Intake: Which cats should you take in?
Having new procedures for that first contact can make the difference between taking all cats in (and becoming overcrowded) and prioritising those cats in the greatest need and helping them well. Sometimes we just need to take a deep breath and ask questions.
In human medicine ‘triage’ (meaning prioritising the urgent cases) by trained staff ensures patients receive treatment in the right place at the right time from the right person, preventing unnecessary admissions to hospital so that their staff can focus on the patients who need them the most. In CFH this needs to be done too, by having the necessary knowledge to identify the urgent cases and respond with a range of solutions for the others. In addition, only those cats that will benefit from being taken into a homing centre should be admitted. For example, a neutered stray cat that is getting by quite happily can be left where it is with support from a willing person to feed and keep an eye on it, while a friendly pet abandoned by its owner can be taken in.
Equally important in healthcare is that anyone going into hospital has a plan to come out as quickly as possible. The same applies to all the cats coming into your homing centre.
You will probably need to be more structured around how you manage admissions to your homing centre. You should make it clear on your website and other advertising materials that you do not have an open intake policy and people need to make an appointment if they wish to bring in a cat. There are many ways that a cat may be brought to your attention:
- Enquiry from the owner or a person taking responsibility for the cat’s care
- Enquiry from a concerned member of the public about a cat/cats they do not own
- Enquiry from another welfare organisation or local authority with responsibility for animal welfare or public health
- Personal visit from the owner or a person taking responsibility for the cat’s care (with or without the cat)
- Cat abandoned at your homing centre
At the point of that first contact (often a phone call), there may be the opportunity to:
- Take the person’s name and address and contact details
- whether they are the primary carer of the cat(s) involved
- the registered owner on the cat’s microchip database (eg this may be the estranged partner)
- if they are intervening on the owner’s behalf (and the owner has given them the authority to do so)
- the reason for relinquishment (eg behavioural problem)
- whether or not the situation represents an emergency
- The age and health status of the cat
- Decide whether the cat is a pet cat (and thus can go through the homing process) or a non-pet cat requiring a different solution
You can then explore different options other than immediate intake, such as:
- Give advice or help which may prevent or delay the cat having to be taken in
- Commence the process of looking at alternatives which could be better for the cat, such as TNR etc
- Consider other options, such as working with other organisations locally who may have capacity (you can return the favour on another occasion)
- Provide assistance or information to an owner who (with the right guidance or help) may be able to keep their cat after all
- Put the cat on a waiting list – If you decide to put the cat on a waiting list, then it is important to ensure the current owner (or person who is calling about the cat) feels that you are working hard for them and will take their cat as soon as possible. Giving regular updates and managing the expectations of those on the waiting time is really helpful
Working with the community
Working at optimum rather than maximum capacity means that staff may have time to work within the community. This allows you to understand why cats in your area need your help and by doing so you may be able to take preventive measures. Proactively managing cat welfare within the local community, requires public trust in you or your organisation. This may take time to achieve and will require an open, transparent approach. Working with the community can help some people and cats, without the cats needing to come into your homing centre. By managing calls, each situation can be assessed about the best way forward. Options include:
- Home to home adoption, bypassing any need for a cat to stay in a homing centre
- Providing financial help as an alternative to rehoming, for example, if the owner has temporary financial difficulties it may enable them to keep their pet if you can provide cat food for an agreed period of time
- Giving advice and support for behavioural problems
- Providing urgent support (neutering/veterinary) and then placing the cat on a waiting list
- Supporting people to care for strays and free-living cats where they are
- Determining cats’ needs in familiar surroundings and moving them straight to foster or ‘alternative lifestyle’ homes
- Developing a network of foster homes, alternative lifestyle homes etc. before they are needed, so that you are able to plan ahead. When you need a home urgently this will be an invaluable resource and improve outcomes for cats
- Becoming involved with education, working with other organisations etc. For example, the UK based Cats Protection are working within the community to support their neutering campaign http://www.kind.cats.org.uk/
- Building relationships with the wider community and the public, other animal groups, veterinary professionals, local government, voluntary organisations supporting people and social care. This will help you provide better support and manage more complex situations such as multi-species homes
- Building relationships with the education community, especially veterinary and animal care training to discuss new ways of working and possible academic research
- Understanding people’s concerns and attitudes – offering positive outcomes for people is important too. For example, cat welfare may not be a concern for local people but reducing noise, smells etc. may be
- Developing long term relationships – if you are managing a homing centre with extensive community outreach then it is likely to be in place for many years. If you are running a TNR programme this may be a short-term engagement, but you will still need to leave a sustainable plan in place. This will involve identifying and enabling members of the community to continue to monitor and oversee the cat population
Zoe Edwards from Mayhew talks about working in London and the benefits that free-living cats can bring to the local community
|How it works:
You have information about a small area where a number of cats are reproducing. You take steps to work with that community to spay/neuter cats and engage in education and support. Previously you may have waited for people to contact you each time there is a new litter of kittens, thereby never addressing the root cause. Gathering information and maintaining contacts in the community will give you early warnings of developing situations. For example, finding out about someone with 8 cats needing support is much more manageable than when they have 20 or 30.
Reuniting lost or stray cats
There may be situations where you take in and care for stray or lost cats prior to being reunited with their owners. You can achieve this by using the information on the cat’s ID microchip if the cat has one, or through local advertising or social media. However, many stray cats remain unclaimed. Some countries have statutory periods during which stray or lost cats must be held in the hope of being reunited with their owners. After that period, if not claimed, they can be made available for adoption. In areas without statutory requirements, the individual organisations are responsible for creating their own protocols, showing evidence that appropriate measures were taken to find the original owners before rehoming the cat.