Whether you found the cat or the cat found you is a question better left to your next moment of Zen. Right now you’ve got a stray cat on your hands and need some practical advice on what to do about it.
You’ve found what appears to be a stray cat and not a feral cat. You’re probably wondering first of all how best to get it back home to its owner. Fortunately, if the cat has an owner, there are resourceful and productive steps you can take to assure cat and keeper get reunited. In addition, there are things you can do to keep the cat safe and healthy in the meantime.
1. Take care of basic needs
If you think the cat is hungry, give it a dish of clean, cold water and something suitable to eat. Buy wet or dry cat food rather than giving it human food. Never serve it milk as, contrary to popular belief, the majority of cats are actually lactose intolerant.
2. Create a shelter if you can’t take the cat into your home
If you can take the cat into your home, this is the ideal next move because it allows you to invite prospective owners in to examine the cat and determine whether it belongs to them. Keeping the cat inside your house or apartment will also ensure its safety. If this is not possible for some reason, do your best to create a shelter for the cat. For example, you might set out a cardboard box that is anchored with bricks and lined with a blanket or towel. If you put fabric inside the box, make sure you regularly change and wash the fabric to prevent mold from growing.
3. Contact shelters and rescue groups
Use the Internet and/or the phone book to find phone numbers of animal shelters and animal rescue organizations in your area. Many people call such places if they have lost a pet. Registering the cat’s details and description with these organizations will increase the likelihood of the cat being reunited with its owner. Some rescue groups will also help you advertise the cat more prominently, arranging for posters to be made and offering advice about other places to contact.
4. Contact local vet practices
Owners of missing cats and dogs commonly register a description of the lost pet with their local vet. If you call local vet offices, they can tell you whether a cat matching the description of your runaway has been reported missing. In addition, they can write down information you provide and then relay it to future callers in search of their wayward feline.
5. Be cautious when approached by potential owners
When advertising your found cat, remember not to provide all the relevant details. While a photograph will help an owner recognize the cat, think about posting a photo of just the cat’s face. Do not include something you take to be a distinguishing feature (such as a particularly fluffy tail or an interesting pattern on the cat´s lower body). If you leave some details out of your photographs and descriptions, you can ‘test’ people who claim the cat is theirs. You can also try asking what the cat’s voice sounds like, whether it’s affectionate or skittish. Ask whether or not it is neutered. All of this will help prevent you from giving the cat away to cat-napping strangers instead of its rightful owner(s).
6. Take the cat to a vet
There are two good reasons why you should take the cat to see a vet if you haven’t been able to find its home over the course of a few days. First, given that you have no idea what the animal’s background might be, it’s important to make sure the cat does not have health problems that need urgent treatment. Second, many cats are micro-chipped by their owners. A routine veterinary examination will include scanning for a microchip which, if found, will provide all information necessary to reunite the pet with its parents.
7. Place advertisements online
The Internet offers plenty of websites you can use to publicize information about your little hobo. Both tabbytracker.com and lostpetusa.net provide registry databases of cats found and lost. Leave your email address or phone number. If you post a picture, there is a higher likelihood of finding the cat’s owner.
8. Place advertisements in stores
Same thing here. Make up posters with mug shot and description. Ask local pet stores, grocery stores and other establishments to display the posters and help you find the cat’s owner.
9. Regularly check local papers
Some lost cat owners will not advertise their missing pet online but will place an ad in the local newspaper instead. This is particularly common with older people as they might not realize the Internet provides a more efficient way to reach out. For similar reasons you might also ask local papers to print a “cat found” story or other information about your found cat.
10. If you cannot find the owner and can’t keep the cat, please find it a new home
Unfortunately, sometimes your best efforts will not yield positive results and you will not find the cat’s owner. In reality, your little orphan may have been abandoned or may be a feral cat. Whatever the reason, it is always important to look out for the animal’s welfare. If you are not able to take on the responsibility of owning it as a full-time pet, talk to people you trust and find out whether any of them would be interested in taking care of it. If all else fails, consider handing the cat over to a rescue shelter. If at all possible, choose one that will not euthanize healthy animals under any circumstances.
Trying to reunite a wandering animal with its home is a difficult, thankless and often frustrating affair. However, if you follow these ten tips, you will maximize your chances for success. You will keep the found cat safe and well in the meantime. And you will have done your level best in the eyes of cats everywhere, and those of us who love them.