Each year, millions of abandoned or lost cats die in the streets or are put to sleep in shelters. Cat overpopulation is a particular problem in the United States. If more were neutered or spayed, there would not be so many more cats than there are potential homes for them. Shelters are overwhelmed, and have no choice but to “humanely kill” a large percentage of the felines that are given into their care. None of us can solve this crisis on our own, but we can make a difference – one cat at a time. One solution is to take a homeless cat in and either permanently adopt it or else care for it until another owner can be found.
A word of caution, first: stray cats differ from feral ones. Stray cats were once pets, and can almost always be domesticated again. Feral cats were born into the outside world; they are essentially wild animals. Feral kittens can oftentimes be tamed, but adults may never be able to adapt to living indoors. There’s one simple way to distinguish between the two: feral cats are difficult to approach and nearly impossible to catch. A cat that takes up residence beneath the porch, that comes out to rub your leg and whine until you feed it, is much more likely to be a stray.
If a cat has a dirty coat (healthy cats are zealously clean), is injured, or shows signs of illness, then these are all signs that it’s probably without owner. Without such indications, you may have to do a little detective work to be sure. It may not be convenient to ask questions around the neighborhood – but then again, the cat’s life could be at stake. If you’re reasonable sure that it belongs to no one, the most compassionate thing to do is bring it in and offer it food and shelter.
Stray cats can pose risks to other pets – and even humans. Many have fleas, worms or ringworm, and/or various diseases. If you can afford to, take your stray to a veterinarian and have it examined. It should especially be tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus before being exposed to other animals. In the meantime, it should be kept alone.
At this point you have a few options. You could board the cat with a veterinarian for reasonable cost, or find a willing relative or friend to become its foster parent. Otherwise, you could keep it in a spare room (even bathrooms work, because they’re easily disinfected) or the basement until it’s gotten medical attention. Either of these places should be examined for holes in the walls, ceiling, and flooring (so the cat doesn’t pull a disappearing act).
Rescuing your feline will go a little smoother if you’re able to plan and obtain some of the necessities in advance. A flea control product (specially designed for cats), a brush or comb, and a small whiskbroom and dustpan for cleaning litter up from the floor will be helpful. You’ll want to get a cage or pen to carry the cat in for its trip to the vet, and a separate food and water dish and litter box. Last but not least, premium dry cat food and cat litter will of course be necessary. Ahh, the price of compassion!