There’s little more heartbreaking than finding a stray cat or dog – particularly when you’re on vacation or otherwise on the move and it’s difficult to know how to deal with the situation. We all cherish our own pets, and seeing an animal left to struggle on their own is heartbreaking. However, it’s a harsh reality for many former pets – or domestic animals that still never had the chance to be in a home. Many estimates place the current amount of feral cats – in the US alone – at over seventy million. While sadly, you likely don’t have room for another seventy million mouths to feed, there are ways you can help on a smaller scale.
Helping stray animals
“Seeing animals on the street can be a shock to Western travelers,” said Erika Abrams, co-founder of Animal Aid Unlimited in Udaipur, India. “The lives of street animals, also referred to as community animals, can be extremely hard, but they can also be full of joy.” Keep in mind that unfortunately, handling functionally wild animals can pose disease risks to not only you, but any pets you have waiting for you at home. But if you know the proper way to engage with street animals, you could save a life — or at least give temporary comfort. “If you see any animal suffering, don’t walk by, but make an effort,” said Lisa Chastain, shelter manager at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society in Washington state. “Sometimes just giving food and water can go a long way.” If you’re traveling somewhere you anticipate to see strays in need of help, don’t go in blind.
Erin Henry, assistant clinical professor of shelter medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, suggests preparing with the names and contact information of animal rescue operations in your destination. These organizations will likely have more resources to care for found cats or dogs than you will out of your suitcase. Consider also that, depending on where you are visiting, the animal you find may not seem to have typical ‘ownership’, but still might not necessarily be suffering or in need of help. For example, communities in Phuket, Thailand, watch over the beach dogs along with the Soi Dog Foundation, one of the island’s rescue groups, In Istanbul, residents’ heartfelt devotion to the city’s many community cats is so endearing that their interspecies relationship became the subject of a 2016 documentary film, “Kedi.” These animals are well cared for and loved, and likely don’t need any rescuing.
What you can do at home
While it may be distressing to find animals in need of help when traveling, it’s likely that you unfortunately have just as many pets in need in your area. If you want to help the feral cats that live around you, look up a local TNR (trap-neuter-release) program. These programs provide needed veterinary care and food for feral cats that are unable to be kept as household companions, while preventing future generations from reproducing. If you’re aware of a feral cat presence in your own yard, consider putting out an easy DIY shelter to protect them from the elements. And keep your own cats inside, on a harness, or in a protected catio – unsupervised outdoor cats not only face many health hazards, but can fight and breed with feral cats, only making their problems worse.