How can I help stray cats when all the shelters are full?

QUESTION: This summer I found a mother cat & kittens. The SPCA told me that they couldn’t guarantee that the cats wouldn’t be euthanized so I was looking for a no-kill rescue to take them. Every single rescue I called was full and could not take the kitties in. Can you give me any advice about what to do to help these cats have a better life when the shelters and rescues are inundated?

ANSWER: This is a question that addresses the very heart of the dilemma that all animal rescues face every kitten season. The open-admissions SPCA’s want to have a positive outcome for each and every kitty that comes through their doors, but as the boxes of kittens and carriers of surrendered pets pile up, their options dwindle. The no-kill rescues want to take in every kitty in need that they hear about, but their foster homes swell to bulging very early in the spring, and the process of preparing hundreds of kittens for adoption and sending all of them to homes of their own is a slow one.


The five steps described below are actions you can take to help the cats yourself.

Step One:  Leave a message or speak to a representative from as many rescues in your area as possible. If you know that they are full, make it clear that you just need guidance (most shelters love to speak to people like this!). An effective way to get the names of a lot of these places is to go on your computer to, which is an online resource people use to find a pet. Use this website AS IF you are trying to adopt a cat, typing in your zip code, and cats will be shown, INCLUDING THE NAMES OF LOCAL RESCUES AND LINKS TO THOSE RESCUES. It is a quick and easy way to learn of possible contacts for getting advice, borrowing traps & cages, getting the contact information for low-cost/no-cost spay & neuter clinics, and adoption tips. Once you have the names of three or more local rescues, call weekly, leaving polite messages requesting advice for your situation. Persistence does pay off. Rescues are stressed and over-worked at this time of year, and repeated respectful requests DO get results!

Step Two:  Decide whether it’s possible to bring the kitties inside or whether the only option is to work with them outside until it’s time for spaying & neutering. The common concern about bringing cats indoors is the health of the rescuer’s pets. In reality, if the rescued kitties are treated for fleas and are confined in a garage, small room, or the easiest option, a dog cage ( anyplace that is separate from the owner’s pets), there is very little risk to resident pets. Besides flea medications such as Advantage, Frontline Top Spot, or Revolution, the most common medical treatments given soon after rescue are dewormer and FVRCP (commonly called “distemper”) vaccinations.

Step Three:  Make arrangements for low-cost/no-cost spay & neuter. This is THE most important thing you can do in this whole process. Even if it’s the ONLY thing done, this alone will make a huge improvement in the lives of these cats. Most clinics will neuter kittens when they weigh 3 lbs or are 3 months old, and some places will do them even earlier. If the kittens aren’t ready yet, make every attempt to get the mother cat and have her spayed as soon as all the kittens have STARTED to eat on their own. Many people assume that as long as the kittens are doing some nursing, she can’t get pregnant again. This is false! A female cat can go into heat as soon as her kittens are weaned, usually by six weeks of age. Many kittens will continue to do some nursing while they are eating food from a plate, but this does not prevent the queen from going into heat and becoming pregnant again. Female kittens can go into heat as early as 5-6 months of age.

We are very lucky in this area to have access to a number of excellent spay/neuter clinics, almost all charging $70 or less per cat. Some charge $35 for a feral (wild) kitty in a trap. The price includes spaying or neutering, vaccinations, and an “ear tip.” An ear tip is a leveling of the left ear of a feral cat, so that there is an easily visible, universally recognized sign that the cat has been neutered.

Some local spay/neuter clinics are:

  1. Forgotten Cats: clinics in Willow Grove and Trainer, PA ; Price ranges from $35 up, depending on factors such as whether you are working through a rescue like CAN, spaying an individual pet cat or a trapped feral, etc.
  2. The Spayed Club: clinic at 800 Chester Pike, Sharon Hill, PA 19079; ; 484-540-8436; Price for cats is $60.
  3. CCSPCA van to The Spayed Club:  one day each month the Chester County SPCA teams up with The Spayed Club to offer low-cost spay/neuter services to our local community. The Spayed Club performs the surgeries, with convenient same-day pickup/dropoff from CCSPCA. (Dropoff is 6:30 am, and pickup is 7 pm.) This service is available for dogs and cats, with limited space for female dogs. Price for cats is $60. Contact the CCSPCA at for the date of the next transport.
  4. No Nonsense Neutering: clinics in Reading & Allentown, PA. The Reading Clinic is at 1500 Frush Valley Road, Reading, PA 19560; 1-866-820-2510; Wednesday, Fridays, & 4th Sundays by appointment; Walk-ins allowed for one trapped cat. $35 per cat
  5. Fairchild Feral Friends: 3rd Sunday of the month at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County (58 Kennel Rd., off of Rt. 724, between Rts. 10 & 176); For Feral Cats Only; E-mail Dr. Fry for an appointment at ; Walk-ins allowed for one trapped cat; Minimum $35 donation

All of the above clinics do an outstanding job of spaying & neutering hundreds of cats per month at a small fraction of the usual cost of these surgeries. They are making giant strides at addressing the only real, long-term solution to the overpopulation problem.

If you have a number of rescued cats who need neutering and finances are an issue, contact CAN or another cat rescue to see if they can help.

Step Four:  Recuperate the cats or kittens after surgery by confining them to a dog cage or small room. One clinic, Forgotten Cats, does the recuperation on their premises by confining the cats to their traps. Male cats need at least one day to recuperate while females need three days.

Step Five:  Socialize and advertise! Handling the kittens and mother cat and interacting with them on a daily basis get them used to people. If the kitties enjoy this and can be easily petted and held, they will make good family pets. The ideal way to find responsible and loving homes is through people you know – your network of friends and acquaintances at work, church, school, among family and neighbors, etc.

An additional option is to advertise, using the newspaper, social media, posters at vet offices and pet stores, etc. This can be an effective way to find homes as long as you are careful.

First, never, ever, ever advertise the cats as “Free.” This can attract unsavory characters who look for unfortunate free animals for their own sick purposes. Free animals also give the impression that the care and medical attention that has been given is not worth anything and that the cats themselves are worthless commodities that are easily obtained and easily discarded. A true animal lover will never be upset about an adoption fee that reflects the valuable medical care that the kitty has received.


Secondly, ask the person for a vet reference and call this vet to make sure the adopters have actually had pets and have given them good care. What if the interested party has never had pets? Ask for a parent’s or other relative’s vet reference. If this isn’t available, use your own good judgment. If you feel uneasy during the interaction or notice “red flags” in some of their actions or words, don’t go through with the adoption. Innocent lives are in your hands, and it is better to be safe than sorry. You will feel very warm and fuzzy vibes when the right people arrive. They will be happy to provide their vet’s name because they are proud of the way they care for their pets, and they will be thrilled to find out the kittens are already vetted at such a reasonable rate.

Thirdly, rescues like CAN are usually very willing to post pictures and write-ups of the kitties of Personal Rescuers on their website, which is linked to Petfinder. This is called a “courtesy listing,” and it can be a very effective way to bring your kitties to the attention of people searching for a pet. CAN will also do the vet check and a phone interview with the prospective adopter, if you wish.

What if, after weeks of working with the kitties, they do not respond to interaction with humans and are still frightened and wary? These cats are truly feral and will be much happier as outdoor cats in a situation where they receive food, water and shelter. Ideally, they can be returned to the location where they were found. If this is not possible, they can be re-homed to a barn or other safe location where they can live out their days as the free “wild things” that they are. Most rescuers are pleasantly surprised after a feral colony of cats has been neutered and released, how happy, healthy, and cohesive the group becomes!

These are the five steps to making a difference in the lives of that mother cat and kittens you found. Is it easy? Quite honestly, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. Is it satisfying? That answer is more predictable – “Absolutely!”