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Is It Illegal to Drop a Cat Off at a Shelter? Consequences & Safer Options

Written by: Eleanor Glaum

Last Updated on July 12, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

kittens in a cage of a shelter

Is It Illegal to Drop a Cat Off at a Shelter? Consequences & Safer Options

The decision to take on a pet cat should not be made lightly. Owning a cat, while being one of the most loving and gratifying experiences of one’s life, comes with a substantial list of responsibilities. A cat will cost money to feed and house and take time out of your daily schedule to care for. For most of us, provided we can afford it, these financial and temporal obligations are of little consequence, considering the immeasurable benefits of sharing our lives with a precious cat.

Unfortunately, circumstances can change unpredictably and without much warning. Sometimes, these changes require rehoming your cat, and one option is to surrender them to a shelter. You cannot simply drop off your cat at a shelter. Some specific procedures and protocols must be followed for the surrender to be ethical and legal. In almost all 50 states, it is illegal to abandon an animal.

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What Is Classified as Animal Abandonment?

According to LawInfo 1, abandonment of an animal is defined as “…leaving domestic animals alone at some kind of private or public property in a way that could physically or emotionally harm it…with or without the intent to ever reclaim it.”

red tabby cat sitting alone
Image Credit: mediarney, Pixabay

What Are the Consequences of Abandoning an Animal?

The consequences of abandoning an animal are two-fold. Immediately, there is an impact on the animal, which can be traumatic at the very least, but more often devastating. After an animal is left alone in a strange place, there is no way of knowing what fate could befall it or how long it might survive.

They will be scared and defenseless, without food or water, and have no understanding of what happened. It is painful to consider the emotional distress a once-loved animal would experience when abandoned. There is every likelihood that an abandoned animal may end up injured or deceased.

Animal abandonment is illegal and a punishable crime. People convicted of animal abandonment can face a hefty fine and jail time. The severity of the punishment depends on each state’s rulings.

What Are My Options If I Can No Longer Keep My Cat?

If you are satisfied that your reasons for not being able to keep your kitty any longer are sound and that you have exhausted all of your options to try and keep them, then it’s time to look at rehoming. This is a distressing decision to make that will have a substantial impact on both you and your kitty.

You can first try and rehome your cat yourself. You can put the word out amongst friends and family that your cat needs a new home. You can also let your local veterinary office know that your kitty needs a new home, as they may know loving families looking for a new cat. It would be best if you didn’t advertise in a public space, as handing over your cat to a stranger is not without risk, and there is no guaranteed way of ensuring accountability.

If you cannot rehome your kitty yourself, you can surrender them to a no-kill shelter or animal rescue organization. They all have different surrender requirements and procedures, and some may request a surrender fee. That is more than fair enough, considering that they will be caring for your cat until they can find a new home for them. Make sure you do your research before surrendering your precious feline to any organization. They need to be ethical and reputable. Once you have surrendered your cat, you will no longer have any ownership rights to them.

cat at an animal shelter
Image Credit: JW Design, Shutterstock

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What Should I Do If I Find an Abandoned or Stray Cat?

This is a tough question to answer for many reasons. First, many cats are feral. In many cases, good Samaritans in the area have taken on a custodian role, feeding them and seeing that they get veterinary attention when necessary. Interfering with these kinds of kitties may cause them undue distress and potentially put you in harm’s way. It’s not always easy to tell if they are feral, abandoned, or stray cats.

1. Check for ID

If you decide that a cat is out of place and suspect they’re lost or abandoned, first see if they have a collar with an ID tag. If you’re lucky, it might be a simple case of calling the owners to let them know that you have their cat. If there is no identification and the cat is not in physical distress, you should call the police or animal welfare organization and sit tight until they arrive.

Although your instinct may be to help the kitty immediately, this may interfere with evidence that the police may need to collect to prosecute a case of animal abandonment.

heterochromatic white cat wearing blue collar with identification tag
Image Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald, Shutterstock

2. Take Them to the Shelter

If the cat is in distress and needs immediate veterinary attention, food, and water, it would be appropriate to take the cat to a shelter immediately. But before you approach stray or unknown cats, first ascertain whether it is safe to do so. Look out for signs of aggression or disease, and if you notice signs of either, call the professionals to come and collect the kitty.

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Coming to the gut-wrenching realization that you are no longer in a position to look after your beloved cat is one of the most heartbreaking moments. The loving and responsible action to take is to look for a suitable, caring new home for your kitty. If you cannot find them a new home yourself, the next logical step is to surrender them to a shelter.

There is a correct procedure to follow for surrendering a cat, and it is never OK to drop them off at a shelter without following this procedure. Doing so could result in prosecution, not to mention having to live with the burden of doing such a thing. It’s not difficult to do the right thing. Your kitty will stand a better chance of a loving second home, and you will receive the care and support you will undoubtedly require after making such a difficult decision.

Featured Image Credit: Okssi, Shutterstock

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