What to do if you see a cat in your neighborhood

Every so often I get a message from someone regarding a cat in their yard/by their house. They want to know what to do about it and how they can help the cat. I’m certainly not an expert, but last week I got to TNR with the best of the best in Chicago (again). So, I figured I’d ask them, what do you do if you come across a cat in your area?

The first thing is to observe the cat and see if it has it’s ear-tipped. An ear tip signifies that the cat has already been trapped, sterilized, and returned. Cats with ear tips are cared for by community caretakers and therefore it does not need your help!

If the cat isn’t ear-tipped, does it have a collar and tag? If so, this means the cat is a family pet that is allowed to roam outdoors. While most experts agree that pet cats should be indoor-only, there are still cats that are owned by people that are allowed to roam outside. Collars are the biggest clue that they are family pets and also don’t need your intervention. 

So let’s say the cat doesn’t have its ear tipped or a collar, now what? If the cat is friendly, it’s best to snap a picture, put the cat in a carrier, and take it to a local vet, police station, or pet store. Any of these places will have a microchip scanner on hand. They’ll scan the cat and check to see if it is microchipped. If the cat is microchipped, call the owners and let them know you have their cat. If the cat is not microchipped, post flyers and post his picture to lost pet boards. Then, skip the next paragraph, and check out how to get the cat vetted. 

Let’s say Mr. Kitty would prefer you don’t touch him, it’s time to TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return). If you live in the Chicago area, Treehouse Humane Society and PAWS Chicago rent out traps. At PAWS, you’ll make a $70 deposit that’s fully refundable upon the return of the trap. Along with renting a cage, you’ll get a tutorial by a PAWS team member. You can also read detailed steps about how to TNR here

Now, if you live in Chicago and you’ve trapped the cat, I was told that PAWS Chicago has the best “feral package” of any of the organizations serving feral cats. PAWS is targeting the zip codes  60609, 60617, 60621, 60623, 60628, 60629, 60632, 60636, so if you live in one of those, the vetting for your feral cats is free. Vetting is also free if you have a medical card. 

Outside of those zip codes, vetting a feral cat costs about $50. The package includes spay/neuter, ear tip, deworming, flea/tick medicine, ear cleaning, grooming (if needed), wound cleaning, vaccinations, and attend to injuries needing amputation. It is strongly recommended that you make an appointment as there are only specific days of the week (Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sun) when they accept feral cats. You can ask to make a feral appointment by calling 773-521-7729. 

Let’s say the cat you catch is potentially a friendly cat, you can request an evaluation by a PAWS team member. You can contact them at 773-475-9462 or intake@pawschicago.org. Once the cat passes the evaluation, it will be able to be adopted and kept at PAWS. 

Now if the cat is truly feral, you’ll want to look into becoming a colony caretaker. Colony Caretakers have legal protections from Cook County so if you’re taking care out outdoor cats already, you’ll definitely want to apply. You can find the application in English here and Spanish here

This kitten season has been brutal. Everywhere I look, it seems as though a new litter is born. According to Autumn Cirrus of Castle BlackPaw, it’s due to the weird early spring we had. Cats are seasonal breeders so with the warmer early weather came mating cats. It simply hasn’t stopped. Autumn has trapped hundreds of cats each year and is ready for it to let up.

I really enjoyed my TNR experience with this crew. Thank you, Autumn, Sterling, Erica, Jenny, Rachel, Simba, Ro, and everyone else who works tirelessly to stop the suffering of so many kittens every year. 


This shirt is from my other cat friend Adam, aka, The Catman of West Oakland. You can purchase your own here. 


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