What should you do if you find an abandoned cat or kitten?

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These kittens, along with two adult females, were abandoned on the doorstep of a country home.

Almost every summer, Carol goes out on the porch of her remote rural home and discovers an unfamiliar feline face. Another cat or kitten has been thoughtlessly abandoned during the night.

Carol is a senior citizen, and all of her own cats are fixed. Her income is fixed as well, and she has no money for vet visits for new cats.

Yet the abandonment continues.

I volunteer with a feral-cat trap/neuter/return group in addition to my job with Petfinder. We helped neuter Carol’s outdoor cats in 2002 (all of them were offspring of cats abandoned on her property), so luckily we are there to help when new cats appear in her life. When my phone rang this Sunday, the news was particularly bad: Two female cats and three tiny kittens (pictured) had been left at Carol’s door.

Abandonment of domestic animals is illegal. In New York State it is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine or a year in prison. However, it’s hard to catch someone who merely slows down and tosses a cat alongside a country road or leaves a box of kittens at a campground.

If you wander outside one day with your morning coffee and are greeted
by the forlorn mews of an abandoned cat or kittens, you might be tempted to hope
they will just “go away.” However, ignoring them will only make the
situation worse. A dumped pregnant cat may shortly have kittens
beneath your porch. Healthy kittens, abandoned without
their mother, will soon starve or become ill or injured.

While you absolutely did not cause the problem, it has become
yours, much like a storm that drops a tree in your yard. It’s
unexpected and even may cost money to resolve, but nonetheless, there
it is, and it’s not going to go away!

First, make sure the cat or kitten has food, water, and
shelter. If you can bring her into your home, keep her away from your
own pets until you are certain she is healthy.

Second, call your local animal shelter or humane agency for
guidance (to find
shelters and adoption groups in your area, use Petfinder’ s animal welfare group
search tool
). They may be able to take your foundling and find her a new
home. Be sure to give a donation if they do. However, if they are
unable to accept the cat, or if you prefer to care for her yourself, ask the shelter or rescue group these questions:

  • Do they have advice on caring for very young kittens?
  • Do
    they have a bulletin board where you can post a flyer for your foundling to help find her a
  • Are they aware of other organizations that might be able to help you?
  • Are there low-cost spay/neuter services available locally if
    you need them?

If the cat stays in your care, be sure your local shelter
places her on their “found” list. Perhaps she was not abandoned. She
may be someone’s beloved pet who wandered away or accidentally
hitched a ride in the back of a truck. Speak with your neighbors and
post flyers. In searching for a possible owner, you may even find
someone interested in adopting the cat.

You can also post her to the “found pets” section — and, if no one steps forward to claim her, to the “pets for adoption” section, of the Petfinder classifieds.

The Petfinder library has an excellent article on finding a home for a pet.
Please be certain, before you let a cat or kitten leave your care, that
the pet is either spay/neutered or is going to a home committed to

Be sure to report abandoned pets to your local law enforcement
agency by making a statement in writing. Even if police are unable to
locate the abandoner, the incident may find its way into the local news
police blotter.

One summer I was walking by our local grocery and noted a
woman on the sidewalk with a box of “free kittens.” I went to speak to
her, planning to explain why this was not the best way to find a home
for cats
. However, she admitted she previously had dumped kittens at
local farms — thinking they wanted them — until she read in the newspaper
that it was illegal!

While handing kittens out to strangers on the street isn’t the
safest way to adopt them out, it was definitely an improvement over
abandonment, and it did get her into the public eye. We could offer her
resources to get her own cat fixed and take the kittens to get them
into foster homes, thus ending the cycle of kittens and more kittens at
her home.

Have you rescued or adopted an abandoned animal? Leave your story in our comments!