Many people think strays can handle the cold better than indoor pets, but that's not necessarily true. The cold is tough on animals, including strays, and they can even die from frigid temperatures! I have several stray cats living around my complex, so I've come to learn a lot about them over the last couple of years. While stray dogs aren't as common, in some countries they're as abundant as feral cats. No matter what stray animal you have near you, please consider helping them out this winter. Here are four ways you can make their lives a little easier, and possibly even save them.
Call in a stray
Sometimes, a stray cat or dog could simply be a lost pet. Check to see if the animal has a collar: If it does, it might have a number on it, which you should call right away. If the animal has no collar, or clearly doesn't want you near it, the best thing to do is to contact the local authorities and report it. In NYC, you can call 311 to report a stray dog, abandoned pets, or orphaned kittens. Do some research and check out local state/country policies regarding strays. Also, Animal Care and Control (ACC) accepts reports of lost, found, stray, or abandoned animals. You can check the ACC's lost/found database to report a lost pet too, or see all reported lost pets. It may even help you identify the stray you saw out on the road! That said, if an animal appears to be dangerous or shows signs of rabies, call 911 right away!
Create shelters for strays
In the event you know for a fact this is no one's pet, consider building the stray(s) a shelter. Chances are, they'll need somewhere to rest for the night. Most animal shelters (including the ACC) will not take in "healthy stray adult cats," so it's important strays have a place to stay. You can make shelters out of all sorts of objects, like storage bins and plywood. Just make sure you do not insulate the shelter with blankets, hay, folded newspapers, or towels, as these materials do not fare well when wet. Also, just as a side note, cats tend to group together in a colony, so make sure your shelter can fit them all.
Feed a stray
Winter isn't exactly a time of abundance: It can be incredibly hard for strays to find food. This is especially true when it snows. Please consider providing some food for them. You'll be saving them a lot of time and energy wasted in hunting for food. Make sure to place any food and water you get for them near the shelter, since this will allow them to easily find it. However, make sure the food and water are protected from the elements (you don't need rain water and leaves falling into it). It's okay to place food inside the shelter, but do not put water inside of it. Also, if you live in an area where the water might freeze up, consider getting an electric heated water bowl. This will ensure the water stays a liquid, not a solid.
Consider adopting a stray
Is there a particular stray in your neighborhood who seems extra friendly and likes you a lot? Perhaps you should consider taking the stray home with you and adopting it. If the animal seems willing to come with you, make sure you stop by the veterinarian first. Unfortunately, strays can carry diseases on them, so it's very important to make sure your health, as well as the health of anyone else living with you, comes first. Of course, there's also the animal to think about: They might have a health problem that's only detectable to trained eyes. It's best to get this sorted out ahead of time, so you can do everything in your power to let the stray lead a good life with you. Also, be sure to reflect on the responsibility taking a stray home with you entails. While it's a great idea, and could save a stray's life, the animal deserves lots of love and attention. If you feel you cannot give it everything it needs, do not attempt to take it home. If you feel you can handle these responsibilities, then make sure to express compassion and caution while taking the animal with you. Also, remember to check your state's requirements on ownership—believe it or not, you may have to satisfy some local or state requirements before you're the legal owner of the animal. Whatever the case, once you are the legal owner, please try to keep the cat (if it is a cat you adopted) indoors at all costs. It spent most of its life as a stray, so it probably had to hunt rodents and birds for food. Unfortunately, cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds every year. This is bad news for local birds, especially endangered ones. Keeping your adopted cat indoors will help both the former stray and birds alike.