April 4th marks World Stray Animals Day, a day to reflect upon those animals less fortunate than our pampered pets and ask ourselves what we can do to help stray animals. Stray animals are homeless through no fault of their own. Some were born in the wild; others have been dumped or are lost.
On this day, we can take the time to look at what we can do to help stray pets.
What is a stray?
Feral and stray both describe a homeless cat, but there is a difference. According to the Animal Welfare League, a feral is a domestic species which has been born in the wild. A stray is a domestic species which at some time was a pet but has been abandoned or lost. Other sources claim that a feral cat is any cat which cannot be handled by people due to poor socialisation.
For the sake of this article, we will use the word stray, which essentially means, a domestic species of animal who is homeless/living in the wild, which encompasses both feral and stray cats.
The lifespan of a stray cat is considerably shorter than that of a well cared for pet cat. Every day they face persecution and danger from disease, injury from cars, people, dogs, foxes and other cats, poisoning (deliberate or accidental), hunger and the elements.
So…what can we do to help stray animals?
Desex your pets:
The biggest and most helpful thing pet owners can do is, desex all pets. It is that simple. Kittens can safely be desexed as early as eight weeks, well before they reach sexual maturity and produce that accidental litter. If given the opportunity, siblings will mate with siblings, and parents will mate with offspring, cats aren’t fussy.
Children are our future, and along with responsible pet ownership is teaching future generations about compassion for those less fortunate than us, and educating them on the importance of desexing pets, and why.
It is up to all of us as a collective to do our part in reducing the number of kittens who are brought into this world.
Microchip your pets:
The next and very easy solution is to microchip your animals and keep your details up to date. Every day lost animals turn up in shelters with no form of identification or who do have a microchip, but the details are out of date.
What happens if you notice a cat hanging around?
It is hard to know if a single cat is homeless or not. I am a firm believer in community spirit; it is up to all of us to take steps if we see a cat we think may be abandoned or lost.
If possible, try to catch the cat, providing food can establish trust.
Even if you can’t catch the cat, take a photo and post on social media. Most communities have a Facebook page and/or a lost pets group. Contact local veterinarians and animal shelters in the area with a description of the cat. Somebody might be missing it.
If you can’t catch it, ask your local council or animal welfare group if they have the use of a cat trap. If successful, take the cat to a veterinarian to check for a microchip.
If you are unable to help, contact your local rescue group and ask them to step in. All it takes is one phone call which might change the life of a stray animal. All you have to do is watch some of the videos posted on the Hope For Paws (a rescue group in California) Facebook page to see just how their work changes the lives of so many pets.
Homeless cats quickly develop colonies. The more cats, the more difficult it becomes as cats begin to reproduce and the problem snowballs.
If you have some free time, contact your local shelter or stray animal welfare group and offer to help. There are so many ways we can offer our services:
- Feed homeless cats
- Foster cats and kittens
- Provide a skill (photography, social media, website design etc.) to volunteer groups
- Distribution of flyers
- Contact local shelters and donate blankets, towels, toys and soft animals
If you don’t have the time, donate to a worthwhile cause. Most shelters and welfare groups are screaming out for money to pay for food and veterinary costs. Every dollar counts.
One lady in my town is setting up a cake stall this weekend to raise funds for our local shelter. How good is that? You can help animals by baking a cake or eating one.
Summer and winter, in particular, can be hard, especially winter in cold climates that reach sub-zero temperatures in winter. Caring members of the public can help by giving shelter to homeless cats.
There are several options, such as providing dry and warm shelter for stray cats such as a large plastic container or cardboard box with a hole cut out and insulated with straw and/or warm blankets.
Other shelter options include under a porch, a large dog kennel, and an outbuilding such as a shed. Make sure there are no toxic chemicals that the cats can get into. Even chemical spills on the floor can be a hazard.
Feed stray cats:
Food is scarce for stray cats, and most are forced to scavenge. Leaving a good-quality food out for homeless cats can make life easier. Don’t leave food out for longer than 30 minutes as it will attract scavengers and insects. Establish a routine and feed the cat(s) at the same time every day.
Don’t forget to provide clean, fresh water too, especially in summer and in drought-prone areas.
Trap, neuter (and spay), and return:
Not all homeless cats respond to domestication, having had little or no socialisation with people. In this situation, the kindest thing to do is trap, desex, vaccinate and return to where they have been living (when practical).
Many people oppose TNR either due to the harm cats cause to local wildlife or the fact that these cats are released back into the wild to fend for themselves. It is possible to rehabilitate some strays and place them in a loving home. For others, the choices are euthanasia or re-release, hopefully under the watchful eye of volunteers who will continue to care for homeless cats and cat colonies.
A final word:
Always be kind, that is my life motto. It is a hard life living on the streets and is a problem caused by people. Cats haven’t chosen this life; they are the product of a throwaway society. Stray cats face a lot of stigmas, which is undeserved. Instead of blaming the cats, we can all look at how to help.
Compassion fatigue is an issue among cat rescuers, who can and do burn out. There is always room for society to step up and help take some of the pressure from those on the front line. As a cat lover, and I know you are if you are reading this article, remember that there are plenty of things we can do to help cats less fortunate. Even if we can’t be hands-on, we can offer our skills, our financial support or spread the word about the plight of stray animals. No matter how big or small, every little bit counts.
For additional information on how to care for stray cats, visit Alley Cat, which is an excellent source of information.
This page provides lots of ideas for building warm shelters for stray cats in winter.