Found a cat outside? Here’s what to do.

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You’ve walked outside with your morning cup of coffee, and a healthy cat is sitting on your back porch to greet you with purrs. What should you do next? 

Chances are, your game plan once looked like this:

  1. Find a cat carrier.
  2. Scoop up the cat.
  3. Bring it to the shelter. 

We’d like to change that. 

The best way to help a healthy cat you find outside is to support it and reconnect it with its family (just as you’d want your neighbors to help your cat if it was outside).

What you should do right now

We want a healthy cat to stay where you found it for two weeks while you look for its family. (That family is probably searching for the kitty, too!).

You should:

  • Assess. Does the cat have an identification collar with tags or some other way you can contact the family? (If so, do that!) Does the kitty seem healthy? Is the cat in a safe space to rest until its family is found? 
  • Photograph. Take a good, clear picture of the whole cat, showing any unusual identifying markings.
  • Go online and do these four things: 
  • Create flyers. Use templates like this one to make flyers about the cat you’ve found. Post those flyers around your neighborhood so families looking for their cat on foot can connect with you. 
  • Walk. Take a stroll through your neighborhood to post those flyers. Aim to cover a four-block radius around the spot in which you found the cat. As you work, stop and ask if anyone knows where the cat you found came from.
  • Celebrate. Follow these steps, and you are likely to reunite the cat with its family. When you find the cat’s owner, congratulate yourself for helping your neighbor’s cat. 

What should you do if you think the cat is in danger? And what should you do if you’ve been searching for the cat’s home for two weeks with no luck?

  • Call us at 503-585-5900, ext. 300. Leave us a message with your name and a good number to reach you. We will call back to set up an intake appointment or otherwise assist you. 
  • Explain. When we call you, tell us about the cat as honestly as you can. Be prepared to describe how healthy it seems, where you found it, and when you found it. The more information we have, the more equipped we are to make the decision that is best for that cat.

Lost cats = family friends 

Why aren’t we taking in every friendly, healthy stray cat found in the community? Let us explain.

Some cats found outside are sick, injured, or abandoned. They need help. And we need to save space and resources to help sick cats. The best way to do that is to keep healthy, safe, lost cats out of the shelter. 

Many of the cats people find in their neighborhoods aren’t in need of immediate help. Instead, they are:

  • Beloved pets that spend either some, or all, of their time outside. 
  • Cats who went on a walkabout on one very specific day. They’ve never been outside before, and they’re desperate to go home again. They’re just not sure how to do it.

Studies like this one and this one and this one show that cats heading to the shelter rarely see their families again. Instead, these pets endure stressful stays in the shelter. 

When shelters are crowded with cats, illnesses spread. Formerly healthy cats found in the community can get sick inside a crowded shelter.

And while lost cats may join new families, that new family isn’t necessarily better than the one they left behind. And the original families miss their cats and hope they will return.

Animal shelters are changing

As the research about reunification becomes clearer and clearer, shelters are responding. Large organizations like Maddie’s Fund and Best Friends are encouraging shelters to change their procedures so fewer beloved, but lost, pets are separated from their families forever. Willamette Humane Society is part of that change. 

That does not mean we’re not here to support people that find cats in their community! We will:

  • Treat. We are here to help any cat that’s sick, frail, or injured. These cats likely need support within the shelter, and we’re here to provide it. 
  • Scan. If you’d like to have a found cat scanned for a microchip and your veterinarian can’t help, we can step in. 
  • Promote. Our Lost/Found Cat page is built for finders to connect with owners. We’ll help anyone fill out a report for an animal. And we can assist in printing flyers, as needed.
  • Support. If finders need help with food or supplies until owners are found, we will assist on a case-by-case basis. 
  • Connect. If finders have done all they can to connect the cat with the proper owners and they’ve had no luck, we can place the cat up for adoption. 

Take advantage of any of these services by calling us at 503-585-5900, ext. 300. 

Thank you for being an important part of our cat-loving community! If you have questions about this policy, please contact us at info@whs4pets.org