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When caring for a feral cat colony and performing Trap-Neuter-Return, you are likely to encounter cats who are friendly even upon first meeting you. Stray cats act differently than feral cats—they tend to approach you more readily, vocalize more, and may look disheveled, as if they are not used to living on their own. (Learn more about how to tell the difference between a stray and feral cat.) A stray cat once had a home and is socialized to humans, but has become lost or abandoned. Follow these steps to either return her to her home or find her a new one.

1) Try to find the cat's home.

  • Check for a tag or microchip. If a cat has a tag, call any numbers and attempt to track down the guardian. The collar may only have a number for a veterinarian; a call there may help track down her home. A veterinarian or rescue group can also use a scanner to help you determine if the cat is microchipped.

  • Check local shelters and lost and found ads. Calling local shelters and animal pounds to let them know you are caring for a lost cat can yield results. Shelters and pounds are usually the first place guardians call when looking for their cat, and they keep lists to help match up callers. Make sure to ask if they have found pet or lost pet sections of their website or at the shelter in the form of beinders to search or post an entry. Be sure to check the shelter bulletin boards as well.

    Be advised that if you take the cat to an animal shelter, she may be killed. Always ask the shelter about their adoption procedures, typical duration of stay, and “euthanasia” policies. If you do turn over the cat, realize that  you may not be able to reclaim her if the guardian is not found.

    Check your local paper’s “lost” ads, in print and online. You may also want to check various online resources, including your local Craigslist, as well as national listings on www.lostandfound.com and www.anypet.com.
  • Spread the word. You can place your own “found” ad in the same places listed above—your local newspaper and online. Additionally, create a colorful flyer to post around the place you found the cat. Describe the cat’s coloring, fur length, location where she was found, and a photo if possible. Include your phone number and/or email.

    Be wary of dishonest callers. Ask callers to: describe their cat in depth; provide a reference, such as a veterinarian; send in advance or bring along a photo of the cat; and give you their name, address, and phone number. Leave out some information about the cat on your flyer to help you confirm the guardian’s story. 

Next Step: Publicize and promote the cat for adoption.