WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Ask any cat person why they prefer their feline friends to other pets, and they're likely to respond by highlighting cats' comparative independence. They don't need walks; they don't need to be taken outdoors for bathroom breaks. To some, cats can seem more like fluffy roommates than pets.
However, they are pets, and they need human care as much as any other domestic animal.
Meg Melampy, president of Joseph's Legacy animal rescue, sees firsthand every single day the consequences of cat owners leaving them to fend for themselves.
"It's just so sad when they come in and they're just torn apart and suffering," she said.
And when cats are abandoned by their families -- as often happens when owners move or decide they have become inconvenient, according to veterinarian Wendy Vogel -- they breed in the wild, forming large populations of unwanted, unhealthy strays.
This population grows, Vogel said, because many don't think of a stray cat as being in need of help. They ignore them.
"People tend to be a whole lot better when they notice a stray dog," she said. "They call a whole lot more quickly."
Approaching stray cats can be dangerous. Therefore, Melampy recommended anyone who spots one call their local animal control services so professionals can either help the animal find a home or perform the TNR method -- trap, neuter and release -- to prevent the stray population from swelling.
There's also a third option: Build a winter cat shelter. Anyone can make a warm, safe place for outdoor cats to rest their heads using an old cooler and straw. Learn how to build one here.