Types of Stray Cats

Abandoned Pets

Pets who have been abandoned by their owners are not well equipped to care for themselves in the wild. They are accustomed to being fed on a schedule and do not know instinctively how to fend for themselves any better than the average suburban human. These cats are often accidentally caught in traps set for true feral cats because the food in the trap is an easy target. We gladly take in these cats whenever we have room to give them an opportunity to find new forever homes but our space is dependent on having an available foster home where the cat can be properly quarantined, away from other pets, for 14 days to ensure they do not have communicable illnesses. We do not have a shelter space and are unable to accept stray cats without proper planning. When possible, we do our best to accept cats to be kept on a Stray Hold while attempts to find their owner are made.

Stray cats should be reported to your local county shelter so a found pet report can be filed. Additionally, we encourage you to post photos and descriptions of the found cat on social media and websites such as PawBoost, NextDoor and community Facebook groups where neighbors could be looking for their kitty.

If you know of a lovable stray in your neighborhood, you can contact our intake team for advice at 703-819-5240 or

Feral Cats

Feral cats are born and raised outside and have likely never been exposed to human contact. They often run from humans and appear very afraid, avoiding eye contact or any interaction. It is true that a stray can act as if they are feral when they are in fight or flight mode, so taking note of their appearance and overall health will help. Feral cats are usually very good at taking care of themselves and won’t appear unkempt if they have access to food and water. They are resourceful and find shelter, acting on instinct to stay away from avoidable dangers.

True ferals may never be domesticated and resources are not readily available to intake these kitties. Attempting to bring a feral cat indoors is horribly stressful for the cat and in some cases, can be dangerous for you. We recommend looking for signs that the kitty has been TNR’ed (trap neuter release) which can be identified by an ear tip – the cats ear will have a notch or appear rounded off from the action of a vet clinic snipping a piece off so community members can easily see the cat has been spayed/neutered at one point in time. Cats with an ear tip should oftentimes be left in their outdoor environment unless they appear sick, injured or are actively approaching humans for help.

Whereas Tails High specializes in pets, Alley Cat Allies is an organization that specializes in the humane care of outdoor cats. You may seek options for TNR if you have cats or kittens that are not altered so they don’t continue to contribute to cat overpopulation in your community. Tails High does not have a formal TNR program but work hard to ensure cats in colonies where we have taken in kittens are spayed/neutered. We cannot manage trapping on the behalf of the community but can provide advice and at times lend traps to community members that want to learn how to use them in the Alexandria, VA and DC area.

You can improve the lives of outdoor cats with Trap-Neuter-Return, the humane and effective approach for feral cats. To successfully trap, neuter, vaccinate, eartip, and return feral cats, you need a plan. These guidelines for humane trapping from Alley Cat Allies, the organization that helped introduce TNR to the United States, will get you on your way!