What Should Be Done with Friendly Abandoned or Lost Cats (and Who Should Do It)

Too many people want to give friendly abandoned or lost cats to a shelter, and yet the shelters are overly full. It is up to all of us to find homes for the ones in our own backyard. Our goal is to help people help themselves, to help people BE the solution instead of waiting for “someone” to solve it. Our seasoned experts weigh in.


What are your experiences and success stories?

I’ve had HUGE success with finding homes, but the part that stops most people is it is work. And somehow in our society, people want to be able to care, but not have to do the work. Unfortunately the few rescuers who are willing to do that get overwhelmed. While I’d rather see a cat go to a shelter than starve to death, most of the private shelters have too many requests and simply cannot take them all. While public shelters HAVE to take them, they then have to kill the cats to make space for more.

The answer is, in my opinion, “take care of the ones in your own backyard.” If EVERYONE did this, none of us would be overwhelmed and the cats would be taken care of and our community as a whole would benefit. A simple change in the sentence, from “Who can?” to “I can” and it’s a win for all. This handout details how I find homes for abandoned cats.  –Nancy

I think one thing to remember is patience when trying to find a home for a cat. So many people want it to happen right away, and oftentimes with very short notice. The hard part is holding the cat until a home is found.

Try to establish a relationship with some sort of pet supply store. They may allow you to host adoption events at the store. This can in turn bring in new customers for that store. Find a group that will allow you to post (or will post for you) on their Petfinder web site. –Janis

I see owned cats rehomed frequently by rescuers who don’t think they should go to a shelter. That is admirable ONLY if they have posted found cat flyers in the area, listed them as found at the local shelters, and advertised online on Craigslist and lost cat sites. That is a lot of work, but so is rehoming a cat.

Many people don’t think to look on Craigslist, Facebook, and other lost cat sites to find their missing cat. They just go to the shelters repeatedly. If their cat isn’t there, they figure they are gone forever and give up. If you leave the shelter out of the loop, these cats won’t be reunited with their owner.

It is easy to assume that a cat eating on a porch or at a feral feeding station is an abandoned or unowned cat, especially if that cat is thin or in poor condition. It might be, but it is just as likely to be a lost cat. They look the same!

While I wouldn’t recommend taking a shy or potentially unadoptable cat to a shelter where they could face euthanasia, they should absolutely be listed there. Personally, I’m not as concerned about friendly adoptable cats going to shelters, because those are the cats most likely to have owners out there looking for them and they are the most likely to be adopted if they don’t. But if someone can post the information at the shelter AND foster at the same time, that is BEST solution. Don’t leave the local shelter completely out of the loop.

Many people think that the higher frequency of cat abandonment is the reason that so few cats are reunited with their owners at shelters. They use that as a rationale to rehome rescued cats without considering that they could be lost. It is true that less than 5% of strays taken to shelters are reunited, but a huge part of the reason it is so low is that there are significantly more unowned cats than unowned dogs in the United States.

It is impossible to know the numbers, but many sites estimate that 50% of cats are feral/unowned. Although unsubstantiated, it is a reasonable guess in my opinion. Many of those unowned cats end up at shelters and are deemed unadoptable.

I think there are two additional explanations for the low reunification rate of cats at shelters.

  • The first is that cats tend to hide and be less visible when lost, and they are less likely to approach a stranger for help. So the time between a cat being lost and ending up at a shelter is often so long, that owners have given up on them before they even get there.
  • The second explanation is that people often decide to keep the friendly, adoptable stray that shows up in their neighborhood. According to the ASPCA web site, more than 35% of cats are acquired as strays. Some of these are lost pets that had loving homes and they will never be reunited with their owners because of the public perception of shelters being bad places.

I do believe that people should take responsibility for finding solutions for the community cats in their own backyard, but that solution needs to include the local shelters. For many owners, that is the critical link in getting their beloved cat back home. –Jennifer

Even rescuers are often wanting “someone” to help them and take the cats they find.  The CCC wants to move these “armchair” rescuers towards being self-sufficient.

What have your solutions been? What are your ideas on how to best find assistance with placing found cats?

Way too many people want SOMEONE to help the cats. I have referred to them as “armchair” rescuers. It is simply frustrating when someone tells me THEY can’t take this cat. THEY have a family/job/are going on vacation/taking care of elderly parents/have a health condition and simply can’t/can’t afford it/don’t have time. Yet they want ME to do it. For many years, I simply added the tasks of SOMEONE to my list.

The problem for most rescuers who “DO” is it hurts them to think of the cat in a bad situation. They want to help and feel an urgency to take action. Unfortunately, the people who are always looking for that someone figure this out. While I don’t think they intend to be selfish, in the end that’s what it is. If I find a problem, I will look for solutions, but not by dumping the problem on my fellow rescuers.

This looking for someone is one of the biggest reasons I helped start the CCC. There is just no way I can take care of all the cats people ask me to, but I CAN teach you how to do it. I can teach you how to do exactly what I would do if I found that cat.

The CCC helps grassroots rescuers take care of the problem in their own backyards. That’s what we all should be doing. The response has been great from other rescuers. Many have felt the same way and are stepping up to be mentors to others. In time, we won’t need to be looking for someone, we will all just “do.” –Nancy

Many people can foster cats even though they think they cannot. People will say “I have cats.” Well, so do all of us! All that is needed is a bathroom or any small room or space away from other pets.

Sometimes telling someone you will “help” them find a home for a cat results in the person doing it on their own. When they realize you won’t take the cat and do it all, it often will spur them on to finding a home themselves. –Janis

I agree that people should find their own solutions, but finding homes for cats you find eating/staying in your yard poses a problem because many people think that if they are feeding a cat, they are the ONLY person feeding that cat. After determining that the found cat is NOT a lost or missing cat, I post on Petfinder and network on Facebook for homes.

People on the fringes of rescue often feel that they are rescuing simply by alerting a rescuer that a cat needs assistance. The problem with that reasoning is that the actual people doing the work have an unlimited supply of cats in need. If an “armchair” rescuer convinces “someone” to take care of the problem, that rescuer is now going to have to choose which to rescue. If they choose to take on the referred case, other cats will not be saved. There is a finite amount that a single “someone” can do. –Jennifer

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