Cats have surprisingly large territories: areas of land that they consider to be ‘theirs’ and that they may defend against invasion by other cats. A cat could live several hundred yards or even further away from the places it likes to roam at night or during the day when its owners are out at work.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, many people find that they have regular cat visitors to their garden or on their street that they know do not belong to their neighbours. If the cat lacks a collar then people sometimes assume that the cat is a stray and may even start to leave food out for it. In some instances this can lead to cats becoming obese as they eat breakfast at their real home and then brunch, lunch, tea and dinner at other peoples’ homes!
Yet there are plenty of genuine stray cats that cat protection and cat rescue charities are needed to help every day. Those strays might have been abandoned or might have become lost in an unfamiliar area.
What should you do if you find a stray cat? First of all, if it is injured then call the RSPCA and ask for their help. They will probably direct you to a local vet (and may ask that you take the cat there if you have transport – if not, they will try to arrange a collection as soon as possible). They will take care of the vet bills, thanks to the generosity of their donors, and will collect the cat and take it to their cat rescue centres after the cat has recovered.
If the cat is healthy though, before you phone cat rescue or cat protection charities you should take it to your local vet if possible to see if it has a microchip. If it does not, then take a photograph of the cat and make up some ‘Found’ posters to stick up in local shops, vets or post offices (you will need permission). Add your telephone number and ask that anyone who knows the cat get in touch.
The RSPCA even has a downloadable Found poster on its website, as well as printable collars (that you can attach to the cat, if it will let you, with your phone number and query about whether it belongs to someone).
You can also call local cat charities and veterinary surgeries to ask whether anyone has reported a lost or missing cat that fits the description of the one you have found. There is no national database of missing pets used by everyone, so you may need to make a few phone calls. You could also check out Pets Located online, and your local Cats Protection volunteers.
After all of this, if you cannot find the owner and the cat still appears to be stray, then you could decide to keep the cat (after 10 days) if you are willing and able to care for it. Or you could ask the RSPCA or other local cat protection organisations for help in rehoming it. If you keep it … give it a collar or, better yet, have it microchipped.