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What’s the Right Thing to Do?

Hissy Fit Jones here. I’m the go-to guy for all things stray and feral.

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous contacted Rumpy this week. He spoke of a neighbor who has several outdoor cats. The neighbor feeds the cats, but that’s about it.

The reader said he recently noticed one of the cats was injured, and he mentioned it to the neighbor. The neighbor said the cat was fine. The reader decided to take the cat to the vet and get it fixed up.

This led us to a discussion of what are the ethical implications for caring for outside cats.

If the animals are strays and you feed them, does that make them yours? Or are you just providing a handout?

If they keep coming back, what types of care should you be expected to provide for these animals?

And if you’re in a position like our reader, what should you do?

I can speak from our own recent experience with mama and her babies. Mama came here looking for some help to feed her kittens. We tried to find a rescue to take the kittens, but had no luck. We agonized over what was the best thing to do, and what could we live with. Jen decided to have mama spayed. But when taken in, mama tested positive for FeLV. The vet strongly recommended that she be euthanized and the kittens surrendered. It was difficult, but that’s what we did. And I haven’t told you all this before now because the whole experience has been upsetting.

It’s my position that if you’re going to feed them more than once, you’ve made a commitment. As such, you should take reasonable steps to provide care. That means spay/neuter, vaccinations, and medical care. And if you can’t afford to provide needed medical care, then you should attempt to rehome the animal, surrender the animal to animal control, or have your vet euthanize the animal.

I also believe that if you have a neighbor who is not being a responsible pet owner, it is your responsibility to discuss your concerns with animal control. It may be the owner needs to be educated, or it may be the pet owner is neglectful and there needs to be intervention for the well-being of those animals.

That’s not an easy one, and to be honest, most of us won’t do that because animal control services has been made out to be such a bogeyman. But if animals are sick or injured and are not being properly cared for, I think it’s the right thing to do.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in. What do you think is the right thing to do here?

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About Rumpy's Kitty Siblings

I'm Jen, caregiver to the late, great Rumpydog and now to some rather pesky kitties. You can follow us on Twitter - @FineMellowFella and @HissyFitJones. And don't forget to LIKE our Facebook pages! Thanks!


85 thoughts on “What’s the Right Thing to Do?

  1. Hi, are you my big bwother?

    Mommy says she agwees with you! She says that’s what she did when she found me. She took wesponsibility. Mommy also say that’s enough bwogging for me and that I have to go bed

    Posted by Mr Satchs | June 2, 2012, 1:13 AM
  2. Yup, it’s a hard one. I’m glad it’s not too much of an issue here because I’ve got sucker written on my forehead. We had one feral (or stray, not sure which) male who wasn’t too much of a problem – he’d occasionally harass my cats but for the most part they all found their own space when he came into our garden. He had a hard life patrolling his territory and once he showed up with a horrible, open and raw wound on his shoulder. He would never come near me but I ended up leaving some food out downstairs for him so that he would have a bit more of a fighting chance at getting over his injury. He did get better but disappeared some time later when a more aggressive stray came into the picture. I often wonder what happened to him, but suspect that it wasn’t a happy ending. 😦 The really aggressive stray has also disappeared (I suspect he was probably trapped and handed in to the RSPCA – he certainly cost me some money in vet bills and I saw him fighting with a few other cats too) and we don’t appear to have any wandering strays in the neighbourhood at the moment!

    Posted by Flo | June 2, 2012, 1:19 AM
  3. I totally agree that once you have fed an animal more than once you have stepped up to the mark and need to take responsibilty for that animal and if that means vet visits or reporting of a neglectful owner then so be it.

    Posted by Tina Holmes | June 2, 2012, 1:20 AM
  4. I have four animals, all rescues and I always want to take in more but due to my current situation I can’t adopt any more animals. When I see strays in the neighborhood I am always inclined to feed them. Honestly I have done this once before but I didn’t have the money to take the cat to the ve for an obvious skin issue it had. Spay/neuter surgery is very cheap today and I want to buy a trap to catch strays in order to get them sterilized as a way to give back to our homeless animals. That being said, I think it is ok to feed strays even if you can’t afford to take care of major medical. It’s one thing to feed, sterilize and do a general checkup but major medical can get expensive and while I would loveee to treat every stray I see, I know I can’t afford to do that. I still think doing what you can is commendable and I wouldn’t avoid feeding strays just because I can’t afford a surgery or long term treatment per se. Hope this makes sense and I also hope my financial situation changes soon so that I can start a foundation with my husband thats helps all the animals in need. πŸ™‚

    Posted by Baseball Serendipity | June 2, 2012, 1:20 AM
  5. I have not really been confronted to this issue yet but I am very much aware it’s an important issue. Thanks for bringing it up. I will try to get one of my dearest friends to come to your blog and explain the amazing job he does with his ferals.

    Posted by Chabichou Malabar du Roupillon | June 2, 2012, 1:34 AM
  6. Wow, that’s tough, but being the way I am I would first try to take them all in on my own and then find someone I know well to care for them if they so desired πŸ˜‰

    Posted by hottabb | June 2, 2012, 1:42 AM
  7. Of prime importance always is the health and well-being of the cat – unfortunately not all human beings are intelligent or caring enough to appreciate or realise this and it is therefore left to those of us that care. I have included links to 2 of my posts about Shadow who was a stray cat – I hope you enjoy them.


    Posted by Jill Spain (@JillSpain) | June 2, 2012, 2:02 AM
  8. I’m sorry to hear about Miss Kitty, Hissy Fit. We were dropping by to greet you a happy weekend but then I read the story of your reader who had a neglectful neighbor.

    Like you, I believe once you’ve decided to feed the cat more than once, then you should just go ahead and take responsibility for it. There’s no point beating around the bush.

    Happy Weekend.

    Huggies and Cheese,

    Haopee of MyDogsLove.Me

    Posted by Haopee Ipapa Miniminimo | June 2, 2012, 2:24 AM
  9. Great post. If you feed it it’s your’s as much as it can be depending on how wild it is and the only fair thing if it’s ill or injured is to provide proper care. If you can’t or don’t want to feed it or it’s neglected, injured then contact whatever cat protection organisation is in the area, and to be fair there also make any donation you can afford to them if only at that time. Sorry to hear about mama & the kittens.

    Posted by EllaDee | June 2, 2012, 2:29 AM
    • That’s alot easier said than done though, at least for some. A Twitter friend noted that he surrendered a mama and kittens to a shelter when it came up and was given the third degree. I really wish shelters wouldn’t be so darned accusatory when people are just trying to do the right thing.

      Posted by rumpydog | June 2, 2012, 4:22 PM
  10. I reckon if you are feeding them you have made a commitment.
    Tom was a feral cat.
    He had never had human contact.
    He took one look at me and decided I was a soft touch.
    He is SUCH an affectionate cat.

    Posted by granny1947 | June 2, 2012, 2:31 AM
  11. Hi Hissy!!! *paw waves*
    Well…about today’s post…I TOTALLY agree with you, Hissy. I can’t believe the owner who has the outside cats but doesn’t take the injured one to vet!
    I wonder why he/she fed them then? He or she fed them because he/she loved the cats doesn’t he/she? He/she is not sane….very sad…he/she doesn’t have any right to feed the outside cats anymore.
    I’m very very sorry to hear about mama and those 4kittens….life is not fair……..*huge pawhugs to your family, mama and 4kittens*

    Posted by eripanwkevin | June 2, 2012, 2:53 AM
    • I can’t speak for that person because I don’t know. But I do think it’s the responsibility of each of us to step up and do right by animals when we can. Like you did with Shiro!

      Posted by rumpydog | June 2, 2012, 4:24 PM
  12. I’m still of the opinion that spay/neuter the neighbor is a good idea.

    Posted by Anne Schilde | June 2, 2012, 3:26 AM
  13. This is definitely a hard one…Is it possible for your local shelter to help out?

    Posted by bichonpawz | June 2, 2012, 3:36 AM
  14. I am fortunate that where I live there are many shelters that sponser TNR programs. In fact, there is a vet here who opened a non-profit clinic for TNR and for families struggling due to the economy. I’m sorry to hear about Mama kitty. I was wondering about what you did, but did not want to send a message, because I figured something not to good happened. Love to all Joyce, Cleo the diva and Isaiah

    Posted by cleokitty | June 2, 2012, 4:51 AM
  15. It is a difficult one! because Austin is an outside/inside kitty, he has his territory and guards it well, therefore we don’t get too many strays around. We do have Tigger and if he is a stray, he’s doing very well on it! We do feed him from time to time, but he does not need it. He is Austin’s friend. There is now another cat – black long hair and he/she’s been sleeping in our summerhouse which has a cat flap. I have put food up there. If I could catch it I would take it to the vet to see if it was microchipped. If not I would make sure it was neutered and healthy. After that, who knows, it could probably survive very well on coming and going to the summerhouse with me putting food out. Austin seems ambivilent re its presence here.

    I am really sorry about the mother and kitties 😦 I think there was a lot of heartache there xox

    Posted by CATachresis | June 2, 2012, 5:47 AM
  16. Could you make your questions a little less heart-wrenching?
    Wonderful post.

    Posted by jmgoyder | June 2, 2012, 6:05 AM
  17. Here is a few of my human’s experiences.
    She had 3 cats and could help feeding strays outside, mostly feral. My mom came about has a kitten and elected to stay in the neighborhood but remained feral. They tried catching her before she matured and reproduced but failed and I was born. They adopted me and then manage to befriend my mom (took a year) enough to pet her and get her in a cage and hop to the vet for neutering. She still lives outside and the new owners of the house are taking care of her.
    On to our new house, she started seeing lots of feral cats and put up a dry food distributor on the winter time. We started seeing a dozen of them but they ate and left. Some seemed to be related, all black and short hair. A big Tom stayed in one of the winter shelter ( made out of a plastic storage bin) and was getting into fights with me and the others, so my human got him spayed, thinking it would kurb the agressivity but that did not work. We learned to compromise and ignore each other most of the time but there was no way he could come and live inside.
    Then, 2 years ago, a mom came in November with 4 kittens. It had started to snow and the babes were about 6 weeks old. My humans made them a shelter with some insulation inside a transport box, an electric heating pad for the below zero nights and a yogourt maker to keep the moist food from freezing. 3 of the kitten survived, and turned out to be female. As they grew up , the big Tom became more territorial and agressive with them, so we took him to a shelter were he was probably euthanised.
    It became imperative to catch them and have them neutered so we used a cage with a trap door mecanism for racoons, caught all 4 (with the mom) within a 6 weeks period. They recovered for a week inside in a spare room (they were very wild) and were released outside. Except for one that became very friendly and stayed with us. We made sure all the neighbours knew they were neutered so that they wouldn’t freak out seeing so many cats hanging in everyone backyards, and they were OK most of them.
    I do agree that if you are feeding them, you do have a responsability to care for them but within what is possible: some of them we could not approach at all, one male had an eye infection and it was totally irrealistic to think we could put ointment in his eye 4 times a day when we could not get within 10 feet of him. We also debated the extend of the care: for example, the vet agreed to do the surgery without the vaccination, we could not see the point of being vaccinated once and then released ( those were not house cat at all!!). You need to have your in-house ethical committee and examine every case.

    Posted by Tarzan Jean-Vigeant | June 2, 2012, 7:06 AM
  18. This is indeed a tough question. I would be inclined to at least try to catch them and have them fixed. Otherwise you are just going to be overrun with cats, just like the shelters are. One neighborhood I lived in had a catch, spay/neuter, release program. I thought this was a great idea. We want to help animals, but not all stray cats are suitable for being pets. This enabled us to feed them but not let them overpopulate. It would be awesome if all neighborhoods had such a program.

    Yes, I agree that if you are feeding strays, you should be responsible for getting them fixed and providing veterinary care. Rumpy, I think your mom did the right thing.

    Posted by Dawn | June 2, 2012, 7:34 AM
  19. The Commandments of Otis give clear, although admittedly dogmatic (which is hard for a cat to admit) guidance in these matters. http://www.cultofotis.com/commandments_of_otis.html

    Posted by cult of otis | June 2, 2012, 8:00 AM
  20. I am glad I can follow Mr Otis’ comment ‘cuz I can just say ditto to Mr Otis. His commandments are dogmatic, but they reflect our beliefs and actions taken over many years.

    Posted by Savannah's Paw Tracks | June 2, 2012, 8:50 AM
  21. Very provocative post Rumpy with questions that are not easy to answer. The animal world can be cruel, tragic, and overwhelming. I think that generally speaking, if you make a conscious decision to feed strays, that at some point they will become dependent on you more and more, and, as such, you need to accept responsibility. The crux of the matter, however, is education – you can’t assume that everyone knows about TNR, what a feral cat is, what a stray is, how quickly cats can reproduce and so on. It is actually a subject I have struggled with and one that I tackle on my blog today.

    Bless you Jen for all that you do…

    Posted by Deb Barnes - Zee and Zoey | June 2, 2012, 8:51 AM
  22. We agree with you. Strays we have fed have become our beloved pets. We’ve called animal control when animals are not cared for properly. One neighbor had a dog that was tied outside day and night with no shelter, food or water. We feed him, gave him water and a bed. We also called animal control. The dog deserved better, and some people shouldn’t have pets.

    What makes it difficult is knowing an animal needs help and if it goes to animal control, it will probably be put down. We try to find homes for these, and some have become our pets when we couldn’t.

    Posted by Oui Oui | June 2, 2012, 9:16 AM
  23. In the past, when I have found stray kittens (and I have found MANY!), I call local shelters to let them know and offer to foster them if they can help me with adopting them out and spaying and neutering. It has worked about half of the time and it’s always worth a shot.

    I have not had much problem with stray kitties hanging around. I’m sorry about mama cat and the babies, I know that must have been hard for you 😦

    Posted by Julie | June 2, 2012, 9:32 AM
  24. My Bro has 4 rescue house cats, 2 rescue garage cats and a kitty condo in his yard with bedding, food, water. He’s not rich but does what he can because he has a big big heart.

    Posted by Boomdeeadda | June 2, 2012, 9:33 AM
  25. Good question. where’s the limit of when it’s yours, and when it’s not? I honestly wouldn’t know. I would start thinking it would be mine when I start naming it? Next to constant feeding it.

    Posted by Dianda | June 2, 2012, 9:43 AM
    • I think so Dianda. I also think it’s very hard to have to make these choices, but with so many humans choosing to not be responsible, it’s all the more reason that we are.

      Posted by rumpydog | June 2, 2012, 9:45 AM
      • If you feed it, you are responsible for it. Especially if it stays around your house a lot. Simply, because you feed it. I think…
        Hard question, Rumpy! This could be different for some people.

        Posted by Dianda | June 2, 2012, 3:44 PM
  26. I live on a small farm and we get a lot of drop-offs. Once in a while we can let a dog or cat stay and feed and vet (and love) them. But unfortunately, many of them are disruptive to the harmony of the nine of us that already live here. When this happens, Mom cages and feeds them until we can take them to a shelter. She doesn’t think it’s right to feed strays and possibly let them transmit disease to those of us who call this home. Or to feed them and give them a place to have more babies that someone can’t take care of.

    This seems the right way to do things (That’s only an opinion from a dog, but I know how I feel.). I know my life would not be a happy one if Mom couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get me the medical care I need. And other animals won’t benefit if I were allowed to give them diseases and sicknesses.

    Mom has taken in her share of visitors and given them wonderful lives. But she has a saying she’ll tell everyone who has a pet. Her message is this: Never take in and feed more animals than you can afford to vet (all in one day). If they all get sick on the same day (the cances are slim, but…), they will look to their human caretaker to get them the help they need. People have to be responsible to these creatures that cannot take care of these things themselves.

    Posted by onecoolgriff | June 2, 2012, 9:51 AM
  27. Thank you for such a thoughtful post. There aren’t any easy answers to these questions, but we wholeheartedly agree with the ones at which you’ve arrived.

    I’m so very sorry to hear about the mama cat and babies. I know how hard you all tried, and am so thankful that you cared enough to put so much thought and effort into helping them. ((Hugs))

    Posted by meowmeowmans | June 2, 2012, 10:43 AM
  28. Those are some very good questions. There is a small group of ferals (4) who live near my building and 2 neighbour ladies feed them. One day I saw one of the cats with a bad leg – wasn’t putting the foot down. It got better in a few days but I don’t think it was because the ladies took her to the vet.

    Posted by Nanny McFur | June 2, 2012, 12:04 PM
    • Well Nanny, ferals are a bit different. The cat would have to be trapped and the vet would have to anesthetize the cat to provide any treatment, providing you find a vet that will treat him. So they may have weighed their options and hoped for the best. I like to think positive.

      Posted by rumpydog | June 2, 2012, 2:24 PM
  29. I’d be rich if I hadn’t spent all my money fixing the strays wandering our neighborhood the first summer we lived here. We’ve since educated the neighborhood and we don’t really have a cat problem any more. We have cats, but they’re not a problem! I just took in a stray I fed and sheltered all winter, or, should I say, he brought himself in. Today he’s clean, neutered, healthy and has a home with me for the rest of his life. I’m not the only one here that thinks if you feed them then you’re responsible for them and thanks to that we sometimes share the cost of care for an animal.

    Posted by Donna Olsen | June 2, 2012, 1:49 PM
  30. Hi Y’all,

    My Human is a sucker when it comes to strays…

    How y’all doin’? Just hoppin’ by for a visit. Hope y’all are having a fantastic and fun weekend!

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

    Posted by Hawk (@browndogcbr) | June 2, 2012, 3:08 PM
  31. If you feed them, they are yours – in their eyes and others. Shelter, water – the whole thing.
    I know it was a struggle, but you have given the kittens a chance – and care. That’s all you can do sometimes – starvation and cars are not kind.
    Hugs and paw waves

    Posted by philosophermouseofthehedge | June 2, 2012, 3:42 PM
  32. You deserve a medal for going far beyond the call of duty in caring for these homeless kitties. It takes courage to make the right decision, especially when the “right” decision brings pain to your heart. My heart goes out to YOU! It’s good to be back on the blogosphere. I salute you. Russell

    Posted by Russell Smith | June 2, 2012, 4:29 PM
  33. I agree that if you start putting out food and water for a stray, and it keeps coming back, then it’s YOUR responsibility. That animal now completely depends on you for its survival, just as it would for an owner.

    And I know from watching Animal Cops that some states agree. If you are caring for strays for more than a period of time, you officially become that pets caregiver. But in my opinion, even if your state doesn’t require that, I think it would be the right thing to do to either surrender it to a shelter, or care for it as your own.

    Great thought-provoking post!


    Posted by Palm Trees & Bare Feet | June 2, 2012, 4:42 PM
  34. Hiya buddy,
    I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award: http://texascatny.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/another-award-the-versatile-blogger-award/

    Posted by Texas, a cat in New York | June 2, 2012, 7:38 PM
  35. If only we could hold the evil, cruel, gutless people who drop off animals to fend for themselves, the problem would be solved. For every stray out there there is a selfish human who needs training on how to be a human and should be required to “volunteer” in a spay-nueter clinic and work at the humane society. Perhaps the humans can be trained. So much misery for so many animals, all caused at the hands of humans. 😦

    Posted by Shez | June 2, 2012, 8:37 PM
    • On the other hand, a Twitter friend mentioned he had a cat move her kittens in and when he took them to the shelter he was given the third degree. I really wish that rescues and shelters would stop treating people who ARE doing the right thing like they’re bad people for doing so.

      Posted by rumpydog | June 2, 2012, 10:20 PM
  36. We’re so sorry about the loss of your mama. What a difficult thing! It is our belief that if you are feeding the animal then you are responsible for it. That means you should make sure it sees a vet, given loves and kept healthy.

    Bella and DiDi

    Posted by Paws To Talk | June 2, 2012, 8:38 PM
  37. Hissy, one would hope that if a person cares enough to feed them, then they would care enough to do something to alleviate pain and suffering, even if it meant euthanization. But a person can only do what they have the means to do, and those means include money, time, knowledge and emotional capacity. If they choose to feed and not provide health care, that is their decision to make based on what they feel they can do, but I don’t think feeding creates a level of responsibility. I agree that an animal should never be left to suffer, but animal control is not always responsive to these situations and may not even show up, or may want the animal trapped before they arrive. But in the end, feeding may be all a person has the means to give.

    Posted by animalartist | June 2, 2012, 10:23 PM
  38. I’m so sorry about the cat and her kittens. If you trust your vet, the you know you did the right thing.

    We do have one neighbor whose dogs are out on their deck all day long. I’m fairly sure that they block the deck off and leave the dogs outside. I’ve heard that they pee and poop on the deck. Some days they are outside for at least 12 hours. I’m thinking when I go to license the dogs this month, I’ll try and speak to animal control. Luckily for us I haven’t seen any feral cats here but if I did I would catch them and have them altered. I would probably try and find someplace for them. There used to be a cat barn in the area where people dropped off cats and they were taken care of. If I couldn’t find a place, then I would more than likely feed them and take on that responsibility.

    Sorry, that ran a little long. πŸ™‚

    Posted by Jodi Stone | June 2, 2012, 10:33 PM
  39. I find the best thing to do is follow your heart and do whatever you can according to your pocket!!

    Posted by willowdot21 | June 3, 2012, 5:00 AM
  40. Hi Rumpydog,

    Such a tough one, it’s not always easy when you want to make it alright for all but you are just one – it’s great to talk about it though and try to educate people in the hope things will improve for us animals πŸ™‚

    Around here, we really don’t have many Cats, we’ve found a few lost Dogs though and so far we’ve been able to get them all back to their homes πŸ™‚

    Wags to all,

    Snoops πŸ™‚

    Posted by snoopys@snoopysdogblog | June 3, 2012, 10:46 AM
  41. I don’t have much experience with stray cats. It is exceedingly rare for one to come here, probably because of barking dogs. Everyone has to decide for themselves but personally, if I feed a dog it it is mine and I am not going to allow it to suffer with untreated injuries or to populate the earth right on and on.

    That being said, I am bitter that there are many of us who really can’t afford it who have stepped in and provided fully for strays over and over, paying full cost for spaying and neutering. I am angry that so many states have not followed the lead of some of the Northern states and stepped up to the plate with low cost, high volume spay and neuter programs. I think EVERYONE in a state should have to pay a little to instigate programs to reduce the number of strays – not just a few people – especially with its cost effectiveness over time. I am angry that the area shelter charges to take animals, and I am angry that they tell me to go rent my own trap when I am trying to get a feral dog.

    Posted by Bosun Dawg | June 3, 2012, 6:58 PM
  42. I think you and Jen did the best thing for that sick mother feral cat and her kittens. As far as neighbors who are not properly caring for pets goes, I would really try to establish a relationship with the neighbor and offer to help with care and training. If no improvement, then consult with animal control.

    Posted by granbee | June 12, 2012, 2:33 PM

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