Are You Sure That’s A Stray? A Handy Guide For Not Accidentally Scooping Up And Surrendering Someone’s Indoor/Outdoor Cat

A sure sign of spring here at the Animal Protection Center is the uptick in people bringing us stray cats and kittens that have been hanging around their yard, street, or neighborhood. These animals have been hunkering down all winter so when they start to emerge with the warm weather and make babies, good citizens from all over Southeastern Massachusetts bring them to us for socialization, care, and adoption into loving homes. 90% of the time this is an awesome thing and we are profoundly grateful for people who care enough about those animals to get them to safety here in the shelter. Sometimes though a sad thing happens: a good Samaritan brings us an animal and we say hmmmmm, we don’t think that’s a stray. We think that might be someone’s indoor/outdoor cat.

First of all let me be clear: here at the APCSM we are big advocates of keeping your pet cats inside. Indoor cats are protected from disease, encounters with coyotes, eating poisonous plants or other found items, and all sorts of other troubles. Indoor cats live longer, safer lives overall than their indoor/outdoor counterparts. That being said we’re not naive, we know that there are a lot of people who let their cats out to roam. We’re not going to judge those people here but we will encourage them to let their neighbors know that they do this so that those neighbors don’t bring their cat to the shelter thinking it’s a friendly stray or abandoned pet.

If you do have a cat visiting your yard or neighborhood though and you think you should bring it to the shelter please do this first:

1. Ask around to see if anyone recognizes the cat or knows where it lives. Take a photo of the cat and share it on your Facebook/Twitter feed to see if anyone comments, “Hey! That’s Fluffy, my indoor/outdoor cat!  If this cat is super friendly try putting a break-away collar on her with a note saying, “Do I belong to someone?” This has worked several times and we can even provide you with a collar if you stop by.

2. Look the cat over. Is it dirty? Injured? Coughing? Does it appear to have fleas or mites that would indicate it’s been living rough?  Does it seem wary or scared around people? If any of these are present please do not attempt to catch the cat yourself! Call your local animal control. They will catch the cat safely.  We work closely with several animal control offices so there’s a good chance it will end up here anyway.  However, a cat that lives somewhere will often have a clean, glossy coat, be very friendly, or have clipped claws.

3. Does it visit at a specific time every day?  Some people let their cats out when they go to work in the morning and then back in in the evening.  Some people let their cats out every afternoon when they get home.  If the cat is visiting you at a specific time every day it might be on a schedule because it lives somewhere.  Also, just because it’s begging for food doesn’t mean it’s hungry, she may just be playing you for extra food.  Cats are like that.  Note: we know she’s cute but if you feed her the cat will just keep coming back.

4. Is it pregnant? If an owned cat turns up pregnant the owner will almost always stop letting it out.  If you think a  pregnant cat is hanging around your yard give us a call. If she’s already had her babies the most important thing is to keep the nursing momma and the babies together.  DO NOT separate the kittens from the momma, they could die.  Again, call with questions on this one!

Please always err on the side of caution when dealing with a cat who’s medical history you don’t know.  If you feel unsafe or like you might be scratched or bitten DO NOT try to handle the cat.  Call your local animal control and ask for help.

If you’ve read this far and you’re still not sure what to do call us or try our helpful resources page.

Why We Can’t “Hold” Animals

Around 5:30 last evening my email pinged with a message from Google: we had gotten a 1-star review. Ouch! I always go in and read those in order to see what went wrong and determine whether we needed to recommend a different approach for our staff, volunteers, or even in the way we treat the animals. I quickly determined that this review fell into the category of the majority of our bad reviews, it was about our not “holding” an animal for the family. Those reviews go something like this:

I brought my family into the shelter and we fell in love with (animal name). Unfortunately, (family member) wasn’t with us so we couldn’t adopt but when we came back with (family member) the next day (animal) was gone. Now my family is heartbroken and I am frustrated and angry. The shelter knew we were interested, why couldn’t they work with us?

Here’s why. We love that you were so interested in that animal that you came back because in the majority of cases the family never does. They come in and fall in love with an animal and tell us that they will be back the next day with their family member to adopt. Then something happens. It could be that mom absolutely doesn’t want another cat, that dad found a dog at a breeder’s that is better for the family, that they didn’t realize that the guinea pig enclosure, toys, and accessories were so expensive, or even that they discovered that their homeowner’s association doesn’t allow dogs of a certain breed or size. Honestly, it doesn’t matter though because the point is that the majority of them never come back and, what’s worse, they never tell us they’re not coming back. That’s why we don’t hold animals. We cannot take away an animal’s chance to be adopted while we wait and hope that an interested family will come back. That’s not in the best interest of the animal. We do want to work with you though, so here’s what we advise.

First, if you seriously want to adopt an animal, have all your ducks in a row before you come. That means every person living in the house needs to be present. You should call up your vet and let him/her know that the shelter might be calling for a reference. If you don’t have a vet, that’s OK, we can recommend one. If you rent either make the same call to your landlord or get something in writing that says you can have a pet. Check with your homeowner’s association about breed/size restrictions. You still may not be able to take the animal home that day (it might need to be spayed/neutered for example) but we can finalize the adoption.

Second, if you are planning on incorporating this new animal with one already living at the house call us ahead of time about setting up a meet and greet. That means that we arrange a space where your current animal and the prospective new animal can meet in a safe and supervised way to see if they have compatible personalities. We do this most often for dogs but have done it for cats and even guinea pigs too so call us ahead of time and we can talk to you about it.

Third, do your research. I decided to get a fish once, thought it would be a fun and easy pet. Wanted one of the pretty tropical ones so I went to PetCo and came out $150 dollars later with the tank, the filter, and a bunch of other stuff I hadn’t prepared for because I was young and didn’t do my research. Guinea pigs need enclosures, cats like to climb. Birds need stimulation in their cages, dogs misbehave if they get bored so they need toys and opportunities to be active. Know how much a pet is likely to cost you and what it needs before you fall in love, it could save you trouble later.

Finally, don’t get discouraged if you don’t find your match right away. Check our website frequently and even call us about whether we have what you’re looking for. Also, the more open you are, the more likely we’ll have something for you. The family looking for a “smallish” dog might find a match far sooner than the family who’s only looking for a purebred Chihuahua (we almost never get those, by the way).

Our responsibility is to do the best we can for the animals in our care. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to work with you but ultimately, we work for them.

Going Away For The Holidays? Here Are a Few Things Your Pet Sitter Needs To Know.

Here in New England winter is often the time people try to get away for warmer climes.  Whether it’s for a weekend or a longer vacation though when pet parents go away they need to make arrangements for the furry family members staying behind.  Sometimes that means boarding or having a pet sitter come over a few times a day.  Sometimes it means that Fluffy gets a vacation of her own at a friend’s house or even that a friend comes to stay at her place (we could say it’s your place but really, who are we kidding).   Whatever the arrangements are you need to share more than your key and feeding instructions in order to keep everyone happy and healthy (and willing to pet sit again!).  Here are a few things I leave with people when my family goes away:

  1. A picture of each animal attached to their vet file. Each animal in our house has his or her own file with up to date pet records, any meds they take, etc that we keep upstairs in our office area.  When we go away those files come down to the kitchen counter along with a cover sheet showing a pic of the pet (we have 3 cats and a dog so sometimes pics are necessary to keep everyone straight).
  2. An introduction to any quirks the pet might have. Our dog Little Bit is the sweetest thing in the world.  Except for when the doorbell rings.  She hates (HATES!) the doorbell and launches herself at the door barking and jumping with all the fury of a 15 pound, sweet-faced, floppy eared animal who’s going to love whoever’s on the other side anyway whenever it rings.  Whenever we go away we leave a sheet of paper for each animal clueing our pet sitting friend in to whatever might make her experience…interesting.
  3. A quick list of numbers and addresses. This includes our cell numbers, our veterinary office’s number and address, Tufts Emergency Veterinary Center’s number and address, and my mother’s number, just in case.  If there is an emergency you don’t want the poor person scrambling around through that vet file looking for an address or phone number, better to just have it right there.
  4. The amount they can authorize to spend in an emergency. Steve and I learned the hard way that you need to have a number in your head and written down somewhere.  If there’s an emergency and the vet says it’s going to cost $1,000 to save Fluffy’s life your pet sitter can’t be expected to make that decision.  If she can’t reach you the only way she’ll know what to do is if you have a document somewhere that you have signed that says, “In the event of an emergency where I cannot be reached I authorize the expense of up to _________ in veterinary bills.” Take it from someone who said, “Do whatever you need to.” And got a bill for $3,000 6 hours later (cat still passed away).  You need to have an amount in your head and an authorization for your pet sitter.  Or pet insurance, but that’s a whole other post.

In addition to this there are a whole bunch of other common sense things that you probably already know about ranging from making sure Fluffy’s tags are up to date and on her to putting an old t shirt that smells like you in her bed so she has your scent when she gets lonely.  In fact, share your favorite tips in the comments below and maybe we can all learn from each other what works!

So You Think Your Parents Need A Pet

Pets are always giving to us. They give their love, their trust, their loyalty without reserve. At this time of year those qualities may make it seem like a pet would be the perfect surprise for a special person in your life. Here at the shelter we’ve already started fielding calls about giving pets for the holidays but surprisingly to us they’re not put the way we expected. We rarely get the, “I want to surprise my niece/nephew/boyfriend with a pet” calls here at the shelter. By and large people seem to understand that bringing an animal into a young family or relationship isn’t a good idea unless everyone is on board. No, at this time of year the calls we’re getting are more like this:

“My dad has been so lonely since mom died this past spring and I want to get him a dog to keep him company.”

“Mom fell and broke her hip and can’t leave the house much any more so I want to get her a cat to be with her.”

“My parents just retired. We had a great dog when I was a kid and I want to get them one now that they have lots of time.”

Yup. The calls we’re getting these days are largely from devoted, loving adult children concerned about their older parents. This is a particularly delicate conversation because it’s not just a holiday gift these people are asking for, it’s a chance to enrich the lives of their aging parents and give them something long term to have as a companion. It comes from a place of deep love and a desire to care for one of the closest and most important people in their world. Often the logic is that “It’s not the same as giving a kid a pet as a gift because mom/dad is older and has lots of time.” or, “I know it’s a good idea because we had a pet when we were kids and dad loved him!” Here’s the truth though, it’s NEVER a good idea to give someone a pet without their knowledge. NEVER!!!

Dad might still be grieving and not ready for a pet.

Mom might be terrified that the cat will get underfoot and cause her to fall again.

Maybe mom and dad have their own plans for retirement that don’t include a pet.

But let’s play devil’s advocate. Let’s say none of this applies to you. Let’s say you’re sure, SURE that a pet is the perfect gift for mom, dad, or uncle Bob. OK. Please do this:

Come to the shelter and get a gift certificate for the adoption fee for the animal you’re thinking about. Yes, we do that! Then give the certificate as the gift and use it to start a conversation with mom, dad, or uncle Bob about whether they would like to add an animal to their lives. If they do, great! They can come here and pick the pet that they make a connection with (it might not be the one you would have picked) but if they don’t they can donate the fee back to the shelter, sponsor an animal for adoption by someone else, or even buy a bunch of dog sweaters and calendars (we’re not picky about how they spend it).

For animal lovers a pet might seem like the best possible gift, and it might be. But only when everyone involved is part of the conversation and on board with the adoption and only when the pet owner has been able to meet and connect with the pet in person before the adoption.