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    Lost Cats

    Lost Cats

    Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction ~Doorknob in Alice in Wonderland By Lewis Carroll

    Sadly, thousands of pets go missing around the country every day. For cat owners (as for other pet owners), there's nothing worse than that hollow feeling in the stomach when the realization hits home that their companions are nowhere to be found. To distraught owners, it often seems as if their cats have vanished without a trace, and panic starts to take over. When this happens, owners stop thinking clearly and miss taking the steps most likely to help them find their cats. The best way to keep panic at bay is to know what those steps are in advance. The steps discussed in this chapter are ones that searchers have found most effective over the years. Pet detectives-professional animal finders- have devised some methods and refined others to help find lost cats as quickly as possible. Not panicking doesn't mean you shouldn't take immediate action. If your pet fails to appear at mealtime, don't simply assume she will turn up. The sooner you begin searching, the better. And don't give up too soon. Cats can hide for weeks before coming out to be found.

    If your cat is lost, the most important things are to not panic and to search for her methodically.

    Searching for a Lost Cat

    Cats love to climb into things and go to sleep. So it's important to first check around your home looking in the most likely (and unlikely) places, such the mattress lining under the bed-some cats like to pull the lining of the mattress down and create a "hammock" to snooze in. Check laundry baskets, shelves, cupboards, and even between clothing items, such as stacks of sweaters. Cats can be inventive, and it's important to know their secret places so you can check there first before taking your search outside.Indoor cats who only rarely venture beyond the front door (and then in carriers) are automatically out of their comfort zone when they accidently find themselves outside. Consequently, they tend to hide and go silent. Under such circumstances, it's important to remember that even the friendliest cat won't necessarily come when you call.In fact, the temperament of your cat is one of the biggest influences regarding how your pet gets lost and what distance she's likely to travel. That temperament will affect how your cat will react and how her instinctive reactions may change when she goes into typical feline survival mode. Other influential factors include the weather (such as thunderstorms or snowstorms), the population density of the area, and the terrain.

    Wrong Side of the Door

    Make sure your cat doesn't get out when people come in, people who may not close doors. Whenever you have workers in your home, it's a good idea to secure your cat before their arrival and put a warning note on the door to the room in which she has been secured. Be sure to place food, water, and a litter box in the room, too. This routine is also a good idea whenever you've having a party or even casual company over. Cats are curious; they will often inspect a door left slightly ajar and suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of it.

    Understanding Lost Cat Behavior

    Pet detectives who earn their living recovering lost and stolen pets stress that it's important never to assume that when a cat is lost she will exhibit the same behavior patterns that she displays in the comfort of her own home. Out of familiar territory, cats go into survival mode, avoiding contact with people, hiding during the day, and moving around looking for food at night, using the cover of darkness as a security blanket.That said, however, pet detectives stress that missing cats do display four basic behavior patterns, based on their personality type: curious, careless, cautious, and xenophobic. It's important to recognize which category your cat fits into and paste this vital information up inside a kitchen cupboard. If she goes missing, you need to remain calm and think clearly, and this will help.

    The Curious Cat

    Gregarious cats who are outgoing and friendly get into trouble easily because they will run up to anyone and aren't afraid of anything. When displaced, they may hide initially but are most likely to travel.

    Strategy for recovery:

    Place fluorescent posters within at least a five-block radius. Interview neighbors in a door-to-door search, thoroughly searching possible hiding places in yards of houses and other areas within a close proximity to the escape point. Never assume that your cat will come when you call her. Don't overlook crawl spaces under buildings, including sheds and other small structures.

    The Careless Cat

    Aloof cats who appear a bit detached and distant don't seem to care much about people. When a stranger comes in, they stand back and watch.

    Strategy for recovery:

    When displaced, initially, they are more likely to hide than travel, then eventually they break cover and come back to the door and meow. Of course, there is the possibly that the cat could travel. The strategy should be to search hiding places nearby and closely search neighboring yards. If these efforts do not produce results, consider setting a baited humane trap.

    Lost cats usually stay within five blocks of home, so concentrate your search there.

    The Cautious Cat

    Cautious cats are friendly but shy. When a stranger comes to the door, they dart and hide, although they eventually come out to investigate. If lost, they will most likely immediately hide in fear.

    Strategy for recovery:

    If not scared out of their hiding place, they will typically return to the point where they escaped, or they will meow when their owner comes to look for them. Typically, this behavior is observed within the first two days (after the cat has built up confidence). Sometimes, however, it takes seven to ten days, when their hunger or thirst has reached a critical point, for them to respond. Do a very detailed search of neighbors' yards and set baited humane traps.

    The Xenophobic Cat

    Xenophobic cats are afraid of everything new or unfamiliar. They will hide when a stranger comes into the home and are easily disturbed by any change in the environment.

    Strategy for recovery:

    When displaced, these cats bolt and hide in silence. They tend to remain in the same hiding place, immobilized with fear. If someone other than their owners finds them, they are typically mistaken as untamed or "feral." The primary strategy to recover these cats is to set baited humane traps. Xenophobic cats who become "lost" are routinely absorbed into the feral cat population.

    Check Every Hidey-Hole

    Cats who are out of their comfort zone and possibly injured, will hide. Their survival instincts kick in, and they go silent so as not to alert a predator of their location. So don't assume your kitty is out of hearing range when you call for her; check every hidey-hole you see.

    Lost cat signs should be large, brightly colored, and placed in high-traffic areas.

    Searching Beyond the Home

    It's important to start your search in earnest the moment you are aware that your cat is not tucked away safely inside your home. If possible, try to ascertain the escape route: Is there an open window, was the front door inadvertently left open?Because it's an established fact that your cat may not immediately come to you, it's important to go outside and establish your own scent trail around your house or apartment building so that if your cat is hiding close by, it will help alert her olfactory senses that you are in the neighborhood. This doesn't mean, however, that she will immediately run to you. If you do spot her, do not rush up to her because this may cause her to bolt and run. Remember, displaced cats do not behave as they would within the confines of their home environment. Patience is key to success.It's very important to take a flashlight with you, even in the daylight hours, and search every corner under your house. You should search around your neighbors' homes as well. Even if you're not on particularly good terms with some of them (it happens), this is a time when you have to put your personal feelings aside, knock on doors, and ask permission to search around their homes.Pet detectives say that cats are more than likely to remain within a five-block radius than to run miles. Often they are much closer to home than you think. As with a search for a missing person, work in a tight grid-the more searchers, the better-and literally leave no stone unturned.

    Pet detectives who search for lost pets on a daily basis say that they often find that pets run to the right-hand side of their home. Although there is no scientific data to back up this claim, it’s certainly worth considering in your search strategy. I have been in a situation where one of my cats got out and hid. Luckily, she did cautiously appear after we had set up a scent trail around the property. And yes, she came from the right-hand side.If you are lucky enough to spot your cat, putting down food may lure her to you. However, you may have to resort to using a humane trap to finally get her safely back where she belongs. You can get one from your local animal shelter or veterinarian. A shelter or rescue organization won’t charge you but would appreciate a donation. Often, volunteers will offer assistance with the trapping process.Kat Albrecht, a former police detective and K9 trainer, is one of the United States’ foremost pet detectives. She is the author of The Lost Pet Chronicles and Dog Detectives: Train Your Dog to Find Lost Pets and founder of the website Missing Pet Partnership ( The Missing Pet Partnership website offers lots of excellent advice for locating a lost animal, such as how to go about recruiting volunteers to help with your search.

    For designing effective posters, Albrecht has develop a method she calls her "Five + Five + Fifty- Five Rule," based on the premise that, at any typical intersection, motorists only have five seconds to read five words. So it's imperative to get your message over in five words. Albrecht offers these helpful design tips:

    • Make your posters giant sized so people driving by cannot miss them.
    • Make them fluorescent so the color attracts the attention of everyone.
    • Put them at major intersections near where you lost your pet (and in areas of sightings).
    • Keep them brief and to the point.
    • Let them convey a visual image of what you have lost.

    Here are some other helpful hints for searching:

    • Make sure you always have current color photographs of your pet that shows any special markings.
    • Apart from putting up posters, when you've searched the neighborhood, search again!
    • Make flyers. Talk to as many people as possible and hand them your flyers instead of just slipping them under the gate. Yes, this includes ringing the doorbell of neighbors you would rather avoid! Time to bury the hatchet.
    • Contact all shelters and animal organizations in your area, as well as your veterinarian's office.
    • Change the message on your answering machine and direct calls to a cell phone that will be answered immediately.
    • Be proactive. Notify everyone around you as quickly as possible. Don't listen to those who tell you that "the cat will eventually come back."
    • Seek professional help sooner rather than later.
    • Be aware of your cat's daily habits. When does your cat eat? When does she sleep? Where is she likely to hide in your home?
    • Explore every possible direction your cat could have gone after escaping. Think like a scared cat, not like a person.
    • Cats have a keen sense of smell, which may also work to your advantage. For example, if your cat likes to sleep on clean laundry because she likes the scent of the fabric softener sheets, put towels in your humane trap that have the scent of your fabric softener sheets; the familiar scent may encourage her to get into the trap.
    • Put a litter tray outside to lure her, too. If you have no other pets at home to worry about, leave it near an open window or sliding door.
    • Keep traps propped open with food available. Dry food stays fresher and is more appetizing for a longer period of time. Other animals, including your cat may come to rely on the traps as a feeding station, which increases your potential for catching her.

    Keep a fresh bowl of your kitty's favorite food on your porch to lure her back home. Even better: put the food in a humane trap.

    Terrain and Distance Covered

    The neighborhood and terrain surrounding where a cat goes missing can greatly affect how far she may travel. And if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. In a busy suburban area with lots of traffic, a cat is more likely to look for cover close by to escape all the traffic and noise. Only if strangers or dogs spook her will she move farther afield.Should a cat get lost in an open area, however, she may travel for miles seeking cover. The actual terrain-such as dense brush, hills, caves, gullies, flat open areas-will play a part, too. This is another good reason to call in a pet detective because a sniffer dog can cover a lot of ground more efficiently than people alone can.

    Employing a Pet Detective

    Fortunately, there is a wide network of qualified pet detectives around the country and there are websites such as that will link pet owners to the nearest detective in their area. Most pet detectives work with search dogs who are trained to find cats. As with a search for a lost person, they will often let the dog smell the cat's bedding or litter box to help establish a scent trail. I personally know of many success stories in which pet detectives with a cat-sniffing canine have found lost pets. Consider it money well spent.

    Ensuring Proper Identification

    Proper identification is a lost pet's ticket home-even if it takes years. And yes, such miracles do happen and often make widely read headlines. Furthermore, there's no such thing as your pet having too much identifying information-on or even in them. All pets, even if they enjoy an indoor-only lifestyle, must wear a collar with up-to date information in case they escape or inadvertently find themselves outside of their home environments. Unusual situations can leave them on the wrong side of the door, from fear or curiosity. In a home invasion, for instance, burglars won't considerately close doors and windows to keep your cat in as they make off with your goods. In disaster situations (as occurred in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina and in 2012 with Hurricane Sandy), many pets are never reunited with their owners because the pets have no form of identification or lose it in the chaos of a natural disaster.Because it's important for cats to wear breakaway collars in case they get caught on something, to truly ensure that they can be identified, you should have a microchip ID implanted as well. A microchip is the size of a grain of rice and is injected under the skin in the area of the shoulder blades. Each chip has a unique identification number that shows up when scanned, linking your cat to a database that has all your information on hand.Although different companies marketing microchips for pets have different scanners to read them, more and more shelters are now routinely scanning pets as they come in and are also keeping universal scanners that can read all microchips, thus improving the chances of a lost pet being reunited with her owner.

    A plethora of pet recovery systems on the market offer different means of recovery. Some work strictly with information in a database correlating with the ID number on a microchip. Other tracking systems have a twenty-four-hour hotline in place that will send out alerts to shelters within a fifty-mile radius of where your pet was last seen. Global positioning systems (GPS) offer another way of tracking your pet. There are even phone applications to help you track her. Most have been designed for dogs, but manufacturers are now looking to make units to affix to a collar that are light enough for a cat to wear permanently, too. If you are unsure of which system to use, ask your veterinarian which is most prevalent in the area in which you live. Always remember that if you move, you need to update your current information on the database that you subscribe to as well. The more identification your cat has, the more peace of mind you will have.When a cat goes missing, the biggest problem is that people give up the search far too quickly. A cat can hide for weeks in the neighborhood. Just keep looking.

    Preventing Loss During a Move

    Because cats are territorial creatures, moving to a new home can be a very traumatic event, and cats sometimes literally get lost in the transition. Consequently, it's important to think outside the moving boxes to make the transition both as stress free and as safe as possible. Proper identification, as always, is critical. In line with the importance of proper identification, have a new tag made in advance of the move, with your new telephone and address details on it so you can add it to your cat's collar on moving day. It's a good idea to let your cat wear two tags for at least the first two weeks after your move. (Some cats will try to return to their old homes, but if you keep her well secured in your new home, she won't have an opportunity to try to return to your previous address. This is just a precaution.) If your cat is usually allowed outside, stop letting her out at least two weeks before moving day. This will prevent her from possibly disappearing beforehand in an attempt to escape the upheaval of lastminute packing. During times when there's heavy foot traffic coming and going through the front door in preparation for the move, confine her to one room.

    Packing with Inquisitive Cats

    Bring in the packing paraphernalia a good few weeks beforehand. Most cats love boxes, so let curiosity rule and allow your cat some fun. It will help put a more positive spin on the experience of transitioning to a new environment. It's also a good idea to have the carrier accessible so that your cat sees it around. Worst-case scenario, she'll think you have a trip to the veterinarian planned! The moment the packing begins in earnest, make a point of confining your cat to another room. Cats have been known to jump into a box and snuggle down amid the contents, out of sight. Next thing you know, you can't find her because she's packaged to go!

    Inquisitive cats have been known to get into moving boxes. Keep track of kitty as you pack.

    Executing Your Modus Operandi

    You should have your modus operandi for moving day set ahead of time. Here is the one I have found to be most effective. Before the movers arrive, confine your cat to a room that's not going to have any removal activity, such as a bathroom. Put her litter box, favorite blanket, and food and water tray down and add a note on the outside of the door instructing everyone to keep this cat zone secured. Place the carrier in there, too, so it isn't mistakenly loaded onto the moving van.A move usually means all hands on deck, but if there is a responsible older child in the household or a friend you can call on, ask him or her to stay with the cat, who will appreciate the company. Felines can sense abnormal activity in the household and become agitated. Warn the sitter to be extra careful when opening the door; an upset cat is even more likely to take flight.Wait until the movers have delivered everything and left the premises before transferring your cat to your new address. Choose a room and make it her temporary home for at least a week, putting everything in place before her arrival. In this way, when your cat steps out of her carrier, she will immediately begin to feel comfortable in her surroundings.It's also a good idea to plug a synthetic feline pheromone diffuser into a floor-level electrical socket to help reduce her stress levels. Adding some Rescue Remedy to her water bowl will help keep her calm, too. Another option is a pheromone collar worn in conjunction with her standard collar for a couple of weeks. If you decide to try a collar, put it on your cat two weeks before the move and leave it on for two weeks after. The collar remains effective for a month.

    Adjusting in the New Environment

    Take time from your unpacking to give your cat lots of extra attention. You will be able to gauge how she's settling in and when she's ready to explore other rooms. Before she begins her walkabout, spray feline pheromones at strategic points throughout the home. This will encourage her to make her own scent markings-all part of the settling down process. Cats are much safer if they enjoy an indoors-only lifestyle, and I strongly recommend going this way. You'll substantially lower her chances of injury from other animals, insects, and people if you do. However, if you are planning to give her access to outside, put on a harness and leash to introduce her to the new outdoor areas. By using a lightweight retractable leash, you will be able to slowly extend her boundaries.

    Even if your cat enjoys an indoor lifestyle permanently, it may be a good idea to take her outside on a leash from time to time so that she can sniff the environment and be slightly familiar with her immediate outside surroundings. In this way, the environment immediately outside your front door is not quite so alien, which means your cat is less likely to panic and run away if she gets out because she will recognize the area. Make sure she's wearing her new identification tag (and the old one in the initial period after the move, especially if you've moved a short distance). Be sure also to inform any lost-pet protection services to which you subscribe, the microchip database company, and your veterinarian of your change of address. It is a good idea to inform your neighbors at the old address of your move in case your cat tries to return to her old home and someone finds her in the vicinity and asks where she belongs.

    If possible, transfer your cat to your new home after your belongings are in place and the movers have left.

    Kitty will be happy to help you unpack!

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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