It's a common scenario...a cat has been wandering into your garden for some days, or you've seen it frequently in the immediate area. Perhaps it keeps asking for food, or seems hungry at any rate. Is it a stray? And if so, what should you do about it? It seems like a nice cat; can you perhaps keep it? And if not, where should you take it? Here are some questions to ask, and advice on what to do in a situation like this?
The odds are that the cat has a home, perhaps very locally. Many cats are opportunists – they eat breakfast at home, then wander the streets in the hope of convincing someone that they need feeding. That way they get a second breakfast. Some cats even convince several people that they need feeding, every day. So if the cat appears well cared for, make it a paper collar, and write a message on it telling the real owner what is happening and asking him/her to call you. That way, you should be able to find out if the cat lives locally.
If you have done the above, and the cat is still around, the chances are that he doesn't have a home really close by. But he may have one somewhere else. Many cats escape, get lost, or jump out of cars. Some try to get back to an old home after their owner has moved house, and become disorientated. There are all sorts of possible scenarios. Such a cat may have an owner who is desperately searching for him, and who doesn't know where he is. This owner may only be a few streets away, or she could be across the country; it does happen.
You will be able to reunite this cat with its owner if it is microchipped, and now is the time to find out. All vets and rescue organisations are able to scan a cat and read its microchip if it has one, and then contact the owner if one is found, and they will not usually charge for this service. Please, please do this, and don't just decide to keep the cat as it appears to be homeless! There are frequently cases of cats being found by their original owners after being lost for several months or years; they had been microchipped, but someone else had taken them in and hadn't checked for a chip.
So now you have done all of the above, but you cannot find the cat's owner. Now you need to make a decision. If you do not have the time to try to deal with this cat, you will need to ask a local rescue organisation if they will take it in. Most of them have waiting lists, but they will probably be able to take in a stray cat if it is necessary. Your first port of call may be the RSPCA, local Cats Protection branch, or maybe a local rescue organisation.
However, maybe you are willing to try to find the cat's owner yourself, and look after the cat while you do so. If so, then follow the suggestions below....
You may already have done this when you took the cat to the vet to check for a microchip. But if the cat has been straying for very long, it is highly likely to have worms and fleas at the very least, So either treat it yourself, or ask the vet to do so. And if you haven't already done so, you will need to feed the cat, and make sure it has a bed and litter tray, as you will be looking after it at least for a short period.
Many cat lovers at this point decide that they will just keep the stray cat that they have found, particularly if it is a friendly cat and they are beginning to bond with it. Please don't do this! The cat may not be chipped, but he may still have an owner who loves him and wants him back, and you need to find out....
Start by searching locally. If you can, make posters, and put them up in nearby streets, preferably with a photo of the cat. Contact vets and rescue organisations, if you haven't already done so, as they often have lists of lost cats. And notify your local paper and local radio station if there is one, giving them the cat's description.
At the same time, or if nothing comes of the above, use social media and/or pet lost and found websites. Advertise the cat on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever sites you use, and ask people to share the posts. You can even create a free advert on our own Pets4Homes website. Then put the cat on the Animal Search UK website, and any others you know of, as there are now several of these. That way, you will reach as wide an audience as possible, and have most chance of reuniting the cat with its owner.
Hopefully by the above means you will find the cat's its owner. But if after a month the owner has not been found, you can probably assume that the cat has no owner, or not one who wants him anyway. So you might wish to keep him at this point, and if you do so, get him microchipped so that if he strays again, you will get him back.
I know all about this situation, as it happened to me nearly two years ago. A starving stray came into our garden, having been seen in the area for several days. We checked for a microchip, then fed him, and advertised locally and nationally. But no-one came forward, so we got him microchipped to us, and he became ours. He is now a healthy, happy member of our multi-cat household. We have also taken him to shows, and he has become an Imperial Grand Master Cat. But every so often, I still wonder about his former life, and where he started out....