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Whose cat is that in my yard?

Sitting out on the deck enjoying the warm summer evening, I spy a cat trotting through our yard. Is that cat a stray, feral, or free-roaming owned pet? 

First let’s determine what those terms actually mean. I overhear a lot of cat lovers erroneously use the term “feral” to describe a friendly stray or scared cat at a shelter so I know there is confusion.

For the best definitions I asked the Feral Cat Coalition (  a true feral cat, is an untamed domestic cat. Generally they have very little contact with humans, are frightened by people, and avoid contact. Adult ferals cannot be tamed. A stray cat, on the other hand, is an unowned (or lost) domestic cat who may be friendly towards people. They are less frightened and can be socialized and re-homed. A free-roaming cat encompasses any cat who is not confined in a home. Often these can be pet cats.

With an estimated 90 million pet cats in the US and two-thirds of them allowed outdoors (according to the Humane Society of the US and others), chances are the cat we are seeing is a neighbor’s pet out for a romp. Because many pet owners still won’t put a collar on their pet cats, it is a good idea to take a walk around the neighborhood to find out who has cats. Meeting the neighbors revealed that the tabby and the black cat who amble through from time to time, are pet cats.

Just a quick reminder that cats and wildlife live longer if pet cats bird watch from the windowsill, inside. In today’s world, a pet cat does not need to go outside to get exercise or keep up on hunting skills.

Do you know your feline visitors?

Once you determine the cat taking up bird watching in your yard is not owned, what are you going to do? If you go down the path of trying to trap and re-home the cat, you will need to commit to that task 100 percent. Take time to gain the cat’s trust, learn how to set up a humane trap properly, and have a plan in place to make sure the cat is not an owned cat after you trap him/her or to have the cat fixed promptly.

Shelters in Portland are bursting at the seams with cats during the summer and may not be able to take the cat from you.

Step-by-step instructions on setting up a humane trap can be found at (scroll to “humane trap”). This site also has great tips on how to find a lost cat. 

With the cat in the humane trap, now what? How about a trip to your vet to have the cat scanned for a microchip. Hopefully there is a chip and you can return the cat to his/her family. If not, are you going to keep the cat as your own? Re-home? Are you willing to pay for the cat to be fixed? 

A lot to think about as you watch that cat roll on your grass or take a bath while perched on top your fence.

by Kathy Covey

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