Tips for helping cats in your neighborhood

Before I got involved with animal welfare, I used to think to bring an animal to the shelter was the solution. The cat gets off the streets and is adopted and everyone gets a happy ending! Too bad it’s not as simple as that. And did I get an education in the last 5 years I’ve been involved with Project MEOW. Yes, if I take the cat to a shelter or rescue, he/she is off the streets. But many times, that only shifts the responsibility for the cat from me to an already overburdened system.

Let’s talk county shelters. These organizations are required to accept ALL the animals that are brought in. And there is a monster in the room: public shelters HAVE to euthanize for space – they simply have no other option. So yes, the cat would be off the streets for the day or maybe the week, but that doesn’t guarantee a happy ending.

What about private rescues? They’re probably better funded and not required to euthanize for space… right You’d be surprised at the different standards of care that exist from rescue to rescue. While rescues seem like they’re constantly pulling heroic feats by saving death-row kitties or dogs, the truth is that those efforts are often only possible because of private donations (and sometimes grants). Those are unreliable and can come and go. For small groups, it’s usually a losing battle trying to balance checkbooks. Depending on what IS in the bank, the amount of care a group can afford to give to animals in their care differs.

If you are wondering, Project MEOW cats are in foster homes for a reason. Our fosters provide the food, litter, and love so that Project MEOW can use whatever funding we have to cover extraordinary medical needs and the costs associated with TNR. Everyone who works with Project MEOW is an unpaid volunteer to help maximize the impact of our funds. And we have an innovative partnership with PAWS to help reduce our medical expenses and place our cats in loving families. Spoiler: we’ll be talking about this in a future post!
Before we get depressing, let’s talk about what you CAN do when you see a cat on the street and you’re concerned.

Tip #1: Leave ear-tipped cats alone. These cats have been TNR-ed and are of varying degrees of friendliness. If you’ve fallen in love with one because he won’t leave you alone and OMG that face, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask neighbors if someone is caring for him/her. Or, take a photo and reach out to local animal groups to ask if this is someone’s colony cat because
you’d like to adopt him/her. Also try being there around breakfast and dinner time to see if anyone feeds the kitty. (And you can bribe kitty with food too.)

Tip #2: ALWAYS ask for a microchip scan. If you’ve picked up a kitty and are wondering if it belongs to someone, go for the microchip scan. Every public shelter and 99.9% of vet offices are equipped with a scanner and most will scan a cat for free. Make sure it’s a full body scan since microchips can migrate. If they are not super busy, ask for them to scan twice, just to be sure.

Tip #3: Be honest about where you picked up the cat. As rescues and county shelters start to recognize that “aggression” can be due to stress or fear, they are moving towards releasing cats back where they were picked up whenever possible. By being honest about where you found the cat, you just maximized the chance of a colony cat or an indoor-outdoor kitty returning home to his/her territory and probably a worried caretaker.

Tip #4: Take photo(s) of the cat and spend 5-10 minutes posting on social media and neighborhood listservs. You never know who is out there frantically scrolling, trying to find Mr. Boo who dashed out the door late one night. And if you can, make posters with the cat’s photo and where you’ve taken the cat so an owner walking the streets can get there immediately and reclaim his/her cat. Be aware that certain public shelters have a “hold period” after which the cat is at risk for being euthanized so the sooner you start posting, the better.

Tip #5: Offer a donation to help with the cost of caring for the kitty. Sometimes foster homes can only take an additional cat with help buying food and supplies or help covering medical bills.

Tip #6: Follow up with the kitty! Most places don’t mind if you “check-in” on how the cat you dropped off is doing. Personally, Project MEOW welcomes the check-in. And we’d be absolutely thrilled if you offer to spread the word about kitty. Even a simple “hey, picked up this lovely kitty from the streets and she is now with Project MEOW – hit them up if you want to foster/adopt the sweetheart” is sometimes enough for the kitty to get adopted. Small effort, big impact.

All of this applies for cats who are healthy looking. If the cat looks like he/she is suffering (bleeding, walking around confused, rail thin, matted fur, etc.) forget the debate between public vs. private rescues. Contact them all and see who can respond – your priority is getting the cat help RIGHT NOW. Yes, the cat may be euthanized later, but if you don’t do something right now, he/she may die a slow and agonizing death. Bring the cat to a vet, get them help and a diagnosis. And then go through tips #1-6. The big cities have low cost clinics that will do a preliminary examination of the kitty if money is tight.

And like always, please foster/adopt/volunteer/donate whenever possible. Be vocal about your support. Animal welfare is a community effort: Join us and be part of that community.