Helping animals in need has been an inclination of mine since childhood. I grew up with many pets, some who were rescued from less than ideal situations, and have volunteered time fostering cats and participating in shelter events as an adult. If you're like me, animals seem to find you. I like to be knowledgable and prepared when one needs help.
This Ible provides guidelines and recommendations for a simple and portable Street Kitty Rescue Kit. While I am not suggesting you spend all your off hours trolling the neighborhood for strays, I do find that having these materials together in the trunk ready to go will help you be prepared to deal with cats in need, should you run across them. Examples of this might include getting a call from a friend who has found orphaned kittens under a porch, or finding a lost cat outside that needs help reuniting with its owner. A little time, heart, and know-how can make a huge difference; getting cats (urban and rural) off the streets and into the hands of vets and rescue professionals who can put them on the path to happy, safe homes. *Always abide by your local laws when participating in a rescue or rehoming effort and know the limitations of your experience.
While I have participated in a number of rescue and rehoming situations, I found that I had very few "in progress" photos on hand. I suppose when you're in the middle of a rescue effort, the last thing to worry about is taking a selfie. The cat photos in this Ible are of those I have personally fostered or adopted (my current cats, Kermit and Gonzo, were adopted from the Central LA Shelter at the peak of kitten season), as well as cats at the fantastic animal shelter my friend is a weekly volunteer with.
Step 1: Safety: Identifying Cat Aggression
First, a quick note on safety.
When you see a stray, do not immediately lunge and try to pick it up. Be still and observe the cat's body language. Assessing a cat's comfort level with people helps prevent you from being injured and increases the chances that your care/ rescue efforts will be successful.
If the cat seems calm and curious, slowly kneel and extend your hand palm down so they can approach you to sniff it. A cat who is comfortable will usually sniff and then rub their face on your hand. A successful contact here is usually a sign that the cat is familiar with people and will likely cooperate with being handled.
A cat that seems curious but frightened may take a jog back from you or tighten into a ball to feel safer. Look for wide eyes and dilated pupils. Move slowly and speak calmly. This may be the point at which a food incentive helps establish trust. If the cat's nervousness becomes defensiveness, telltale signs will include: Ears turned back, raised fur or puffed tail, trashing tail, hissing, low growls, and swiping with a front paw.
Do NOT approach a visibly aggressive cat. There will be those cats that don't understand you mean to help and are just not having it, and you will have to let those situations go. Trying to handle an aggressive cat puts you at risk for injury. Let these guys go on their way, unless the situation is such that the cat is in mortal danger or is a danger to others (neighboring pets, children, etc.) Contact the owner, if there is one, or contact your local Animal Control as they will be properly equipped to deal with a highly aggressive animal.
Step 2: Lightweight Carrier
The first major component of any good rescue on-the-go kit is a medium sized carrier. When not in use, this carrier can hold all your supplies and be neatly stashed in your car. The type of carrier you choose is really a matter of personal preference and the types of situations you foresee yourself in most often.
I personally prefer soft carriers as I find them to be lighter and less cumbersome. In addition, I have found most of my animals to be more at ease inside these vs. old school hard crate carriers. I suspect it may be because the mesh allows them to see what's going on and have more visual contact with me.
The benefits of a hard crate are durability and typically more space for carrying larger cats. They are also easier to clean if they get soiled, since you can simply hose it out and scrub it down.
Step 3: Blanket and Heat Pack
A cheap fleece blanket or old towel is another must for the kit, and serves a few purposes. "Pet blankets" can often be found at grocery or pharmacy end caps. An old towel from your linen closet will do nicely too.
Line the bottom of the carrier with the blanket/ towel. This provides a soft, comforting footing for the cat inside. They will be more at ease and also not slide around as you walk with the carrier. If the cat soils the crate in any way (bathroom accident, blood from a wound, etc.), the blanket/ towel can be washed to prevent spread of disease between cats or simply thrown away and exchanged for a new one when worn out.
This soft layer also acts as an insulating nest should you pick up young kittens who need to stay warm, or bring in a cat who has been stuck outside in harsh winter conditions.
Depending on where you live, it may be advisable to carry a disposable hand warmer pack as well. These are often available at pharmacies during fall and winter. The one-time use packs are usually on sale for $1.00, and there are also versions you can boil to re-use over and over. I keep a few in my regular car first aid kit for people too.
Always put the warmer UNDER the blanket/ towel. Packs can get very hot and the blanket will prevent direct contact that might burn a cat's foot pads. Keeping it under the cloth will also help spread the heat more evenly across the bottom of the carrier.
You can also use a blanket or towel to pick up a nervous cat. Being fully enveloped makes the cat feel more secure, and it also protects you from claws. Pictured here, my anxious cat Gonzo is wide eyed and struggling a bit when first picked up, but after a minute in the blanket burrito he mellows out.
Step 4: Important Phone Numbers
Most of us are not able to provide long term sanctuary for every kitty we find. If you have removed a cat from a bad situation, now you need an appropriate place to take it for further help. You may find a cat in need of medical attention, or simply one who seems lost that you want to scan for a microchip. Kittens under 8 wks should definitely be seen by a qualified vet or rescue personnel, as they may need to be bottle fed.
Gather a few core phone numbers from your area that will be useful. I recommend printing these on one tag and attaching it to the kit carrier with something durable like a zip tie. While I know most people just look stuff up on their phone these days, its nice to just have these contacts already figured out and immediately available. Including the hours of operation can save you some headache as well.
I suggest your list include:
One local cat rescue that you have researched. Know where they are located and the size of their organization. Is it a small operation in one house or do they have multiple fosters? These facts may determine how likely they are to be able to take on a new cat.
One local animal shelter. No kill shelters are obviously preferred, but county shelters will have microchip scanners and some types of medical help available. If you live in a city with multiple shelter options, go for one with high visibility that makes proactive efforts to get animals adopted (fundraisers, public events, adoption fairs, etc.)
If you have to drop an animal at a shelter, take a clear photo and make sure to get the number they are assigned at the shelter. You can use this information to create a 'FOUND" poster if you're trying to re-unite a lost pet with an owner, or to make flyers advertising an un-claimed animal to perspective new owners.
NOTE: Photograph with printed black and white flyers in mind. Put a light cat against a dark background, and dark cats on a light background. This gives the clearest silhouette and optimal contrast for prints/ xeroxes. This black kitty wandered into our apartment complex and the clear posters we hung in the neighborhood helped reconnect him with his owner.
Your list should also include:
A 24hr vet. In case of medical emergencies or the need for a microchip reader after normal business hours.
Your Preferred Vet. If you have established a strong relationship with the vet you use for your own pets, it's a good idea to have their number handy. Knowing the level of care and attention to expect can be a big relief. You may also be able to work out a boarding situation if the cat(s) you bring in are too delicate to go into the shelter system.
Local Animal Control. If a situation is beyond what you can handle or involves a dangerous animal, you may have to make this call. Always be honest with yourself about your capabilities vs. reality.
Step 5: Gloves and a Flashlight
Cats and kittens can get stuck in some pretty unbelievable places. A flashlight and gloves are invaluable tools if you're on a rescue mission, especially at night.
I like thick cotton gloves or gardening gloves, provided they allow good dexterity. Gloves protect your hands if you're reaching into something prickly like thick brush, have to climb a fence, or remove splintery wood to access at a cat in need. They also protect your fingers from teeth and claws if the cat you're helping gets frightened and lashes out. You might also opt to wear gloves if the cat is particularly wet or dirty, to get a better grip. If a cat has significant wounds, it may be best to wear gloves to protect yourself from fluids and also prevent germs from your skin from transferring onto the cat.
Obviously, a flashlight will help you see into dark places (under a house, into a hole). A nice portable keychain size will do for most situations. It is also handy for reading ID tags in the dark.Sometimes a quick phone call to the number on a ID tag can solve a lost kitty mystery in a matter of minutes.
I can not stress enough: Tag your pets with contact information, especially if they go outdoors. A collar and tag let a stranger know this pet is owned and cared for, and makes it so much easier for someone to re-connect you with a lost pet. In addition, it is wise to microchip your pets. Remember to keep the contact information current! Many people forget to update their information with the microchip company after moving and the people working to find the pet owner are left with a dead end.
Step 6: Food and Treat Incentives
I always have a can or two of cat food in my car, because you never know. You may run across a stray who just looks like he could use a meal. Sometimes if a cat is in no immediate danger, you may just want to offer an open can of food as an act of good will and leave it at that. Or you may take part in rescuing a cat who has been stuck somewhere a while, unable to access food. Don't expect a cat who has just been through a traumatic event to eat a lot, but sometimes a little food is just the thing to comfort an animal, establish trust, and get them feeling physically balanced again.
Pouches are a great option because they are very light, easy to pack just about anywhere, and there are no sharp edges.
Have one small bowl in your kit.I like to use a resealable tupperware container because it can save leftover food or contain a mess until you get a chance to wash it.
Carrying a small bottle of water is also a good idea that serves multiple functions. If a cat has been trapped somewhere for a while without access to water, it will need to hydrate. Using your to-go bowl, you can also offer water to a stray cat on a particularly hot day to help prevent de-hydration from occurring in the first place. Water can also be poured on a corner of your towel and used to clean a wound in a pinch.
A small bag of crunchy treats is optional, but very handy.Anything you can shake and make that noise that brings cats running. My cats are nuts for anything "cheese" flavored. A cat's reaction to that treat shake sound may help you determine whether it is a lost pet (who knows what treats are), and a cat who recognizes the sound may be encouraged to come out from a hard to reach hiding spot.
Step 7: Neosporin, Band Aids, Hand Sanitizer
Since this is a simplified kit (and not intended to substitute for veterinary care), I've boiled it down to three must-haves: Neosporin, Band-Aids, and Hand Sanitizer. For an expanded list of pet first aid kit suggestions, please see my Pet Evac Pack Ible.
Neosporin (Triple Antibiotic Ointment) is safe to use on cats. Ideally you would clean the wound first using a clean cloth and water or saline. If the cat won't hold still for all that, even a quick application of neosporin is better than nothing. Since there is no dressing involved, you can even send an alley cat back on its way after applying Neosporin to a small wound. Examples of "small wounds" might be a skin irritation or bites/ scratches from a fight. The goal is to promote healing and prevent infection. The neosporin can also be used on you if you get a bite or scratch during a rescue effort.
SAFETY NOTE: Some people are very sensitive to cat bites and scratches. This is another good reason to wear the gloves in your kit religiously. If you get scratched or bitten, clean the wound asap. A mild allergy may involve a little puffiness or itchiness at the site. If you experience excessive redness, swelling, or develop a fever, see a doctor.
The Band Aids are mostly for you. You might find yourself crawling under a building or pulling kittens out of a lumber pile and get a little scraped up. Since they won't stick to fur they won't be much good to an injured cat, though a small band-aid can be used to hold torn ear together temporarily while in transit to a vet.
Wounds larger than a quarter are likely something that should be addressed by a professional veterinarian as they may require stitches or special dressing. Do not attempt to treat major medical issues unless you are trained.If you find a cat who needs major medical attention, use those numbers on your handy bag tag to connect it with a qualified source of care.
Hand sanitizer is for you in the aftermath of your stray cat interaction. Protect yourself and your pets at home by thoroughly cleansing hands and any other body part that touched a strange cat. Even ones that do not appear sick could have a bit of a cold or infection, and you don't want to bring that home.
Do NOT clean a cat's wound with hand sanitizer because alcohol is drying and may sting and startle the cat.
If your clothes got soiled or if you saw signs of fleas ( excessive itching, flea dirt, etc.) during a kitty rescue effort, the clothes you were wearing should go straight into the washing machine for a hot water cycle..
Step 8: Happy Helping!
The idea that we "can't help them all" can be daunting and saddening, but we should still do what we can to help the few that cross our paths. I hope the suggestions in this rescue kit will help you be better prepared to assist in local kitty rescue situations that pop up, ultimately helping cats to find health and their forever homes. Maybe you'll even find a few forever buddies along the way like I did.
You can also help by donating goods to your local animal rescue or shelter. Most facilities are eager to accept donations of cat litter, litter pans, towels, newspapers, and new cat toys. Rescues that deal with bottle feeding kittens will need products like KMR formula and nursing bottles. Some facilities are particular about what types of food they can accept, with the health of the animals being a top priority. If you'd like to donate wet or dry food, call your local shelter and ask what brands they accept to ensure your donation can be put to immediate use. Here is a local shelter's wish list as an example, to show you the type of products kitten/cat rescues are in most need of.
If you've enjoyed this Ible, please send us a vote in the Animal Innovations contest. If you have suggestions for other ready-to-go items you think would be a good addition to this kit, or if you have rescue stories to share, please leave them in the comments below!