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Stray Cats: How Can you Help?

Published: February 8, 2012

Perhaps you see the same collarless cat day after day. Should you feed it? Does it have a home? How can you tell?

Dr. G. Robert Weedon is a shelter veterinarian at the Champaign County Humane Society who lectures on shelter medicine as an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana. He reminds good Samaritans that what appear to be stray pets often have homes.

“People need to remember that when a stray dog or cat is found, it is very likely that someone is looking for it,” says Dr. Weedon. “While we may be tempted to keep the animal, and provide it a good home, at a minimum we need to make sure it is scanned for a microchip, and a thorough description is given to local humane societies and animal control. A distraught owner may be frantically searching for the lost pet.”

Here is a step-by-step guide to doing all you can to ensure that a “stray” cat has the very best chance to be reunited with its people—or to find a new home. And if you are a cat owner, reading these ideas may prompt you to take steps to ensure that your pet is “findable.”

Step One: Take the cat to your local veterinary clinic.
A veterinarian can help you obtain information about the cat. Ask for the cat to be scanned for the presence of a microchip. Increasingly, responsible owners are having their pets microchipped—a process very similar to getting a shot in which a tiny chip is implanted under the pet’s skin with a needle. The chips are encoded with a number that identifies the animal’s owner. If the cat has been microchipped, the clinic should be able to contact the owner.

If no chip is present, ask the veterinarian whether the cat is male or female and whether it appears to have been spayed or neutered. You may also want to determine whether the cat has been declawed and its approximate age (whether young, senior, etc.).

Step Two: Make a “found” sign.
Like a “lost” sign, this should include information about the cat: its sex, sterilization status, whether it is declawed, and more. It will also be extremely helpful to include a clear photograph of the cat. Be sure to mention the area where and when the cat was found.

Step Three: Distribute the sign.
Take the sign to animal control, the humane society, and any local veterinary clinics and pet stores. When at animal control, check the current lost reports for possible matches among the cats reported missing. Be sure to scan the “lost” fliers for a cat matching the description of the one you found.

Step Four: Place an ad in the local paper.
Most newspapers do not charge for “found” ads. Craigslist is another place to post a found animal; it’s free, and you can upload the cat’s picture.

If, after all these steps have been completed, a week goes by and no one has attempted to re-claim the animal, you may consider taking the cat to the humane society or a local rescue organization or even providing the cat with a permanent home.

Susan Norris is an Information Specialist at University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine.

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