REALLY A STRAY?
WHAT TO DO IF A STRAY CAT TURNS UP ON YOUR DOORSTEP
Firstly, don’t automatically assume it is a stray. Is the cat a good weight? Does it look well cared for? Or is it emaciated? Does it have fur missing or is infested with fleas? Is it dirty? Is its fur matted? Is it ravenously hungry? Have you seen this cat before? Have your neighbours?
If the cat looks well cared for, that is because it probably is and it may well be an owned cat whose owner has gone away for a few days or whose work pattern has changed and is spending longer away during the day than before. The family it belongs to may have young children and it’s noisy. Or there may be a new partner or a new pet, perhaps a dog. If the cat is in good shape, it is probably safe to assume the cat has a home and the advice is not to feed. If it is hot weather, it would be kind to put out a bowl of water (never milk – many cats are lactose-intolerant) but once you put out food, you are providing that cat with an alternative – YOU! Cats are great opportunists and great survivors. They know whose doorstep to turn up on and have looking pathetic off to an art form! So a little healthy neglect will encourage a healthy, well cared for cat to stroll back whence it came.
Ok, so now you are saying, oh but it’s thin and ravenous, really in a state. Older cats can suffer from a disease called Hyperthyroidism which means they are constantly really hungry but never put on any weight. They may even have lost lots of weight and be very thin. Again, they may be owned and under veterinary treatment (hyperthyroidism can be controlled by a pill). We are always being called out by kind, concerned people about “starving strays” to find the cat is elderly, suffering probably from Hyperthyroidism but is owned and loved.
OR it may be thin and ravenous because it is a female cat with baby kittens which are sapping her energy and her owners are not giving her enough food. Again, she may be owned.
The law now states that cats are classed as possessions and if you interfere with someone’s possession you risk being charged with criminal damage. That is why Streetkatz and all other rescue organisations do need to be careful about rushing in to pick up “strays” and, if they do, they need to have the facilities to hold them for a minimum of 2 weeks while they try to locate an owner. At the end of 2 weeks, then they can legally be put up for rehoming. Unfortunately, some people who contact us know perfectly well that the cat is owned but just want the cat removed as speedily as possible for whatever reason and will simply lie about the cat being a stray. So do be prepared for lots of questions and for help in establishing as far as possible whether this cat is stray or not.
Here are some of the things a rescue may ask you to do to help establish whether or not the cat is a genuine stray.
1. Many cats nowadays are microchipped. This means each cat has a unique number which is implanted in the back of its neck and which can be read with a scanner. Each number is assigned to the cat’s owner whose details are registered on a centralised computer database so they can easily be traced. All rescue organisations and vets have scanners so can check if a cat is microchipped. So you need to check if your “stray” is microchipped. The quickest way to do this, if the cat is friendly, is to take him to your nearest vet – please phone ahead first and see if / when they can do this – and ask them to scan to cat. They may also be able to provide basic information such as whether the cat is old (so ? hyperthyroid) and if they think it needs urgent medical treatment. This level they should do for free – anything else may incur a charge so you do need to be clear about what you are asking them to do when you phone them. Many rescue organisations may also be able to scan but most are run by volunteers who have day jobs, family and pet commitments so there may be a delay in offering help.
2. The next stage is to ask neighbours if they know to whom the cat belongs and also to check if someone has recently moved in or out of the area. If someone has moved in, the cat may have escaped or been let out too early. If someone has moved out, they may have left the cat behind and it may genuinely not be owned.
3. Put up FOUND posters in local shops etc and contact Lost & Found Registers of local animal protection societies to see whether a cat matching this description has been reported missing. Cats, especially unneutered toms, may wander out of their immediate area or may even have hitched a ride with a delivery van. A list of Lost & Found registers is available on the internet – www.catchat.org is a good place to start.
4. If the cat is friendly, some rescues, notably Cats Protection, have paper collars which can be put on straying cats asking their owners to contact the organisation. This often provokes a response from an owner and a discussion can then begin as to why the cat is so often outside and a concern to neighbours and their cats.
Many of the calls Streetkatz receives are about “stray” cats going through the cat flap and eating their cat’s food, being aggressive and spraying. The cat may not be a stray, just an opportunist. If locking the cat flap is not an option, you could try a gentle spray of water to deter it. The best option if your own cat is microchipped is to purchase a cat flap which can be programmed into your cat’s microchip so only your cat can come in or go out of the cat flap. These flaps are expensive but cheaper than vets bills to treat bite wounds or replacing furniture that is constantly sprayed on. By the way, female cats also spray...but it's no way as pungent as Aroma de Tom!
During the kitten season (roughly Mar/Apr – Oct/Nov), we often get reports of cats turning up as stray when in fact they are just hungry mums. So before you grab the cat and pick up the phone to ask for help, please remember she may be feeding babies and if you confine her, even for a few hours, you will put the kittens’ lives at risk.
Please remember that it is illegal to be cruel to an animal and it is also illegal to take them to an unfamiliar area and dump them. Rescue organisations are willing to help you but they are not sitting around with empty cat pens waiting for you to call – if they were, then they would not be doing their job. So you may have to wait until a rescue has a space available. A rescue will only have a space available when a cat in their care is homed – so do encourage all your friends and family to adopt from a rescue rather than via a free ad. Then there will be spaces to help genuine cases of need.