I was surprised to recently learn that as many as 30% of people acquire their cats because they were found as strays or abandoned or “just showed up” (New et al. 2004) This does not include cats adopted from shelters, which accounted for another 13% of cats acquired, or those adopted from rescue groups, friends or strangers. These are all cats that were found roaming the streets or showed up on someone’s back porch. Unfortunately, most people tend to assume that a loose cat is homeless or abandoned rather than lost, and they will make limited or no effort to find the cat’s original owner. (For more information, see Missing Pet Partnership’s “Think Lost, Not Stray.”) So it is quite possible that many of these “stray or abandoned” cats are actually lost cats that were never found. Since most cats do not seem to travel very far, these statistics underscore the importance of aggressive local advertising (i.e. lots of large florescent lost cat posters) when a cat goes missing.
These statistics are from two studies conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy and published in several research papers, which are available for download on their website. An estimated 4.62 million households (17.1% of households surveyed) acquired at least one cat during 1996 with a total of 8.6 million cats adopted. Table 1 shows a break down of the most common sources for acquiring cats. Since some households acquired more than one cat in a year, more than one source was possible per household. Regionally these statistics may be even more shocking. Lord (2008) found that 44.7% of cat owners in Ohio had acquired at least one of their present cats as a stray.
Lord, Linda K. 2008. Attitudes Toward and Perceptions of Free-roaming Cats Among Individuals Living in Ohio. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 232 (8): 1159-1167.
New, John C., William J. Kelch, Jennifer M. Hutchinson, M.D. Salmon, Mike King, Janet M. Scarlett, and Philip H. Kass. 2004. Birth and Death Rate Estimates of Cats and Dogs in U.S. Households and Related Factors. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 7(4): 229-241.