Stray Or Not Too Stray?

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Some advice on what to do when you find a stray cat.

Some are bold, some are shy, some cry out loudly, and some try to cry but are silent. There are those that run and hide, those that move just out of reach, and those that cannot rub hard enough on your leg and grab at it when you try and walk away. What they all have in common is that they are strays. How they became that way is as varied as each cat. It really doesn’t matter how it came to be—in fact, you probably do not want to know—but if you want to do something, there are a number of helpful options. I like to call the process “zero to hero.”

Your first instinct might be to do essentially nothing. You watch the stray come and go, maybe put food and water out, watch some of the antics in your yard, and possibly give the stray a name. Then one day, he’s a no-show. Another day goes by, and still no stray. On day three or four, you begin to wonder what happened: Where did he go? Did something happen? Was it a car, a coyote, or did someone pick him up? Most of the time, these questions will go unanswered. But this time, on day five, he comes back, and not wanting to go through the questions or worries again, you start thinking that there must be other options!

So now we must decide what to do with the stray. Can we find the owner? Do we want to keep him? Do we want to find a home for him? Do we just want to spay/neuter and release back? How do we integrate him into our household? Is he feral or abandoned/lost? Healthy or sick? As soon as we start asking those questions, a couple of things come to mind: the time involved and how much is all of this going to cost. If you do a little homework first, you’ll find that there are various organizations that work with animal hospitals, clinics, and veterinarians and can provide financial assistance and/or vouchers for services and products, including trapping and caging materials. After all, it should not be a burden to help an animal in need.

If you don’t have the space, resources or desire to bring the stray into your house but want to do something, you can capture the cat, visit the vet or clinic for a wellness check and spay/neuter, then return the stray back where you got him. Now you know he is healthy and unable to contribute numbers to the homeless cat population. If by chance you happened to have fallen under the enchanted spell of that stray cat looking into your eyes on the way back from the clinic, then your work and rewards have only just begun.

You may want to take a photo and make some flyers to post at clinics or vet offices or on telephone poles near the spot where you found your new friend. Social media is also very helpful. If someone responds and claims the little guy, then you’ll have a warm and fuzzy reward as you watch the two reunite. If nobody responds, then a new and even more rewarding adventure awaits you. So, let’s get the little guy into your household!

Start small and work up from there. Use a room with a door and set it up with a cage, litter box, bed/blanket, food and water. Life will be easier for you if there are no hiding spots or places a stray can wedge himself in to that you can’t! You will be able to see very shortly if this guy was ever housebroken, an indoor- or outdoor-only cat, and what social skills he has developed (or is sorely lacking). Just sit on the floor and let the natural curiosity of the cat take over. By using a cage as a house/shelter, the cat will learn that it’s his safe place, so he won’t run and hide whenever the cage comes out for road trips.

After a few days of eating, sleeping, and litter box use in the room, a routine has now developed, and it is probably time to begin the whole-house integration. If you have other pets, low and slow is the key. Keep all the pets on the same level, with the new member confined via cage or separator—but make sure he’s visible, smellable, and touchable for the others. Your pets will establish a pecking order in your household, determing who gets to play with whom first. There may be an occasional act of “confusion” among the crew, but it won’t be that much different from the sibling rivalry you grew up with.

Finally, it’s time to open up the house and enjoy your newest addition. Develop daily routines of play time, nap time, and exploring time to nurture the special bond that seems to grow between an animal in need and the hero human that comes to their rescue. You’ll be sitting there in the evening, watching the news replay all the drama of the day, and then you’ll feel a gentle paw-tap on the arm. You’ll look over at the little face behind the paw, and instantly you’ll know … Yes, it is all worth it, and life is good!

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