Rescuing a stray cat is no easy endeavor. Although a scared stray might come up to you and let you pick him up, chances are you will need a lot more ingenuity and possibly the help of a trap or an experienced animal rescue worker to help you through the process.
Stray vs. Feral
According to the Humane Society, a stray cat is one who has been lost or abandoned. Although he's probably scared, he will be used to people and will allow you to approach him. A feral cat, on the other hand, will refuse all human contact and probably hiss or try to fight back if you try to touch him.
When trying to identify a stray cat you can rescue, look for these signs:
- Stray cats walk around during the day, while feral cats will hide until it gets dark
- Stray cats are more likely to look ill or very dirty, since they are not used to caring for themselves
- Stray cats will eat around humans, while feral cats are more likely to hide and wait for you to move away before getting the food you're offering
Feral cats cannot be domesticated and you shouldn't attempt to catch them. If you see a cat you believe is a stray and want to help him, you will still need a lot of patience and possibly a trap to catch him safely.
If you're dealing with a feral cat, contact your local shelter. Some shelters have trap and spay/neuter programs. The cats are then returned to the area from which they came.
Keeping Safety in Mind
The closer the cat allows you to get, the easier he will be to catch. Ideally, you want to attempt capture in a safe environment. This means chasing a stray cat near a highway is not a good idea and can end up causing injury to both you and the cat. If the animal is near a major road, act cautiously and get off the road completely before stopping. Depending on the location, you might also want to turn on the hazard lights or use emergency flares.
No matter how friendly the cat looks, he will probably be scared and might react by biting you or scratching you. Never attempt to catch a stray cat with your bare hands. If you have no choice but to capture the animal with your hands, use a towel or blanket. Approach the animal while talking softly and then throw the blanket on him. Grab him firmly and wrapped him up so you can move him from the road or to a safer location.
If you have a carrier or a box, place the animal inside before letting him go. If you don't have a box to secure the cat and you feel it might be unsafe to drive anywhere with him loose inside the car, leave him inside the car, close the door and call your local animal control office for help.
Do not leave a cat inside a hot car without the car running and the air conditioning on.
The Next Steps
If you are unable to capture the cat on your own, call the local animal control agency for help. They might be able to loan or rent you a humane trap so you can leave it in the area and wait for the cat to get in on his own. When he does, a mechanism will trigger to close the door and trap the cat inside, so you can then take him to a secure location.
What Happens After Capture
If the cat seems injured, take him to your local vet or animal rescue organization. Even if he's healthy, a visit to the vet is a good idea, as the vet can scan the cat to see if he has a chip and can be reunited with his owner.
If there's no chip or ID tag, you'll have to make a decision whether you want to take the animal into your home -- either permanently or until you find him a new owner -- or whether you want to surrender him to a shelter or local animal rescue group. Before you surrender him to a shelter, though, you might want to call around to local animal organizations to see if anybody has reported a lost cat. If you can't find the owner and have no option but to surrender him, the Animal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or Humane Society might be able to offer suggestions.