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

You’ve walked outside with your morning cup of coffee, and a healthy adult 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 adult 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 adult cat to stay where you found it 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.
  • Investigate. Place a paper collar (using this template) on the cat. You may discover that the cat has a home nearby, or you could use this method to definitively determine that the cat is in need of your help.
  • Supervise. Wait at least a day or two before feeding a healthy looking cat (you’ll avoid encouraging other cats to move in). Remember: Cats in good body condition likely have access to food as of very recently and are very unlikely to actually be lost.
  • 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 or looks unhealthy? What if you’ve found a kitten without a mother present?

  • Call us at 503-585-5900, ext. 300. Leave us a message with your name and a good number to reach you and one of our pet resource specialists will be in touch as soon as possible. 
  • 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. Some kittens are found outside without their mothers. 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. Oregon 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 completed all of these steps and have not had any luck reuniting the cat with their family, the finder can visit the Rehome A Pet page and submit a Cat Personality Questionnaire. We will be in contact as soon as possible to discuss whether we have the resources available to accept the cat into our shelter. 

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