If you encounter a stray dog or cat, you may be surprised that in most cities, there is NO city or county organization that comes out to pick the dog or cat. This posting will discuss the difference in how to handle each one.
In taking a nonscientific survey of residents in cities across U.S., we learned that many residents believe there is a city or county service to pick up stray dogs and cats, like the local animal shelter. This is not necessarily true. In most cases, the local city shelter only picks up dead animals. Nor does the police always come out to assist. Depending on your city, the police may not be the solution either. If they offer to help, they may not come out for hours. Understandably they have to respond to 911 calls based on emergency level. However, if the dog appears aggressive, then you should call animal control.
Other common misconceptions: Your local Humane Society does NOT pick up stray dogs and cats. They are private organizations that only accept a very limited number of pets from owners who passed away or pet owners who could not care for their pets. ASPCA is also a private organization and only operates in a few major cities and primarily focus on cases of pet abuse.
Chances are you will come across a stray dog or cat in your lifetime. First it's important to know the meaning of "stray pet" -- a pet that belonged to someone and is either lost or was illegally dumped by pet owner. While you can call the police, they will tell you to call a local dog or pet rescue. The police may or may not know of one. So our recommendation is to research local , but well- run nonprofits rescue in your city. In other words, research the information and program their number into your cell phone and call them in the event you find a stray dog. If you have email capability on your phone, add an email address. This is a recommended step because if you are unsure if the dog is friendly or aggressive, it's best not to risk your safety and well being.
If the dog is friendly, then you have two choices--call a rescue or take the dog home. If you choose to to take the dog home, take many photos and then head to a nearby veterinarian to have it scanned for a microchip. A microchip is an identification chip under the skin of the pet. If the pet does not have a chip, then check your local laws for next steps. Perhaps you can take the pet home and install flyers throughout the neighborhood. Or you can take the pet to local animal shelter. But keep in mind each animal shelter has separate regulations. In one city, they may only hold the dog for 5 days for the owner to claim, and then 5 days for someone to adopt. If the shelter is overcrowded , the dog may be euthanized. In a neighboring county the regulations may be different. Again, be sure to ask someone in charge what is the holding period, and then how many days will the shelter keep the dog for adoption. (See below for Cats).
Often in high kill shelters, if the dog is sick, it is euthanized. Be sure to call the shelter daily to check the status of the dogs ownership or adoption. In some cases, you may be able to request to put a "hold" on the dog if the owner does not come forward and then keep the dog or foster it. But you will have to pay the regular adoption fee.
Cats are different. They are often skiddish in a new environment so it's hard to decipher if a cat is a stray or feral. Sometimes after being dumped and left outside, they become feral. Then produce offspring. This is why it is critical to spay and neuter ALL cats, both indoor and outdoor cats.
What to do if you're unsure if a new cat is a stray or feral? We encourage you to feed the cat over time to gain its trust. When that is accomplished, and the cat allows you to hold it, take the cat to any veterinarian get scanned for a microchip. If there is no microchip, then a decision will need to be made whether you want to keep the cat, foster it, or ask family or friends to foster the cat.
You can also call local cat rescue/shelters. If you oppose euthanization of a healthy cat, then be sure to ask their policy. During kitten season, May-October, chances are nonprofits can not take in cats/kittens because they are normally overwhelmed, but it can't hurt to inquire.
When feeding the cat, try to feed it on public not private property. Not everyone is an animal lover and many people mistaken stray cats as disease ridden rodents. This is not true. Cats are very clean creatures. Take some time to research local laws. For example, here in Miami, there is no city or county law prohibiting feeding cats on public property. So if someone complains, always politely explain you're trying to help your community and determine if this cat is a stray or feral and find its owner.
Feral cats must remain outdoors. Over time some feral cats will become friendly and allow you to pet them and even pick them up. But often they are not adoptable or adaptable to the indoors. These cats are not used to limited boundaries and will become scared and aggressive within the confines of walls. They are happy outdoors and providing food and outdoor shelter is the best thing for them.
If a cat appears to be a stray and friendly, then it is suggested to contact a local cat shelter or rescue. They can even teach you how to care for the cat if you want to foster it until the cat has a permanent home.
In summary, we encourage all residents to research local animal rescue organizations in their city, ask questions, program their phone numbers in to your phone and share the information with friends, family and neighbors. Also, while you may not have the time or resources to have a permanent pet, local animal rescues always need volunteers to help foster.
If you ever see or learn of anyone dumping an animal or pet in parking lot, forest, anywhere that is not home, get their license plate or any detailed information (description of person) and call the police immediately. If the police are not responsive, ALSO call your local county animal services.
For more FACTS about outdoor or feral cats, visit Alley Cat Alllies, the national authority on cat welfare.
Only through education and elevating awareness will we get to the root of the problem and reverse the trend of homeless pets.
Note: This posting is not to judge or condemn any shelters for the practice of euthanization as the entire US faces epidemic rate of homeless pets, many abandoned on streets or dropped at shelters. Many shelters are overcrowded. It is pet owners dropping off pets for a number of reasons or good Samaritans who rescued a dog or cat or pet from the streets or highways, etc. Our organization aims to educate the public what each person can do to help reverse this overall trend.