch him but it is likely that you’ll frighten him. Even if you do manage to get close enough, you’ll be risking serious injury if you attempt to grab him. A scared cat can inflict a lot of damage very quickly.
The second rule of helping stray cats: play detective. Is this a pet cat who was recently lost? A stray cat who has been on his own for a time but warms up to people once he gets to know them? A feral cat who by nature is wary of people and prefers living outside a traditional home?
To find out, ask neighbors and other people in the immediate area if they know anything about the cat. Did he just arrive or has he been seen around for some time? Is anyone feeding him, providing shelter or even letting him in their house? Does he have a collar and tags? Has anyone posted “lost cat” signs?
How to help a friendly cat
If it turns out kitty is lost, then of course you’ll want to contact his owner and return him. If he’s a friendly stray, then probably he lived in a home at one time and might be adoptable. Check with your local animal shelter and rescue groups to see if any have room to take in another cat and find him a home. If they do, lure the cat into a carrier with a can of tuna and close the door behind him, but don’t try to force him in. Ask for assistance from someone experienced in handling cats. When in doubt, use a humane box trap. You can try borrowing a trap from a local cat rescue group, animal shelter, animal control officer or spay/neuter clinic.
If the shelter is overcrowded and the rescue groups are all full, then don’t try to bring them one more friendly cat they can’t place. Consider fostering him yourself and looking for a permanent home. If that’s not possible either, then get him neutered and care for him outdoors, providing food and a warm outdoor cat shelter.
Caring for feral cats
If your neighborhood cat is feral, or it doesn’t seem like he’s ever lived in a home, then he likely isn’t adoptable, But he can stay outdoors while you provide food and shelter.
But the most important rule for caring for feral cats: fix them, fast. You must use a trap to capture him and transport him to a veterinary clinic for spay/neuter. A day or two after the surgery, he can be released back outside. It’s important to call ahead and schedule an appointment before you trap the cat so you can quickly bring him in after he’s caught. For more information on trapping feral cats and caring for them before and after surgery, check out Neighborhood Cats or Alley Cat Allies. .
If there’s one feral cat living in your neighborhood, it’s very likely others are there too. Take a look around, and talk with your neighbors about how you can all work together to help them. It’s important to get all of your neighborhood’s cats spayed or neutered so you don’t end up with even more cats. This is called Trap-Neuter-Return or TNR, and it’s the most effective and humane way to control the free-roaming cat population.
It takes a bit of time and work, but when you’re done and your neighborhood cat is now in a new home or being cared for outdoors, you’ll know you’ve made a difference.