Adoption of Stray Cats and the Importance of Lost Pet Posters

Example of a well-designed lost cat poster.  A full body picture would make this poster even more effective.

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.

Most common sources of cats acquired during 1996

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.

Literature Cited

Lord, Linda K.  2008.  Attitudes Toward and Perceptions of Free-roaming Cats Among Individuals Living in OhioJournal 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 FactorsJournal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 7(4): 229-241.

4 thoughts on “Adoption of Stray Cats and the Importance of Lost Pet Posters”

  1. Thank Bonnie.

    New et al. (2000) also published an earlier research paper that showed that 20.7% of households acquired their cats as strays and 22.7% of cats relinquished to animal shelters were originally found as stray/abandoned cats. Since these data are from the same survey as New et al. (2004), I am unclear why the percentages are different. However, even 20% is a unexpectedly large number of cats being “rescued” and adopted off the streets.

    Source: New, John C., M.D. Salman, Mike King, Janet M. Scarlett, Philip H. Kass, and Jennifer M. Hutchinson. 2004. Characteristics of Shelter-Relinquished Animals and Their Owners Compared with Animals and Their Owners in U.S. Pet-Owning Households. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 3(3): 179-201.

  2. I totally agree there needs to be more awareness and more done about this.

    You have info on your site about “Think Lost, NOT Stray”, developed by Missing Pet Partnership,

    I recently came across the recorded webinar Kat Albrecht, founder of Missing Pet Partnership did that’s posted on the Best Friends Animal Society site, called
    “Think Lost, Not Stray” – It outlines many surprising reasons that prevent people from searching for their lost pets. (I recently had personal experience with this when a neighbor and I tried to find the owner of a kitten. The father didn’t advertise or make a report with Animal Services because “people help stray dogs, not stray cats.”) Being aware of these barriers can help communities overcome them.

    Increasing the return-to-owner rate for lost pets (aka Proactive Redemption) is part of the No Kill Equation and something that many communities can improve on.
    If communities had people trained to help in pet recovery, more pets could be returned to their owners. Fewer pets would be killed in “shelters”, and fewer pets would take up precious space in rescue groups. Kat outlines this plan in “Missing Animal Response: A Paradigm Shift to Reduce Shelter Kill Rates”,

    The article is on the No Kill Advocacy Center site,

    I believe there’s data showing 1 in 3 pets will go missing during their lifetime.

    Calgary in Alberta, Canada is a city with more than a million people and probably has the highest return-to-owner rate in North America. Over 90% of dogs and 50% of cats are licensed.

    “For dogs, out of an intake of 4330 in 2010, 86% were returned to their owners. Of the returns-to-owner, about 1/3 were returned by animal control officers in the field, without ever entering the shelter. The live release rate for dogs was 95% in both 2009 and 2010. For cats, an incredible 55% were returned to their owners in 2010. The live release rate for cats was 78% in 2009 and 82% in 2010. Overall, the live release rate for cats and dogs combined was 93% in 2010.”

    I believe the following webinar states that when a lost pet report is made with Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services, they send out flyers to the neighborhood where the pet was lost.

    “The Calgary Model for Success:
    In this webinar, Bill Bruce of The City of Calgary Animal Services will share with you the steps he and his organization took to bring his community such a successful program, and the impact it had on animals’ lives in that community.”

  3. Pingback: Risky Behaviors of Outdoor-Access Cats | Compassionate Pet Services

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