I've currently got a stray cat, or what seems to be a stray, coming to my house. This node is intended to be a compilation of advice I've come across and ideas I've had about dealing with the situation.
It's common for cats, who can roam quite far from their owner's house, to visit other people's gardens. So a cat that appears now and again in your area may actually have an owner. Being smart animals, they often realise that many people will feed or look after them simply if they turn up. However, cats often leave, or are left by their owners. They may have been abused and ill treated, since some people out there are sick bastards. The owner may have moved home and left them behind. The cat may simply leave home, often for territorial reasons.
See if the cat appears healthy or is dirty, thin, hurt, ill or scared. If it is healthy looking, it may be a pet that is simply hanging around. In this case, leave it for a day or two, and see how it behaves. If it appears that it goes home or is cared for, then you will probably not have to look after it.
The cat I'm dealing with actually comes to the back door and meows - if a cat is trying to get attention in this way, then it probably might need help as it doesn't have an owner.
The animal may be lost and the owners may be looking for them. This usually involves signs being put up, hopefully in your area. Check in shop windows and look out for notes on posts etc. around the neighbourhood. Sending it to the RSPCA straight away, if it is not injured or ill, would not be the best idea, as the owners might be looking. It's alway best to try and find the owners first - unless the cat is obviously injured, don't whisk it away at the first opportunity. The owner may turn up soon, and it is certainly vital to ask around first. If it has to stay over at the vets or with a charity, there will be bills to pay for no reason, and these can be expensive.
Take a few photos and make up some posters for shop windows etc.
Some websites exist for people to put up information about lost animals, and newspapers often carry such information in the small ads section.
The first thing to look for is a collar, and if the collar has an ID tag on it. Some collars have a cylinder that contains a slip of paper with the name and address of the owner on it. If you're fortunate enough to find something like this, see if you can contact the owner. The animal might be microchipped, so a trip to the vet to find out is the next step to take. This will also allow the vet to see if it is ill.
The vet may have information about lost cats, so they will also be of help in tracing an owner.
With regards to food, shelter etc., here's what I've chosen to do...
The cat I've got is very thin, and so I'm guessing it's malnourished. It looks fairly healthy, is very friendly and has a collar, so it obviously once had an owner. It possibly has fleas, so I've given it a flea collar. Since this is very likely for most stray cats, it is best not to let them into the house, at least no further than the porch. Until it's been checked out by a vet, it's not coming in. Instead, I've made a kind of cat-kennel for it, by covering a large box with a bin-bag to waterproof it . This is kept off the ground so as to avoid any ground water if it rains. This box is under a garden table, so it's protected from the elements. It's best to stick in an old jumper, t-shirt or towel to keep the cat warm.
As for feeding, half a tin of food is enough for a day, with a bowl of water. Dried food is another option, and should ALWAYS be given with a drink. If the cat doesn't eat the food it may mean that it is ill, or it doesn't like it. try switching from canned to dry or from meat to fish. I used to have a cat that would rather starve than eat meat. It wolfed down fish however. If it has a tendency not to eat, even though it is thin, then this is a sign that it may be ill. Check this with the vet, as it may mean the cat's kidneys are damaged (very common), it has bad teeth or it may have parasites. It should ideally be neutered, if it has not been already. A vet can sort all of this out.
If, like me, you will be unable to look after the cat permanently (due to contracts about your house, allergies etc.), or if you need advice and assistance, then you should contact the various charities and other organisations that deal with pets. In the UK these are the RSPCA, and the Cats Protection League. The RSPCA can normally only deal with sick or injured animals. If you give them a cat to re-home, then it may be put down - ie killed - if a new owner is not found in a certain time period. For this reason I'd recommend using the CPL for help in re-homing. Since it costs so much to look after a cat and get it treated, then a donation would be appreciated, I'm sure. If you cannot afford the vet bills etc, then these people will be able to help.
If after all this you can keep the cat, as it's newly adopted owner (because the cat adopts YOU - don't forget that) you're going to be greatly appreciated by the little animal. Looking after some creature in this way is most definitely a karmic ++, and is very rewarding.
You can find out more information by contacting the RSPCA (www.rspca.org.uk) or the Cats Protection League (www.cats.org.uk). In the US contact the ASPCA (www.aspca.org).
the above websites and http://www.spca.bc.ca/Factsheets/factsheet_stray.htm were used to get information from for this node. Any advice others could give would be appreciated...