The ethics of taking in strays?

Valerie DurhamValerie Durham Member Posts: 8,724
I like to read the Answers Board, and recently there have been quite a few posts regarding people who take in \"strays\" they have found in their yard or at their door, without trying to find an owner. From the descriptions in the posts, some of the cats are dirty and unfed and obviously abandoned or feral, but some are affectionate, clean, and well-fed looking. Several times now I have suggested (gently) that the \"rescuer\" make some effort to find an owner for the latter category of cats. I lost a cat to the great outdoors twenty years ago, and I\'m still full of guilt (for letting her out in the first place) and lack of closure, as I never did find out what happened to her. If these \"rescued\" cats actually have owners, I can imagine the pain and worry that the owners must be feeling over not knowing what happened to Kitty. On another post on THIS thread, I have been reading about how to locate missing cats. Many of the hints would be useful for people trying to locate an owner (if any) for a \"found\" cat. Is the homeless cat situation in the U.S. so bad that it is reasonable to assume that any unknown cat in your back yard is homeless? When I was growing up in a small town in the U.S., we knew all the cats in the neighborhood and who owned them. If an unknown cat happened to be walking through our yard, or showed up at the door for a treat, we just assumed that it was someone\'s pet taking a walk on the wild side. Now I live in Tokyo, where people often have indoor/outdoor cats, and even in an urban environment, it\'s pretty easy to distinguish pets from homeless and/or feral cats. I just hope that if people find a strange cat, they will make an effort to find the original owner, by putting up flyers, putting ads in newspapers, and asking at shelters if someone has been looking for a cat that meets the description of the cat who has been \"found.\" Since cats don\'t usually wander too far from home, going from door-to-door to ask your neighbors if they know who owns the cat is another idea. In any event, having been through the pain of losing a much-loved pet, I do hope that people will try to track down an owner for \"lost\" cats, especially if they seem clean, affectionate, and well-fed.

Comments

  • Amber SimmonAmber Simmon Member Posts: 2,703
    edited 26 April, 2009
    I make an effort regardless to locate an owner. Unless it's a feral cat. Then I think it's safe to assume it's not owned. I make more of an effort when it's obvious it had an owner, but I sill let local helters know I have it post some ads, talk to my neigbors and drop sme flyers around. I usually wait a week. if at that poin no ones claimed it, I start making vet appointments to get it spayed/neutered and all fixed up. I think if you're going to do it, you need to do it right. Why waste the money/time fixing up someones pet when you could be helping an actual homeless cat..
  • Jeanette CereskeJeanette Cereske San FranciscoMember Posts: 16,444
    edited 26 April, 2009
    My 2 cents. There are couple of simple things you do to keep your cat from being mistaken as a stray. Put a collar and tag (with your phone number) on all of your cats. If someone does find your cat, that will make it pretty obvious that she or he is not a stray. Also chip your cats and be sure to update your records when you move. Both of these should be done even if they are indoor only cats. All of us have heard many stories of indoor only cats escaping for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is due to a door or window being left open but what about natural disasters, fires etc. So many of the Katrina cats were not chipped which made it impossible to reunite them with their owners after they had been rescued and sent to shelters in other parts of the country. The last time a stray showed up at my house he was not wearing a collar. I contacted the pound, (no reports of missing cats in my neighborhood) and looked for flyers in my neighborhood (there were none). I also took him to the vet to see if he had a chip which he did not. If he had stuck around I would have kept him but he left after about a month.
  • edited 26 April, 2009
    We are indoor kitties for the most part. Miss Drama Queen Belle is allowed into the backyard, but only because she\'s such a homekitty, she never wanders out of it. We are all chipped just in case some silly human is just careless enough to allow us to escape. But Mom still worries that since we are a fairly unique looking bunch with all our pretty spots, whoever might find us would be sorely tempted to keep us without checking for ownership.
  • Lissa NicholsonLissa Nicholson SydneyMember Posts: 1,562
    edited 26 April, 2009
    The shelter I foster for gets lots of calls about this. The answer they give is that legally in Queensland you must make active attempts to find an owner for at least two weeks. You have to have the kitty scanned for a microchip, place ads in the paper and on the radio, put fliers up, and provide the shelter with a photo and description incase the person comes looking. After the two weeks us up and providing there has been no answer to any of the attempts to find an owner, you can assume ownership of the kitty. I certainly understand your point. I hate the thought that someone could find one of my babies one day, and make no attempt to get them home.
  • Lauren FrancisLauren Francis Member Posts: 122
    edited 28 April, 2009
    I know what you mean, it scares me to think that if Spaz somehow got out that someone might keep him even though he was a stray when I got him. I admit I did not look for an owner but only because he had no coller, no microchip, was over a year and not neutered, was very tiny and dirty and starving and had fleas. So it was pretty obvious he had been out for quite a while. Now he is beautiful and shiney and the perfect weight and the love of my life!!!
  • Marta GasperMarta Gasper FairburyMember Posts: 636
    edited 28 April, 2009
    When I find a cat that is not neutered and cat is an adult I assume that a) cat has owner but owner can\'t or doesn\'t want to neuter him So first I get cat neutered then try to find owner. for 2 to 3 wks. After which cat is for adoption. Or b) that cat is a stray and same as above. I just consider important if cat is or not neutered at an age when it should be. A stray, specially a cat that hasn\'t been outside for years will look terrible. Grubby, sick maybe and it doesn\'t take long for fleas abd other parasites to take residence in his body. A stray is terrified and will meow, cry and make a racket. Because the outside world is foreign and they are not adapted to it. Ferals are very different; they keep a low profile, might look just right. Because outside is their world, it is more useful to escape silently than to let the world know there is a trapped cat there. So the only way to tell is by watchting for neutering. Then let people know you found that cat. Many people say they do rescue but if they don\'t list the cats as \'found\' it isn\'t rescue and that isn\'t ethical.
  • Valerie DurhamValerie Durham Member Posts: 8,724
    edited 28 April, 2009
    Well, I\'m glad to learn that the people who have posted so far are being responsible when they take in strays. I was just disturbed by some recent posts on the Answers Board, in which the questioners mentioned that the \"stray\" that had come to their door was friendly, clean, and obviously well-fed--and that they just scooped it up without trying to find an owner. When I was growing up, we used to have a few cats and dogs who made the rounds of the neighbors\' houses for a free treat--it\'s not that uncommon. And in those days, we always assumed that the cats and dogs were owned by someone--we usually knew who, too. Since I haven\'t lived in the States for 30 years, I feel rather chilled to get the feeling that any cat roaming around outside can be assumed, by some people, to be a stray, and therefore theirs for the picking. (That\'s another reason to make your cat an inside cat.) I have this mental image of American suburbia being taken over by strays and ferals. But, as several posters have written, it goes two ways. A responsible owner should microchip their cat and put on a collar with ID, whether the cat goes outdoors or not.
  • Monique ReeceMonique Reece CoronaMember Posts: 775
    edited 29 April, 2009
    When i found my mama lady, i was un-neutered but friendly. Also, my mama lady had seen me around the property before, but she didn\'t know if i belonged to somebody or not. And where we live there are a lot of foreclosures, so maybe i used to live with people, but then they left me:?. I didn\'t have fleas and my ears were pretty clean, so maybe i did used to have people. But there weren\'t any signs up looking for me, and there were no ads in the paper or on craigslist. So my mama took me in, and she went to the HOA meeting in her condos and announced that she\'d found me, and if i belonged to anybody, then too bad because she planned on keeping me. If anybody wanted me back, they\'d have to discuss it with her first. So now i have her and my 2 bros, Hunter and Munky, and i wreak havoc and destruction on everything in my path!
  • Valerie DurhamValerie Durham Member Posts: 8,724
    edited 29 April, 2009
    Purrsonally, I wouldn't like it much if one of my indoor only cats escaped or got lost in a disaster and the person who found it said "Finders keepers!"
  • Holly WareHolly Ware BirminghamMember Posts: 1,316
    edited 30 April, 2009
    I once lost my cat Gizzy for 2, maybe 3 weeks, she was 4 years old and on daily medication, I was beside myself, posters went up, the streets were searched, vets were informed, but nothing worked. Finally the little madam came strolling in, looking well fed and perfectly content. Then suddenly more posters went up, with photos of my cat!! Some lady had coaxed her into the house and kept her hostage, calling her Mrs Tiggywinkles, or something equally odd. We removed the posters and told the lady that our cat was fine and at home, and next time she found a "stray" she should have the microchip scanned before keeping it hostage. Just a note on the collars, some cats can develop a reaction to collars and can't wear them. One of my cats developed a chemical burn from a flea collar, and after that any collar we put on him would cause a skin problem.
  • Cassandra NoneCassandra None Member Posts: 406
    edited 30 April, 2009
    Well, let me be the Devil' s advocate here. I take in strays. However lately it's been I take in throw-aways. My 'hood had been extremely hard hit by the economic downfall. There are so may houses in foreclosure here it's scary. I'm known here for being a cat caregiver and quasi "catspert." I have been woken up several times to the sound screeching times and finding a dazed confused and scared cat in my driveway. One cat showed up and I had her scanned. She had a chip and when the registered owner what we got was, "Can she take care of her?" "Yes but...." Then a dial tone. None of the other show-ups aren't even posted as "Lost." If I hear a car, then I know the associated cat has been left with me for a reason so I don't pursue it. And as a rule the others that show up are starving or beaten up and I don't pursue that too hard either. If I don't see local posters or something on petfinder.com or craigslist.com I let it go. For the record, I have nothing ill to say about those folks that leave their cats with me. I'm a known item, a caregiver, not a cat killer. I don't turn in or turn away any cat for any reason and if it can't live with my feral clan, I find it a safe home. Period. And I keep in regular contact with the folks that take in these cats, pics demanded and delivered. Double period. No, I don't bend over backwards to find out if the cat is lost. I just take it as a given that's been abandoned readjusting to a new lifestyle or is a true feral. Yes, I know there is a difference and I can tell the difference. I'm just making a broad statement. Anywho, that's me.
  • Monique ReeceMonique Reece CoronaMember Posts: 775
    edited 30 April, 2009
    Yeah, my mama lady, she had a little guilt over keeping me. But she did look for lost pet ads and posters, and she did announce that she found me. And nobody claimed me. And, like i said, there are a lot of foreclosures in our area, and the local shelters are bursting with left-behind kitties and doggies. But we live on a busy street, and mama has seen too many kitties who didn't know to look both ways before crossing that street. So she knew that if i did have a person, and if that person came to get me, then that person would get an earful-- starting with the lack of neutering, continuing with the lack of collar, and ending with how could they let me roam that busy street by myself. But nobody ever called or came to get me.
  • Lissa NicholsonLissa Nicholson SydneyMember Posts: 1,562
    edited 1 May, 2009
    Just a note of caution, perhaps it is different in other states and America, but in Queensland, you have a legal responsibility to advertise that you have found the cat. This is in part to protect the finder. Even in the event of a cat being thrown on your lawn in the middle of the night, there is nothing to stop the same people coming back a week/month/year later, or another member of the family coming straight away, to alledge that you have stolen the cat. If you can show proof in the form of a newspaper ad or a flier that you tried to find the owner, it acts as your defence. Just as an example, I know of an incidence where a man came to the shelter to surrender his cats when it was bursting at the seams, he showed proof of ownership in vet bills and photographs, and still agreed to leave them when told forcefully that the cats would be euthanised at once if he left them there (it's a horrible truth in an over-utilised kill shelter with little resources and no no-kill shelters in the city). He refused to follow any other routes such as trying to re-home them privately or through a vet, and insisted on leaving them there, signed all the paperwork, and left. The next day, his wife turned up demanding the cats back. For obvious reasons, that couldn't happen. I'd just hate to see a Catster get in trouble when they were just trying to do the right thing.
  • Valerie DurhamValerie Durham Member Posts: 8,724
    edited 1 May, 2009
    As I haven\'t lived in the States since I graduated from college, and since I was raised in a small suburban town in the \'60s and \'70s, I have no first-hand experience with what seems to be an absolute deluge of feral and homeless cats in the U.S. Actual statistics seem hard to come by; the one Internet article I could find seemed to indicate that shelter numbers had gone down in the \'70s when spay/neuter became the norm. Yet present-day shelters seem to be filled with cats on death row, and people (including animal control people and ordinary citizens) often seem to think that cats wandering about outside need rescuing or capture. I am not being entirely naive here. In the \"good old days,\" Fluffy had a litter, Fluffy\'s owners put an ad in the paper, and people who wanted a kitten contacted them...except that the reality was that if Fluffy\'s litter didn\'t find homes, or Fluffy was just having too many litters, Daddy would put them in a sack one night and throw them into the river. Still, although the last time I was in my hometown was in 2004, I saw few cats roaming our yard, and the ones I saw were known to my family. The fact that some people seem to think that any cat who roams about outside is fair game for \"rescuing\" seems to be a rather exaggerated response to me. What I would like is figures on the cat explosion population, how it relates to the spay/neuter movement (I suspect that more cats may be in shelters now because Daddy no longer throws unwanted kitties into rivers), and how the feral cat population now compares with that of thirty years ago (realizing that \"feral\" was a word that was not much used then, as far as I know; \"alley cats\" was the preferred term). There is much rhetoric on this subject, but a dearth of readily available statistical information. If someone could provide me with a link to the history of homeless/loosely-owned cats, with numbers, I would be very thankful.
  • Julie HopperJulie Hopper West ChicagoMember Posts: 106
    edited 1 May, 2009
    I took in a stray or feral (not sure which one applies) back in January, just before the temp. was predicited to go down to double digits BELOW zero. Prior to that, this cat had been eating at one of my buffets that I have on the property for any poor soul that needs a full belly. I noticed this kitty since July, and the cat was always TERIFIED of me, and I was lucky to even get a photo of her from inside my house while she was on the porch! As time went on, for some reason or other, this cat, out of all of the ones that eat, decided to take a chance on me. I set a box with insullation and polar fleace blankets outside and I witnessed the cat sleeping there. Once the cat would let me pet her and then even pick her up briefly, I knew it was time to act. She even started scratching on the front door to come in. I got her to go to the back and in the basement. I had to use the basement as I had my Shadow battleing cancer, and I couldn\'t risk his health. Anyway, because of her behavior in the beginning, and the fact that she had the ear tipped, like a TNR cat, I assumed that she was actually feral. Yesterday at the vet, there was no chip. We do have people that insist on letting their cats out to roam, in my area, even though there are coyotes in the area!! I have come to know these cats, as well as the ferals that come around a lot, and tend to keep an eye out for them. I even grow a LARGE catnip bush as a welcome! So I think if you know your area, and make SURE the cat has no home (they stay around for quite a while and don\'t go somewhere to slep at night,) then you can tell if they have a home or not. If someone delibrately let a cat out at night when it is below zero, sorry you don\'t deserve a cat!!!
  • Valerie DurhamValerie Durham Member Posts: 8,724
    edited 1 May, 2009
    I agree with you. My childhood cat would go out in the snow for around 10 minutes, and come back looking extremely put out for having been \"put through\" that \"experience.\" Until their deaths, my parents had a \"loosely owned\" cat who lived down the street, but spent his days at my parents\' house. But he went home at night, and my parents knew who he belonged to. But my question remains--what are the statistics regarding feral/loosely-owned cats now as opposed to 20-30 years ago? I consider shelter cats the equivalent of humans on death row. Has this situation changed for the better or worse?
  • Amber SimmonAmber Simmon Member Posts: 2,703
    edited 1 May, 2009
    Purg ran outside during a winter storm and didn't come home for a week. I put up signs, let my neighbors know and offered a reward. I thought he had died. I tought he got locked in a shed during the storm and that he was stuck in there. So I would hope that people wouldn't make assumptions and not give me a call just because they thought I might have tossed him outside. That's not your place to assume and it's illegal to do in the first place. If someone had done that to Purg and I found out, there would be heck to pay. I don't like it when people steal from me.
  • Annalisa Conserti-JonesAnnalisa Conserti-Jones Member Posts: 5,234
    edited 2 May, 2009
    To return to the original queery: if a cat is neutered/spayed, friendly and looks clean and well fed, chances are that the owner might be looking for kitty. It is illegal, and just plain unneighborly to assume s/he is a throwaway kitty and keep it without asking anyone. It is theft. Some of you have chimed in with stories about cats who were starving and looked clearly abandoned. That's not what Leila was talking about. She was talking about a cat who looks well loved, but might not have a collar or anything. I think I have a general idea of the kind of queery in the answer section that prompted her visceral response. But here's how I'd like to illustrate my point. Both my cats are indoor only, well fed and cared for. They're the closest thing I have to children (and even should I eventually have kids, I will still think of my cats as my kids). Neither can wear a collar, because the youngest one has a fabric fetish and she has eaten both her collar and her big bro's collar in the past, with one of the escapades in question requiring costly removal by a vet specialist. So unless they are traveling with us (it has happened in the past, and it will happen again), our cats do not wear collars, though both of them are microchipped. I do my darndest to make sure they do not go outside, and mostly they don't even care to. But accidents can happen: just this week, the younger one figured out how to exploit an improperly closed door and wandered out very briefly. It took maybe 5 seconds at most for me to notice the problem and coax her back in (she was curious probably, but as soon as she saw my face and heard me yelp in panic, she got scared and ran between my legs and right back inside). It was a freak occurrence, and I hope it never happens again. That said, let's pretend for a second that I had not noticed immediately. Suppose she had wandered on out and "befriended" the first neighbor she saw, who promptly picked her up within five minutes of seeing her and took her inside, never inquiring to anyone in my building if they had lost a kitty. That person would have been committing theft (I would dare say 'abduction' but cats are not legally children), pure and simple. I also wouldn't appreciate that person to announce she had found a cat by saying "I found this cat, and I want you all to know I'm going to keep it". Granted, a "like heck you will" shouting match would have ensued, but I would not appreciate having to fight someone tooth and nail to have my cat returned to me. I like to believe that if the tables were turned, I would not keep someone else's much loved cat despite how personable he or she was. It would just be wrong. There is a substantial difference between lost cats, and stray and/or abandoned cats. Even shelters recognize that, which is why most of them allow up to 72 hours for a cat owner to claim his/her pet before that pet is processed as a stray/adoptable cat. I think good samaritans should allow the same possibility, especially if the cat they found does not look neglected or abandoned.
  • Grace McLeanGrace McLean Member Posts: 406
    edited 2 May, 2009
    When my Mommy found me, I had a collar and an old rabies tag but did not seem to be well cared for. She wanted to keep me, so she called the office of the vet listed on the rabies tag. They gave her my address. Momma went and talked to my owner. She was an older lady and she told Mommy to keep me and that she already had too many pets. This made Momma feel better about keeping me because she knew my other family could not care for me properly. I was allowed to roam outside with no current vaccinations, and I had a horrible mouth abcess. My owner told Momma she could not afford to take me to the vet and so my Mommy said she would do it. Now I am in indoor kitty with lots of food and water and toys and more attention than I know what to do with!
  • Alexis McCabeAlexis McCabe Member Posts: 942
    edited 3 May, 2009
    another good reason to have your pet microchipped. in the event the cat does get out and someone scoops it up and claims its there.. well.. u can seriously get the law into it and prove its not! no "he says she says"
  • terri echolsterri echols kalamazooMember Posts: 4,758
    edited 17 May, 2009
    has there been a feral/stray population explosion?:-k from personal observation, i would have to say yes, at least in the states i've lived in (alabama, tennessee, now michigan). i've always been the pied piper of animals, especially cats. growing up in semi-rural alabama (an unincorporated township, which has since become a developed subdivision) a stream of peripatetic creatures continually trailed me home. if they seemed friendly and needy, plaintively asking for help, we would generally take them to our vet. there was no internet in the seventies, but the area vets knew to call in to each other when someone brought in a wanderer. and if no one claimed the critter, the vets would typically keep them in their office until they could find a home. in the case of ferals, we followed the same general procedure, except we wooed them for awhile with cheap cat food until we could safely nab them and take them to our vet, who would care for them until they found a home. the vets were able to do this because there wasn't a horde of homeless animals, just a steady stream. as the human population grows denser, so does the pet population. this is part of the problem...that and the fact that the pet population grows exponentially faster if the feral animals have found a likely spot to colonize. there are of course more vets than there once were too...but not enough for them to be able to keep up with this sort of increase. i haven't been able to offload a feral or stray to a vet's office in well over a decade-and the vet in alabama who was so helpful has started asking my MOTHER for help fostering or finding homes from time to time, instead of the other way around. (she no longer can, but the last cat that wandered up to our house she adopted herself.) it's not just numbers. it used to be SO much easier to find a home for a cat. i lucked out big-time with a kitten i rescued in the late nineties-jazz storm wound up going to a home for mentally disabled men, and became something of a cross between therapy pet and princess of the known universe.:)) but i had to hold onto her for almost three months. the thing is, i was able to hold onto her until i found a home i approved because i was living in a house, rented from a landlord who didn't care how many pets we had. this is the problem i've been running into time and again, and it's the reason for the new horizon feral squadron's existence-more people rent than they used to, and pet policies have become downright draconian. the place where i live (new horizon village) changed their pet policy three or four years ago (before i ever moved here). the new rule was that not only were NO new pets to be brought in, but even people who already had pets could only have ONE. now, if you have multiple animals-and many cat people have more than one cat-who do you pick? especially when the local shelter is a dicey proposition. what most of them did was keep one inside (they took pictures of the cat or dog or bunny or whatever that you had, so you couldn't rotate them or hide one or whatever) and let the others be outside cats. or dogs...but we have very few surviving outside dogs, because the rule is no outside animals off-leash. if a complex employee sees a dog off-leash they call animal control. the cats, though...well, you can call animal control, but cats don't really come when called. they seem to get street-smart faster than dogs, probably because they're solitary hunters not pack animals. so dozens of cats became outside cats. some were unaltered. cats, being cats, proliferated enthusiastically...and here we are, because pet parents are at the mercy of a pet policy that changed AFTER they'd signed the lease. some of you have heard my rant before, about the new horizon feral squadron and the cats that don't exist. not going to go into a diatribe here, just click on the 'my posts' on this box and you'll get the story...though some details i only learned recently, but i think most of them are in this post. my point is: yes, there has been a population explosion. i believe i've stated the factors that probably created it, and it's not exclusively failure to spay/neuter-more people alter their cats now than they did when i was a kid, and still, it's happening. human population density leads to pet population density. but pets breed more prolifically-most humans don't have litters. more animals, fewer homes, yes. but then add in the fact that now more people rent their homes than own them, and pet policies have become stricter as time has gone on. there's a bottleneck. as for whether it's a problem...yeah, i'd say it's a problem. a tragedy? i wouldn't go that far. imagine the life of a pampered housecat, then imagine the life of a feral who's found a good ecological niche. now imagine the life of a person in the middle or upper-middle class, then imagine the life of a person living on welfare who can afford no luxuries but can usually get adequate food and clothing and shelter. (i don't compare the life of a homeless person with the life of a homeless animal who did not LOSE their home. if the animal is a feral who has found a good niche, then they are eating more or less adquately and have found a sheltered area.) the life of these animals could be much better, yes. they would be under less stress and much safer if they had happy homes and were getting good care and medical treatment. and the life of the person on welfare or living below the poverty level for some other reason would be much better if they had more resources and social support. they would be less stressed, physically and mentally, their health would be better and their life satisfaction would be greater. i myself am one of those people. i identify very strongly with the feral cats that i do my best to do whatever i can for. but i don't pity them or think they are living lives that are 'nasty, brutish and short'. i just think that this is what happens when there is more demand than supply, more need than there are resources. and like me, the feral cat squadron survives and finds joy in each day along with the stress and the fear. (i gave up despair for Lent) not that they don't tug at my heartstrings, especially the ones who seem to KNOW they're missing something. and not that i don't think there is a place in this world for those who rescue creatures who inhabit the underclass and the fringes-whatever species those creatures happen to be. i just don't think it's a tragedy. :?
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