Guidelines for cat rescue by Carter Luke
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1993:
EDITOR’S NOTE: Carter Luke, vice president of the Massachusetts SPCA humane services division, submitted the following guidelines as “a quickly drafted summary of my thoughts about things to consider” in cat rescue. “The MSPCA is not necessarily endorsing nor are we practicing neuter/release,” he continued, “but we are trying to provide guidance for humane approaches using any kind of strategy.”
The solution to the issue of unsocialized or feral
cats is often clouded with issues related to responding to the
presence of these cats. Clearly though, the bulk of our
efforts should be directed to preventing these situations from
occurring in the first place. All agencies involved in animal
protection should first and foremost be promoting responsi-
ble cat ownership, particularly focusing on matters relating
to sterilization, the wearing of identification, veterinary
care, and keeping cats safe at home, i.e. controlled.
Before doing anything
1) Visit the area and discuss the situation with
the residents, neighbors, and the local animal control
officer. Collect information about estimated numbers,
descriptions of unsocialized animals as well as pets who are
allowed outside, any pregnant cats noticed or kittens
believed to be present, wildlife in the area (what will you do
if you capture a skunk, woodchuck, raccoon, etc.?). Find
out who is feeding unsocialized cats, if anyone. Be sure to
remind all cat owners of the importance of sterilization,
identification, and the value of keeping cats safe at home
2) Once your plan is determined, share the
information with all the residents, neighbors, and authori-
ties. Remind cat owners to keep their pets home.
3) Before setting any traps, establish a regular
feeding schedule at a set time of day. If possible, leave
unset traps in the area so cats can become used to them.
4) Once all plans are set, and the key players
are prepared, skip a feeding day.
5) The following day, at the regular feeding
time, set as many traps as possible (with food), and
monitor them carefully. Do not leave them overnight, or
out in bad weather. Someone responsible needs to be watch-
ing them. Avoid the practice of lending out traps without
total confidence in the humaneness and responsibility of the
borrower. It is best is you are the monitoring agent.
6) Once a cat is captured, cover the trap with a
blanket to keep the cat calm. At the site, check descrip-
tion lists to ascertain if the animal is a neighborhood pet or
is one of the group to be captured. Look for collars, signs
of socialization, etcetera. Transport carefully––no loud
radios or sharp turns.
If one is considering neuter/release, the following
considerationss should be taken into account:
1) Neighborhood attitude about stray cats. An
advisory effort must take place in the immediate area to
insure complete support for a neuter/release and mainte-
nance program by both residential and business neighbors.
2) Prevalence of diseases in the area, e.g. feline
leukemia, rabies, etcetera. Any neuter/release program
must include appropriate vaccinations and the removal of
any diseased cats.
3) The financial and time commitment of a
group of people willing to sustain over many years an effort
to provide food, shelter, and follow-up veterinary care for
4) Wildlife in the area. Specific issues about
wildlife, including the presence of rare species, should be
evaluated with regard to the impact a feral cat colony might
present to wild animal populations. [Editor’s note: this is
more than just determining predator/prey relationships. In
some instances, by preying upon one species, cats may
enhance the odds that other species survive. For example,
several studies indicate that bird-eating cats prefer English
house sparrows. By hunting abundant English house spar –
rows, who are not native to North America, feral cats may
open nesting habitat to less prolific native songbirds––but
only if these species are less inclined to feed on the ground
and therefore become vulnerable to cat attacks, and only if
these species are undisturbed by the mere presence of cats
in the vicinity of their nests, which would have to be built
out of reach of climbing cats.]
5) Weather of area. In parts of the country in
which weather extremes pose a risk to outdoor cats, the
cats’ access to warmth and shelter should be carefully
6) Traffic and other dangers in the area. I n
areas where there are significant trauma risks, establishing
a feral cat colony is not advised.
7 ) If a neuter/release program is being imple-
mented, a plan for safe and humane capture, trans-
portation, treatment, identification, and release should
be developed in advance, using the most humane and
appropriate methods and equipment available.
8) When captured, feral cats should be vacci-
nated, sterilized, treated for parasites, and evaluated
and treated, when appropriate, for other health condi-
tions. Animals should not be released unless they are in
general good health. Cats who appear to be socialized
should not be released, but should rather be placed into
9) Legal issues. There may be areas in which
legalities must be considered. Local animal control officers
should be consulted prior to implementing neuter/release.
10) A regular feeding schedule should be
established in order to minimize contact with other cats
and/or wild animals. Cats should be fed at a set location at
a set time, with uneaten food being picked up within a
short time of presentation.
12) Accurate written records should be main-
tained on all cats.
13) Continual evaluation of the environment,
neighborhood, public attitude, etcetera, should be con-
ducted, with adjustments made to the neuter/release strate-
gy as necessary to prevent problems.
Adoption or euthanasia
If the cats are not to be released:
1) Conduct a careful evaluation of each cat and
respond accordingly. Experienced and knowledgeable peo-
ple should be involved, as it is often difficult to determine
whether an individual cat is truly unsocialized or just under
2) Socialized cats should be held during an attempt
to locate the original owner, then be put up for adoption.
3) Clearly identifiable unowned, unsocialized
cats should be humanely euthanized. The MSPCA recom-
mends intraperitoneal injection through the cage trap, to
minimize handling and stress on the cat.
4) Be persistent with efforts, including the feed-
ing schedule and communication with the neighbors, until
all cats have been captured. At conclusion, all feeding
should cease. People should be advised of any socialized
animals being held. Post signs with descriptions, if appro-
5) In all cases, with all involved parties, always
focus on the importance of sterilization, identification, vac-
cination, and keeping cats supervised and safe.