When caring for a feral cat colony and performing Trap-Neuter-Return, you are likely to encounter cats that 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. 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.
- 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 binders 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 Craig's List, as well as national listings on www.petfinder.com/classifieds/classifiedhop.html, www.lostandfound.com, www.anypet.com, or www.pets911.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.
Once you feel certain that you cannot reconnect the cat with her home, it’s time to help find her a new one.
- Prepare the cat for adoption. To increase your chances of finding a home and the likelihood of success in the new home, we strongly encourage you to have the cat neutered and vaccinated before placement in the adoptive home.
- Create an attractive flyer and post them in as many places as possible. Flyers are inexpensive and often highly effective, especially when they include a good color photo and description of the cat. Include a striking color photo of the cat, looking relaxed and straight at the camera. The photo should focus on the cat’s face and body. Creatively describe the cat’s coloring, size, approximate age, positive personality traits, habits, and some of the things that make her special. Give the cat a name, and explain the name if it is applicable.
Keep the flyer short and only include relevant information about the cat—not what you have done for the cat, etc. It should also be positive in tone, even when describing restrictions or potential negatives, (including health problems, disabilities, age, or behavior quirks), which should also be included. Cut the bottom of the page into pull-off strips, so that people can rip off your name, phone number, and email address.
Put the flyer up anywhere you can; a great place is on community bulletin boards. Other places to consider: coffee shops, supermarkets, veterinarian offices, health clubs, pet supply stores, religious institutions, and libraries. Pass them out to your friends and family and ask them to post them in their neighborhoods or offices as well.
- Contact local rescue organizations and breed-specific rescue groups. If your stray cat seems to be a recognizable breed, such as a Siamese or Persian, research breed rescue groups online and ask for their help. They may be able to place the cat right away, as they often have waiting lists. Although you do not want to bring the cat to a local shelter, these organizations may still be able to offer other assistance. Your local shelter or rescue groups can help by allowing you to participate in one of their adoption events, post on their online pet listings, or put up a flyer on their bulletin boards. Some have low-cost neuter clinics, as well. Find them online by searching by your zip code on www.petfinder.com or www.pets911.com. Or phone 1-888-PETS911.
Also, virtually every Petsmart and PETCO store in the country has local rescue groups that conduct cat and dog adoptions in their stores.
- Place an ad online or in your local paper. Write a creative, punchy ad and post it in your local paper in print and electronically.
Sample Classified Ad Text: Orange tabby with great personality ready to steal your heart! Simba is a 3-year-old neutered male. Gets along well with other cats. Up to date on all shots. Call Susan at 301-555-1234. Adoption fee required.
To discourage dishonest people, do not say “free to a good home.” Indicate that there is a fee to adopt. Post ads online on www.petfinder.com, www.craigslist.org, and in the other online sources listed above.
- Pass it on. You give the cat her best chance of being adopted by telling as many people as you can. Share adoption information in a company email listserv, in newsletters for your neighborhood or place of worship, at meetings of organizations or clubs, when you visit your veterinarian, and when you go to dinner with friends. Ask those people to do the same thing.
- Be creative and persistent. Creativity and persistence are usually rewarded. Think about the best kind of environment for the cat and explore all options. There are many animals needing homes at any one time, so finding a home can take some work. The key thing this cat has going for her is you. Stay positive. There are good homes out there.
- You are the cat’s best option for finding a new home. Some people think shelters or rescue groups would be best for placing the cat because they have experience, facilities, and screening guidelines. However, an individual, particularly one who knows the animal, can focus all of their efforts on that particular cat, provide the most information to prospective adopters, and screen for the appropriateness of a new home. Also, shelters or sanctuaries are often stressful for a cat. The shelter setting, no matter how nice, can bring on stress-related problems. Anxiety, aggression, and even illness are common, and these natural reactions may make adoption difficult or impossible. Lastly, remember that a shelter offers no guarantee on the cat’s life, and the cat could be killed.
- Ask questions before you meet. Once you start hearing from people, be prepared to screen potential adopters over the phone. Ask them questions to understand why they are interested in the cat, what kind of prior experience they have had with companion animals, and what sort of environment the cat will be in.
- Ask potential adopters to fill out an application. Alley Cat Allies follows certain guidelines for potential adopters, and you will want to decide on the things that are important to you. When a potential adopter contacts you, you may want to give him or her adoption guidelines, so that they will be aware of everything that being a cat owner entails. This will also be a way for you to screen adopters that may not be good candidates. Find a sample application online at www.alleycat.org. Some areas you should consider covering, both in the application, in the guidelines, and on the phone include:
- Spay and Neuter – If the cat is not already, ensure spay or neuter will be fulfilled post-adoption. You may want to consider getting the surgery done yourself before adoption.
- Don’t Declaw – Removing a cat’s claws is inhumane and painful. Make sure adopters agree to not declaw.
- Home environment and other residents – Confirm that the cat will be considered a member of the family who will share the house with everyone else, and not be confined or restricted to the outdoors.
Ask about children in the house. Young kittens are fragile and also playful, and so homes with children under six years of age may not be the best home for young kittens. Young children can severely injure a young kitten accidentally. Some cats are skittish around young children as well.
Ask the adopter if they have other cats or dogs, and if so, if they get along with other animals. Having animal companionship is sometimes important, especially for younger cats. Your cat may not like other animals; be certain of this so you can advertise this fact.
- Housing – Make certain that cats are allowed in rental or condo properties. Ask the adopter to provide documentation and their landlord's contact information so you can call and confirm that cats are permitted.
- Medical care – Talk to the adopter about potential veterinary care and make sure they have a veterinarian in mind. If they have had a companion animal before, ask for a veterinary reference. Ask the potential adopter what happened to their previous animals and if they have ever surrendered an animal to a shelter. These answers can tell you a lot about the person’s understanding of how to be a good cat guardian.
- Adoption fee – Charging a fee for the cat’s adoption can help you avoid dishonest people. A “free to good home” policy can attract people who will pass the cat on to research facilities or another horrible end.
- Trial period – You may feel more comfortable having a trial period so that the potential adopter can spend some real time getting to know the cat and you can visit to see how she is doing. During this time, either side can cancel the arrangement.
- Post-adoption – Ensure that the potential adopter will agree to follow-up calls or visits to the cat. Also consider requiring the adopter to return the cat to you (and not a shelter), in the event the cat must be given up.
In order to ensure all these requirements are met, make sure you put together an adoption contract that you and the adopter will sign once you have approved them.
Require a meet and greet. Once you are ready to move on to the next step with a potential adopter, set up a time to meet in person. Because cats are often uncomfortable when out of their normal surroundings, it is best to have the person come to you. If you live alone, make sure you have another friend there for your safety. For further knowledge about the potential adopter and his/her home life, you may also want to consider requiring a visit to their home.
The most important thing during the meeting is to closely observe how the person interacts with the cat, and vice versa. Ask them as many questions as you can. Ultimately, your instincts should steer your decision-making process. Don’t be afraid to recognize any doubts you are having and either address them with the person or cut the meeting short. But also be aware of the fact that not everyone will interact with the cat the way you would; that is normal—no adoptive home will replicate everything you do exactly. Remember, it is up to you to find the cat the best home possible.
Finalize the adoption. When you have found a suitable home, sign a contract with the adopter and collect the adoption fee. Make copies for you and the adopter. Set up a time to transfer the cat, and make sure you provide the new guardian with any of the cat’s medical records, as well as her toys and special food or treats. Be prepared to follow up and stay in touch.
And then let them bond. You will certainly miss the cat, but you should also be proud of a job well done. It took a lot of energy for you to find her a home, and you did it!
Finding adoptive homes takes time and creative effort, but it is not impossible. Thousands of grassroots groups and rescuers find homes for animals every day by following the steps above, being persistent and diligent, and remaining positive.