What Should You Do With a Stray Cat?

By Lena De Tar

Clipped Ear Cat
Unless you own this cat, please don’t give it food!

Dear Eliot Newsletter,

There’s a strange cat in my yard. What do I do with it?

Animal Samaritan

Dear Animal Samaritan,

Thank you for looking out for our feline friends! What to do with this cat depends a on its disposition, its identification, and your intentions.

There are three kinds of cats that wander our neighborhoods. The first is an owned cat that is allowed to go outdoors. Usually these cats are well fed, have a collar, a microchip, and sometimes a bell. Owners let their cats go outside for a variety of reasons. Responsible owners will put “I am an outside cat” on their pet’s tags, just to let others know not to feed them or call animal control. In Multnomah County, cats are allowed to be “at large,” and most of these guys find their way home without trouble, so there is no obligation to take one of these roaming kitties anywhere.

The second kind of cat is a feral cat. These creatures are, in a word, wild. They are not acclimated to human contact, will run away from any person approaching, and bite and scratch if cornered. They may be friendly to your own cats, however. If the feral cat has a “caretaker,” the cat will usually have an ear with the tip cut off, indicating that they have been vaccinated and spayed or neutered. In Eliot neighborhood, most of this happens through the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon (FCCO). Feral cats are generally healthy and do well for themselves if left alone, eating food left by concerned citizens and hunting rodents and occasional birds.

The third kind of cat is a stray cat. These cats may have once belonged to someone but wandered too far from home, or, they may have been a feral kitten that was socialized but never formally adopted. Most of the time, these cats do not have an owner, a collar, or microchip, but they may have an ear tip showing that they have been spayed or neutered. They often live off the kindness of others, sampling food from several neighborhood porches and yards.

So, now that you have identified the disposition of the cat in your yard, what do you do?

That really depends on how much energy, time, money and attention you want to invest.

Does the feral or stray cat have an ear tip?
If not, and you would like to help decrease the number of roaming and feral cats in the neighborhood, help preserve our native bird population, and have some time to invest, contact the FCCO. The wonderful employees and volunteers there will help you trap, neuter, and release the cat after surgery, for free.

Should you feed the cat?
Wrong question.

How do I get the cat to keep coming back?
Feed it.

Should you trap the cat and take it to the animal shelter?
Probably not. The Oregon Humane Society does not accept stray and feral cats, only owned cats that have appointments for relinquishment. Multnomah County Animal Shelter requests that cats be left to roam the neighborhood instead of being brought to the shelter. Any adult cat has a high likelihood of being euthanized in the springtime, a.k.a. “kitten season.” If the cat is not in immediate distress and is not a severe nuisance, please leave it where it is. It can live a full, happy, enriched life in our beautiful neighborhood, especially if it is spayed or neutered (see above).

What should you do with an injured cat?
If the animal is bad enough off that you feel immediate medical attention is necessary, please take it to a veterinarian. There are 5+ veterinary clinics in this part of NE. After hours, Dove-Lewis Veterinary Hospital in NW Portland is the only emergency clinic open. The veterinarian will take possession of the cat and make all the medical decisions necessary. Often, these cats end up being transferred to the Oregon Humane Society after a few days. If you want to be the one making the decisions, and caring for the cat after the initial visit, you will likely have to be the one paying the bill.

Should you bring the cat inside your home?
If you have found a neighborhood cat with no tags and would like to keep it as your own, there are a few hoops you have to jump through. First, you should take the cat to a local vet clinic or shelter and have it scanned for a microchip. The person who put the chip in the cat has first right of ownership. Second, file a “found pet” report with Multnomah county. Third— and I know this is outdated—publish the particulars of your found cat in a newspaper. After you have done all three of these steps and have waited 180 days for another owner to come forward, congratulations on your legally acquired new pet! Now, license it and keep it indoors so it doesn’t go into anyone else’s yard!

For more information on a variety of cat topics, or to volunteer to help our community cats,
please visit these resources:

Lena DeTar, DVM
Oregon Humane Society