Over the course of time, we’ve all come across a stray cat or dog and wondered just what we should do. Here are some tips on figuring out how to take care of a stray dog or cat:
1. Figure out whether the animal is a feral or a stray.
This can be extremely difficult. According to the Humane Society, well-groomed, friendly cats are much more likely to be lost or abandoned pets, not ferals. However, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says the opposite: lost or abandoned cats are more likely to be badly groomed and more frightened because they are stressed and not used to surviving alone. Feral cats can also at times be deceptively friendly and well-groomed.
The most reliable test is to capture the animal indoors or inside a cage, according to the ASPCA. Though this test is not always completely accurate, a feral cat will typically resist being inside any kind of enclosure, while a stray cat is more likely to cooperate. Feral cats are also much more likely to not be spayed or neutered.
(Note: If you seem to have a lot of feral cats in your neighborhood, you should consider getting involved with a Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) program to help keep the feral population in check.)
2. Decide whether or not you might be willing to accept the cost and possible life care of the animal.
This is one of the most important questions to answer. The stray may be suffering from some kind o injuries, or its owner may have just abandoned it, leaving you in charge of paying its medical bills or taking ownership of the pet. You must also be willing to return the pet back to its owner, even if you form an attachment.
If you’re not willing to accept these possible outcomes, you should call a nearby shelter or animal control agency instead, and tell them where you found the animal. However, shelters and agencies are often overpopulated with stray animals and because of limited space, they may be likely to euthanize an animal.
3. Slowly, carefully – get the animal contained.
If you want to try to catch the dog or cat, create some kind of barrier using a leash, piece of clothing or rope to try and corner the animal, suggests the Humane Society. If you try to catch the animal yourself, you will likely scare it away or possibly even get attacked. By slowly securing the perimeter, the animal might not that notice it’s being trapped.
4. Entice the animal with a bit of food.
Place any strong-smelling food nearby, kneel to the ground and speak very calmly. If the animal runs away, but you saw it near your home, you can try to return to the same spot at the same time another day, and see if the pet comes back for more food, the ASCPA says.
Encourage the animal to eat, but you should also resist trying to pet or touch it because that might frighten it.
5. Get the animal somehow into a cage, cardboard box, bag, blanket, or your car.
If the animal cooperates and eats some of the food, make a trail of food leading into a cage, your car, or any kind of enclosure.
If you don’t have any kind of restraint inside your car, it’s a bad idea to drive around with the loose animal, according to the Humane Society. In that case, you should call police or animal control and wait for them in your car with the animal until they’ve shown up.
If you do manage to safely restrain the wayward animal, drive to a nearby veterinarian.
6. You should notify everyone about the animal.
After the vet tends to any injuries the animal may have and checks to see if it has all of the necessary vaccinations, you should ask the vet to scan the animal for a microchip. A microchip should be able to reveal the owner’s contact information.
If the pet doesn’t have a microchip, you can call any local police department, animal shelter or animal control agency, and leave them a full description of the pet in case its owner calls searching for their pet, the ASPCA recommends.
Post a “found” ad online or within your local newspaper, suggests the Humane Society. You might also want to try your neighborhood blog or list-serve as well.
7. After you return home with the animal, you sholld accommodate the animal.
If you already have pets of your own, make sure to find a room for the stray animal to stay in separate from your resident pet to avoid confrontation suggests The Humane Society.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’ve provided a bowl of water and food and a comfy place to sleep. For cats, find a large container which will serve as a temporary litter box.
8. If no one reaches out to claim the animal, you can then decide whether to keep the animal or let it go up for adoption.
Every state has laws relating to a proper holding period for stray animals. In Virginia and the District, after five days an animal is then classified as “abandoned,” according to the Code of Virginia and the Washington Humane Society. In various states, the holding period varies depending on the county or whether the animal had a microchip or tag. You should be sure to check with your local animal control agency.
If the holding period does expire, and you made a strong effort to find the animal’s owner, you can then label the animal as your own with a collar and tag or a vaccination record.
If you plan to give up the animal, you should make sure to find a shelter that is not overcrowded to ensure the best possible chance for adoption. Also, you can always post an ad on Facebook and Twitter — you never know if a friend could be inspired to adopt.