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On Rescuing Cats: What to Do (& What NOT to Do) When You Find a Stray Cat in Need

I rather facetiously consider myself a professional cat lady, but I am most certainly not a professional cat rescuer. All of my cats have either been adopted straight from the shelter, or scooped up by me because I saw an animal that needed help. With no prior rescue experience, I have admittedly made many mistakes, even when my heart and intentions have been in the right place.

Most recently while out on a walk in my neighborhood that I have walked almost-daily for the last two years, I came across a cat I had never seen before. She's a beautiful tortoiseshell calico, incredibly (too) thin, and I felt that she had swollen mammary glands. She was also panting, which cats are not supposed to do unless they are playing aggressively for extensive periods of time; and even then, it's very unusual. I thought she might be pregnant and in distress, and she's absolutely not a neighbor-cat that I recognized, so I wanted to get her help.

I was a little less than a mile away from my house so I walked quickly home, grabbed my keys and a cat carrier and some treats, jumped in my car, and drove back over. At that time I did not see the kitty, so I started to call for her and shake the bag of treats. I walked all around my car hoping to see her when she popped up seemingly out of nowhere. Tossing treats to her, she was obviously very hungry and ravenously ate whatever treats I sent her way. At first I tried to scruff her and she did not like that at all, so instead I just picked her up. She was totally calm as she let me put her in my car. We rode home and I took her inside and isolated her in my bathroom with a fresh litter box and food and water. She wasn't a fan of being alone in the bathroom, but I needed to ensure that she didn't have any illnesses or bugs or worms she could transfer to the other cats in my house. Once she was properly situated in her new safe space, I posted her picture, information, and location on Facebook, and then in any and all local lost pet groups and pages I was a part of. I also messaged all of my local neighbors to see if they recognized her as well. Unfortunately, no one had seen her before.

This is the actual post I made on Facebook attempting to find her owners.

The next morning I called my vet immediately when they opened in order to scan for a microchip and to get her dewormed, as I had found tapeworm remnants on her booty. Not only was she not microchipped, the vet confirmed what I originally thought: this cat is 6 months or younger (I thought 4-5 months) and an ultrasound showed no current kittens, which meant that she has already had a litter.

Once I learned that she had kittens, I felt immediately and tremendously guilty that there could possibly be a litter somewhere out there without their mom. But my vet reassured me that :

  • Sometimes outdoor cats nurse way longer than they have to, and it's possible they were already weaned and gone.

  • When kittens like this girl have kittens themselves, sometimes the litter doesn't make it, so it's possible they could have already passed.

  • With how sweet this little girl is, it's entirely possible she had kittens and then was subsequently dumped, which means finding her kittens would be truly impossible.

  • Mama cats usually don't leave their kittens unless they absolutely have to. Since she was panting and starving they think she was out and about out of true necessity.

  • Trying to find the kittens without a literal team of people would have been insanely difficult and time-consuming.

After running tests on little girl, whom I have now named Chihiro after the Miyazaki movie Spirited Away, the vet concluded that she didn't have any communicable diseases or illnesses and could be integrated into my household in a few days. I also have her spay scheduled for June 20th of this year (2023) so her breeding cycle will officially end here.

Now, having shared Chihiro's story on our social channels, people have kindly (and not so kindly) pointed out my shortcomings when it comes to little girl's rescue, and I would like to personally address some of them in this blog post.

Is Chihiro someone's cat? Very likely. The way she came up to me multiple times, including the time I left to get my car and came back, indicates that she is not a truly feral cat. But would I consider this cat properly owned? No. No collar, no chip, no spay. Responsible pet ownership is taking care of your pet and providing it the basic necessities needed for life. Allowing a 6 month (possibly younger) kitten to get pregnant and have kittens of her own is irresponsible. So did I steal this cat that was starving, panting, and possibly pregnant? No. I rescued her, did my due diligence when it came to sharing her information on social media and scanning for a chip, then paid for her medical care accordingly. I maintain that I would give Chihiro back to her owners if someone had actual proof that she is their lost cat, but of the hundreds of thousands of times my posts about Chihiro have been seen on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, not a single person has come forward. And she is such a gorgeous, personable cat, I would think someone would be missing her.

Prior to Chihiro, I had never interacted with a lactating cat. She is truly my very first ever. But when I first found her, I only thought she was pregnant. It was not until I took her into the vet and they performed an ultrasound that they told me she had already had kittens. Even now knowing this, with all the guilt that comes with it, I still feel like I made the best decision with the information that I had at hand. If she happened to have kittens around, she was so thin and clearly overheating that I don't think she would have lasted much longer. And I am wholly convinced that she was dumped after having her babies, which was why she was so chill and ok to come along with me.

That being said, I have learned what a lactating cat looks and feels like. If you come across a stray kitty with swollen nip nops, you should leave her be because it is best for the survival of a potential litter. However, a cat in distress is a cat in distress, and sometimes you just have to take care of the animal that is right in front of you that can be helped. For me the options were to either save Chihiro or possibly save no cats, and that didn't make sense to me.

At the end of the day, I don't think there is a perfect way to rescue animals. And even if there were, humans aren't perfect so we'd mess it up anyway.

And although lots of people got mad at me for not rescuing Chihiro perfectly, it was hands-down worth it to me to have this little girl sleeping safely on her bed right now, knowing she'll never have to worry about her next meal or dodging cars ever again.

If you see an animal in need, help them. SPAY AND NEUTER your dang pets. Keep your cats inside and away from the dangers of life. And be kind to those who just want to do right in the situation they've been dealt, because it may not be perfect but they're trying their best and only want what's best for all.

Lots of love, kittens, and cat hair, Mauren 🐾


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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I'm Mauren, the human behind Cat Lady Tails. Thanks so much for being here🐾 

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