How to Approach a Stray Cat or Dog Safely and Carefully
"I've Got Cat Class, And I've Got Cat Style" ~ The Stray Cat Strut
When Your First Thought Is "What If It Was My Pet Lost Or Injured?"...
Many people have a soft spot in their heart for a stray cat or dog, especially if they own either cats or dogs or have ever owned them. As a pet owner, you know how important animals are to you and your family. Other pet owners usually feel the same way. From your own experience, you know that pets become like a much-loved member of the family. If you see a stray, and if you're like me and your first thought is "what if it were my cat or dog?" you might find yourself in the position of wanting to help the animal.
First, it's good to look at the animal to see if he or she has a collar and a tag. This at least lets you know whether they belong to someone. Then again, if they are like our two cats, they don't wear a collar or tag because they freak out of you try to put a collar on them. But if they do have one, you can at least look at it to see if there's a phone number you can call, if you're able to catch the animal safely.
To Approach A Stray Cat Or Dog Safely....
The problem is, how do you approach the stray cat or dog safely? You certainly don't want to risk being hurt just because you are trying to be helpful to them. There are some basic things to remember and things you can do to approach them safely, for your own safety and for theirs.
First of all, try talking to them in a calm and soothing voice, try to coax them to come to you. If they are fearful of you, or if you don't think they will come to you, you can begin to approach them slowly and take small steps. It is best to try to make yourself appear as small as possible to them so you don't look like a big predator. Continue to talk to them in a calming and reassuring way to try to convey the message that you are not there to hurt them. They may be frightened and mistrustful of people, especially if they are feral and have never known the love of a good home.
Some animals are friendly right away and it's pretty obvious that they are someone's pet and they are used to being around people. Others, however, may really be feral animals and that calls for the use of extra caution when approaching them. Once you are near the cat, try to hold your hand out, preferably palm down, and try to let them sniff your hand ONLY if they seem friendly.
Do NOT touch the top of their head. They may not like being touched there and may even see it as a sign that you might be aggressive. Never approach an animal in an aggressive way. A frightened animal probably WILL bite or scratch.
Let them sniff your hand, then if they seem to be friendly, it may be OK to pet them, but give them a gentle pet on the shoulder to start with. Try to stay as calm and reassuring as you possibly can. Give them the time they need to see that you are not there to hurt them, but to help. If they seem to enjoy being petted and talked to in a calm and soothing voice, do that for a few minutes to try to get them somewhat used to your presence and to your scent.
Stay calm and reassuring and be sure that you don't make direct eye contact with either a stray dog or cat. Eye contact, especially when it is prolonged, is communicated to them as being aggressive. You surely don't feel aggressive towards them, but they don't know that. In their world, direct prolonged eye contact is a bad thing. So, look towards them but not directly into their eyes. Keep talking in a calm voice, or use soft clicking sounds or other soothing sounds.
And a very important thing to remember is, if a dog or cat starts to come toward you in an aggressive way, or if they growl, hiss, bare their teeth or show any other type of aggressive behavior, back up slowly. Do not be foolish and ignore these warning signs they are trying to give you.
Get to a safe spot, and call for help if you don't feel you can handle the situation. You can call animal control or a pet rescue service. If you already know you are a pet rescue type of person, have these numbers programmed ahead of time into your phone. You'll be glad you did if you ever need these numbers.
If the cat or dog does seem to be friendly and receptive to you, and if you happen to have food or treats with you, you can try using those to win them over. Sometimes when people know that they have the personalities of rescuers and absolutely cannot go past an animal who appears to be a stray, they will carry a kit with them. Especially if they are in the car when they see the animal by the side of a road. Sometimes they will have a special rescue kit with them in the car just in case. In this rescue kit, they may have blankets, pet dishes, a bottle or two of water, some pet food and a couple of leashes.
Most people, however, won't be quite that prepared. You may come across a stray dog or cat while you're out walking in the neighborhood. The reason I even considered writing this is because right now, outside by our community mailboxes, we have a picture of a pretty tabby cat posted on a bulletin board there with the word "lost" along with a description.
Seeing something like this just tugs at my heart, because one of our cats was a stray that was rescued. Our son and daughter in law actually rescued her and took her in and fed her and cared for her. Then they called us and asked if we could take her in to be a "sister" to our other cat, Dixie.
She was found on a college campus, and from what we could figure out, the kids who owned her before had left to go home for the summer (it was May when she was found, cold, wet and hungry). We figured they had just had her for the school year and let her out when school was over for the year. What people sometimes don't realize is that taking an animal into your home and heart is a commitment. You wouldn't let a child out to fend for themselves, why do it to an animal? At least that's how I feel about it. I just think it's the wrong thing to do.
If the animal is a much loved house pet and darts quickly out of the house and becomes lost and frightened, that's another thing entirely. That is like the cat we have here in our neighborhood. That poor cat is probably frightened someplace and hoping her owner will find her again. You can tell by this picture near the mailboxes that she is a family pet and much loved. I just hope she is found soon.
Remember when you do see a stray animal and decide to help, keep these important safety tips in the back of your mind to keep yourself from harm. When you find the animals owner and see that joyful reunion, or when you rescue that stray animal, you could very well be saving their life. The world is full of dangers for little stray animals and you could be the one who comes along just in time and saves their life.