The Not-So-Stray Cat

Cat Owners, Take Note
I’m sorry in advance that this is a bit of a lecture, but if your cat isn’t microchipped, it should be. Whether it spends its time outdoors, indoors, or some combination of the two; whether it’s young or old; whether it wears a collar and tag or not. Microchipping is relatively cheap (a one-time cost of $45, on average), takes all of two minutes to do, and is no more painful than your cat getting its vaccinations. And if you need some statistics, a microchipped cat is 20 times more likely to be reunited with its owner than one without a chip, about 40% versus 2% of lost cats (source: HomeAgain).

There are many stories of microchipped cats finding their way home months, or even years, after they were lost. But I’d like to share this story not from an owner’s point of view, but from a finder’s.

The Stray Cat
As a shelter volunteer, I’m always on the lookout for stray cats. It’s sad, but many owners allow their cats to venture outdoors in a city, despite the cars, busy streets, rough terrain, disease, etc. I know Boston is a much smaller city than most, and not too far from downtown there are many more trees and parks than one might expect, but that doesn’t stop Boston from being a city. Not only that, but in the lower socioeconomic neighborhoods (and some higher ones, too), pets are often abandoned as owners move away, lose their homes, or become unable to afford the cost of an animal. So I’m always watchful for cats on the streets, because there are plenty of unowned, stray cats wandering among the owned, indoor/outdoor ones. Although it’s often difficult to tell which is which.

Case-in-point: I recently moved to a new neighborhood, to a quiet street where a bunch of outdoor cats live. As soon as I arrived, my eyes landed on an all-black cat, which appears to be a stray due to hair missing from its back (in a pattern that looks like flea dermatitis, although I haven’t been able to really look at the cat up close), and a couple times it strolled right past me on the sidewalk, giving my outstretched hand a wide berth. I’m currently keeping tabs on this cat whenever possible, just in case it really is a stray, and in case it needs some medical attention, which it may or may not.

One night last week, while walking home, I glanced in an alleyway and saw the black cat (it was dark, so it could have been a different black cat, I suppose). I slowly began to approach it when another cat—a tabby and white one—approached me and started meowing. He was clearly friendly and was rubbing his cheeks against everything he could, including my hands.

And as I continued up the street, not wanting to accidentally instigate a cat fight between the two, the tabby and white followed me. He followed me all the way into the stairwell of my apartment.

The Cat’s Journey
I couldn’t keep him. I know for a fact that Smirnoff hates other cats. But I still couldn’t make myself push the cat back onto the street, especially if it was lost. It was clearly owned by somebody, though. He was neutered, for one thing, and super friendly. He even had a slightly pudgy belly, which meant he’d been eating well. So I named him and kept him in the stairwell of my apartment for the night, making sure he had food, water, and a litter box. That’s not to say he was happy being inside; he cried a bit and I felt bad I couldn’t let him into my apartment. But I knew nothing about this cat, whether he had fleas, or FIV, or anything else an outdoor cat might have.

I wanted, if possible, to get this cat into the shelter to be scanned for a microchip. I was also a bit concerned because its fur seemed a bit thin at the back (which I later learned was because it was a bit greasy, not because of fleas). Unfortunately, the shelter didn’t have a cage available, so I decided in the meantime to take it to the vet to be scanned.

There was no microchip. The cat didn’t have a collar. The vet confirmed what I already knew: he was a neutered male, generally healthy, and somebody’s pet.

“Since he’s outdoors and the owners haven’t given him an ID, there’s nothing to stop you from keeping him,” the vet tech said.

“I can’t keep him.”

“I’d take him but I already have three,” she said.

I really didn’t want the poor thing to spend another night in the stairwell. So I called my former roommate, Cassandra, and she agreed to take him on a temporary basis, just until there was a cage available at the shelter. And in the meantime, I’d post an ad on craigslist, just in case.

So I did. I put in a detailed description of the cat and asked anyone who thought it might be theirs to send me a photo as proof of ownership (people are sometimes weird with animals on craigslist). I wasn’t optimistic.

Not Really a Stray
A couple hours later I had an email from someone in response to the ad. “I think you have my cat,” she said. She sent a couple photos and said to call her anytime if it was the same cat. Lo and behold, it clearly was so I called the lady…

She seemed a bit taken aback at the fact I had her cat. She said she lived very close to me (about a block away) and that her cat used to be friends with the people who lived just downstairs in my apartment building and would occasionally go inside (their door is separate from mine, but it was easy to imagine why the cat was happy to follow me).

That’s when guilt set in. I had stolen this woman’s cat. Which wasn’t my intention at all. Not to mention, the vet where I took the cat to be scanned was in fact the cat’s regular vet!

“Can I come get him?” the lady asked.

“Well, he’s across town, staying with my friend….” It was starting to sound sketchy, I knew, but I confirmed that my intentions were sincere.

“Thank you for taking him to the vet.” On the upside, the woman offered to pay for any expenses from the vet visit and I never had to actually meet her in person, since she wanted to pick the cat up from my friend’s apartment.

“He didn’t have a microchip,” I offered.

“He’s thirteen. Microchips weren’t really a thing when he was young.”

I hummed an agreement. Then, surprisingly, the owner came to the conclusion that microchipping this cat was probably a good idea, in case the cat ever actually got lost. And also (I thought to myself), there are people who, like me, would take in a cat mistakenly thinking it a stray, but unlike me, wouldn’t try to find its owner.

The cat, whose name is Peku, is thirteen, but it’s never too late to microchip, and it’s always worthwhile.

Another Encounter
For a couple days, Peku was not outside, and I hoped that the owner had the sense to keep him inside for a little while after the whole ordeal (which I believe she did, though I have no proof). Then the other night, I saw Peku again as I was walking home. I patted it briefly on the head, said “hi” and continued home, looking back to make sure it wasn’t following me this time. He didn’t; he was happy rubbing his chin against the stair railing of another apartment. I was happy to know that it was back home, where it belonged, even if it had never strayed too far in the first place.

If that cat was ever in need of help, I now know who its vet is, the number and email of its owner, and approximately where it lives. I know it’s not a stray and that it’s well taken care of.

But unless I had accidentally stolen him, I would have gone on thinking, “what if he’s a stray in need?”

Final Thoughts
There are a lot of outdoor cats in my new neighborhood. Now that it’s been a few weeks, I’m finding more and more of them. I probably won’t let any more of them follow me home, but if one were in need of help (either injured or sick), I wouldn’t think twice to take it. I can’t help myself. And if the cat isn’t microchipped, I can only hope that the owner actively seeks to find their cat on craigslist like Peku’s owner, or posts flyers, or files a lost report at the shelters.

Both Smirnoff and Bacardi are microchipped, even though they’re indoor-only. Smirnoff can sometimes be a door-dasher, so I also have a collar on him as well, just in case. I can’t imagine what it would be like if he ever got out and never returned. No matter how many days, weeks, months, or years went by, I’d always be looking for him, wanting him back. His microchip makes it that much easier for him to find his way home.

Microchipping was included in the adoption fee for my cats, and so it was never even an option or something to consider. But I know that no matter where I adopt cats in the future, I will make sure they are chipped. Because that’s part of being a responsible pet owner.

Read more FAQs about microchipping:


10 Replies to “The Not-So-Stray Cat”

  1. Hi, I had adopted a cat from the Humane Society in Phoenix, AZ. I was told she has a chip. After reading your post I was wondering….when I adopted her, did the Humane Society automatically transfer the chip information to me as the new owner? I never thought about it till I read your post.

    1. It’s quite possible that they didn’t! I would check with your vet, who can look up the chip number in a database to make sure it’s registered correctly to your name. 🙂

      1. Actually, I realized later that there was a link to the microchip registry in your post and went there and registered my cat. I had her chip number on one of the adoption papers. But thanks so much for responding. 😀

    2. I had fostered/almost adopted a cat from a neighbor who fell ill. Zoey was chipped with my neighbor’s info. We had to call the chip place to provide our info. We ended up not keeping Zoey and she went to another owner (we have 2 cats already) and I can only pray she changed the info. over. There was a fee to do so.

  2. I agree about the microchipping!
    One piece of advice I would suggest though, is to get your pet scanned at every vet visit to check that the chip is still working and in the right place. The chip in one of my dogs migrated into his leg where it could easily be missed, so I had to get him chipped again.

    1. That’s a really great point! I’ve had Smirnoff for nearly 2.5 years now, and I’ll definitely make a note to have him scanned on his next visit. Bacardi gets to go in just a month 🙂

  3. Thank you for posting about this – my cat is an indoor cat (occasionally she will go out into the garden) who always wears a collar, she is now 15 so I haven’t got around to chipping her, I think it’s a bit late as her back legs are very weak and she doesn’t like the outdoors unless we are out and it’s very warm but any future cats will be chipped the second I get them!

  4. You did well, both in trying to help a cat that might have needed it – and in chipping your indoor cats.
    I can relate to both situations – saw an outdoor cat once in my neighbourhood – and was not sure if it was owned – till I met some elderly ladies who knew this cat had somebody to take care of it. I phoned the cat shelter, where I got my two from – and the lady was about to come, before meeting those two ladies when I got the news there was a home for this animal. So I phoned her just in time again, to say she need not come. She was nearly out of the door by then .. Felt like an idiot then, but I would do it again.
    And my “new” cat came chipped too – while the tom I had from the same shelter 5 years earlier did not wear a chip when I got him and was tattoed instead. Next time we went to the vet, I had them chip him too – and it was not as expensive here, if I remember correctly.
    But chipping alone is not enough – you have to get your animals registered at some well spread database. Here it is Tasso – it is free – but donations are welcome, of course!

  5. I’ve chipped my cat, even though he is an indoors only. It’s totally worth the money for the piece of mind it brings. I found a dog wandering around on the side of the road while traveling last month. I took it into a Petsmart (they had a vet’s office) and sure enough, no microchip. He was a cute little poodle that had been clipped and had a collar on (no tags either!). I couldn’t dream of not chipping my animals.

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