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What to Do If You See a Stray Cat and Want to Take it to a Shelter

Every town has them... stray cats, wandering around back yards, alleys, walking down the road, robbing trash receptacles or other yard-pets' bowls in order to survive.

While most people tend to look past these lost souls, assuming they either live with someone or don't deserve a moment's thought because they are pests, there are others who feel differently. Some people understand that stray cats aren't being stray on purpose just to irritate humans. They have been abandoned, perhaps, or were born to a stray that was abandoned.

The reasons for their existence vary, but it's probably safe to say their fate has been created by humans. Therefore, it should be up to us to remedy the situation and to tend to the needs of these cats.

For those who sympathize with these homeless ones, it can be heart wrenching to watch them suffer. Many sensitive, caring people want to help, but may not know how to do it.

The first consideration has to be your own safety. Often, even if a cat started out as a loved family companion, it can still transform into a fearful or aggressive animal who must go into "survival mode" to live in a hostile world. You may not be able to simply reach down and pick the cat up. Why would a cat that has been treated badly trust you? How would it understand that you mean it no harm when everyone else has been cruel or abusive? Such a cat might not be friendly and you must take precautions.

If you are willing to follow through with a rescue, there must be some careful and thoughtful planning.

1. Obtain a humane trap. If your community has a shelter, humane society, animal control department, or a veterinarian who works with rescues, you might be able to borrow one. This is the preferred way to capture a cat you don't know, even if it seems friendly.

2. If the cat actually comes to you, and allows you to touch it, you might get lucky and be able to place it carefully into a pet taxi, or pet carrier.

However, if the cat freaks out and scrambles away, you may never get another chance to try again. You might also suffer a scratch or a bite at this point. This must be avoided. If you don't know whether the cat has been vaccinated, you will have to endure a rabies vaccination series, and local authorities will have to trap the cat and have it tested. Since a rabies test cannot be done on a live animal, it means sacrificing its life to learn if rabies is present.

3. Once captured, you should take the cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible for a wellness check and to obtain any health care needed, along with some basic vaccinations.

4. If you take the cat to a shelter immediately, they will have to handle the expense of this step... if they have the money. Sadly, many rescue organizations and shelters have little funding and some exist on donations alone. If there is nothing in the budget for this care, the cat most likely will have to be euthanized. If you don't plan to keep the cat yourself, perhaps the kindest thing you can do is to donate enough to help the shelter provide the cat's initial care. Depending on where you live, the cost to get a cat "fully vetted" (shelter lingo for obtaining veterinary and other care to be sure the cat is healthy and adoptable), can amount to $100 - $200.

5. If you are not prepared to take responsibility for rescuing a stray cat, you may be able to help it by alerting a local rescue group to its plight. They may be able to trap and care for the cat if they can afford it and have the personnel, or, perhaps include it in a managed feral cat colony to be sure it has food and health care.

The most important thing people of any community can do to help stray cats, and to prevent more of them, is to get them spayed and neutered.

If your community does not have a Trap Neuter Release program or a low cost spay/neuter clinic, form or join a group to request these services be provided. Remember, your government exists to serve you, not to push you around.

For more information on how to help cats in your community, visit

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