Guest Post: Why Your Lost Cat Might not be at the Shelter

Stacy lost her cat last summer. An indoor-outdoor boy, he simply vanished. He wasn’t at the local shelter, and there wasn’t any evidence that he’d been hit by a car or taken by a predator. She had no idea what to do or how to find him.

Less than 2% of cats entering U.S. shelters are reunited with their owners. Yet for many people, shelter searches become the main focus of their search. They devote so much time to checking shelters, that they leave little time for search methods that are more likely to bring their cat home. The advice to check shelters is popular because it works well with dogs. Dogs are more visible and generally easier to catch. People tend to believe a free-roaming dog is lost and intervene to help. A free-roaming cat is more likely to be viewed as a stray. Even when identified as a possibly lost, the cat is likely to require a trap or extended time earning its trust before it can be placed in a carrier for transport.

What becomes of these lost cats and why don’t they end up at the shelters?

People who find lost cats are often reluctant to take them to shelters. One study reported in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that fewer than 8% of found pets were surrendered to a local animal agency when found. The most common reason stated by the finders was that they were afraid the cat would be euthanized. In many parts of the country, this is true. Some of these lost cats become free-roaming cats. They feed at feral colonies, on back porches, and behind restaurants and businesses. Others are adopted or re-homed by their finders. Some do eventually end up at a shelter, but this is a minority and often occurs after the owner has stopped looking for them.

Let’s work on changing people’s mindset on stray cats. If you find a cat, it might be someone’s lost pet and YOU are their best chance for getting back home.

  • Take the cat to a local vet or rescue to be scanned for a microchip. You may need to borrow a trap to catch him. Lost cats can be shy and difficult to catch.
  • Post the cat as found at the shelter. Include a photo and contact info. Many shelters have online places to post found cats as well. If possible, foster the cat while searching for his owner. This will buy the cat MORE time to be reunited with his owner because many shelters place cats for adoption after a three-day hold.
  • Post flyers around the neighborhood and at local vet clinics and rescues.
  • Ask your neighbors if they recognize the cat.
  • Post the cat as found on Craigslist, Facebook, and other social media sites. Newspapers usually offer free posting for found cats.
Photo provided by Community Cat Coalition
Photo provided by Community Cat Coalition

One day, Stacy had the surprise of her life. After being gone for seven months, her big black cat waltzed in the door as if nothing had happened. And he wasn’t just a big black cat, he was a bigger black cat. Fat and warm and looking quite happy. Turns out, he wasn’t at the shelter, but at a neighbor’s home all this time. She sent out this jubilant reunion photo to her Facebook group.

NOTE: If you decide to leave the cat at a shelter, please ask to be notified if the cat is unadoptable or will be euthanized. It is kinder to fix the cat and release it in his home territory than to leave it to be euthanized at a shelter. Shy and feral cats often have people who feed and care about them, but they may not think to look at a shelter.

Reprinted with permission from Nancy Wahl, Community Cats Coalition. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced. Copyright February 6, 2016.

The mission of Community Cats Coalition, located in the Pacific Northwest, is to enhance the lives of community cats by promoting spay and neuter and providing training and mentorship in Trap-Neuter-Return. Education is their number one goal and to that end it publishes a variety of posts on Facebook related to community cats. A Best of Facebook can be found at the CCC website.

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