Lessons I Recently Learned Through Experience…
Losing your pet is stressful and heartbreaking. I know time is limited to read stories, but I felt it was important to share some real examples and outcomes of two indoor/outdoor cats before I get into the tips. Reading these first may help you find your kitty, alive, sooner rather than later.
Blue went missing in my neighborhood December, 2017, just as an early deep freeze set in. This deep freeze lasted about a month. Blue was an indoor/outdoor cat who was outside when their neighbor’s shed caught on fire. Blue’s owner corralled his cats inside before he called 911, but Blue never came in. By the time the fire department came and left, Blue was nowhere to be found.
His owner just about knocked himself out to find Blue over the next couple of months. He rode around on his bicycle with a flashlight during sub-zero weather the first two weeks and got in touch with every feral cat caregiver in the area. He followed up with sightings by setting humane traps baited with stinky food and put up flyers. His daughter posted all over social media. Our entire block was on high alert.
At one point they believed Blue was living outside at another house about a half mile away. But they never did trap him. Since I have a feral cat colony in my backyard, I was in constant communication with Blue’s owner.
But, Blue never was found.
His owner stopped here about six months after Blue went missing to ask me a question on another issue.
I inquired, “Did you ever find Blue?” He replied that they did, in fact, find Blue when they opened their pool a few weeks before. His body was found under the pool cover. Blue must have hid under the pool cover when he was frightened by the fire. They never thought to check under there. The heartbreaking part was knowing he likely froze to death.
Sometimes we get so busy looking far and wide that we don’t think to look right under our noses.
Blacky is my neighbor’s indoor/outdoor cat. He hangs out here the better part of the day when it’s nice outside and he eats here regularly.
One day I was outside mowing the lawn when my neighbor, Rose, stopped over in a panic because Blacky never came home the previous night. Most nights he will come home when she calls him and he stays inside overnight.
The last time I saw him was the previous day in the afternoon when he came here to mooch food. She feared him dead because he has his routine and sticks with it. But I knew differently. I had a feeling he was alive somewhere. I feared he was sick and was hiding. Blacky is a true survivor who has lived in several towns in South Jersey and survived Superstorm Sandy while living at the Jersey Shore.
So, I sprang into action. I searched EVERYWHERE with my Mag Lite. Day and night. Called him during every feral feeding since he often came over to eat with my cats. I posted on social media and alerted all of the neighbors on our block since Blacky was known to be the Man About Town. His mama went next door to my other neighbors and asked them to check their barn since they often have it open during the day while doing yard work. I even crawled under my next-door neighbor’s barn, where Fluffy once had The Kits tucked away, and shined a flashlight to see if he was under there. Nothing.
By Day Three, I Was Starting to Panic
The third morning, I was REALLY getting worried. My hopes of finding Blacky alive were fading and fading fast.
While I was out during the morning Yard Cat feeding, I started calling him. I kept picturing Blacky’s face in my mind and willing him to let me know where he was. I told him I couldn’t help him if I didn’t know where he was. It occurred to me to look UP. I spent so much time checking under things and in bushes that it didn’t occur to me to look up in the trees. Maybe something chased him up the tree and he couldn’t get down? He’s so quiet-spoken, I’m not sure I would hear him if he was stuck up in a tree.
Just as I was saying out loud to myself while looking for him, “I bet he got his dumb ass stuck up in a tree!”, I heard it. A loud “MEOW!” from across the street. It sounded like a cat in heat but any cat on this block is neutered, unless there was a new one I didn’t know about!
I started making my way across the street to the house next door to Rose’s. And I saw his dumb little face in the window of the barn door, crying his little heart for me to come save him!
I got the neighbor to let me into the barn. Blacky knows them since he hangs out on their property all the time. But he wouldn’t make himself known to them while they were in there looking for him. He cried for me when I called his name. But he wouldn’t come out until I asked the neighbors to leave us alone for a bit and I brought back a can of his favorite food to crack open, since he knows THAT sound.
And he came out as soon as I opened that can of Fussie Cat.
But he was skittish. Starving. And I’m sure mildly dehydrated because it was hot that week and he was stuck in that hot barn for three full days.
He wasn’t himself
When his mama Rose came to collect him, I asked her to bring back a carrier because I thought he should be inside for a while so she could thoroughly check him out and make sure he’s eating, holding down food, etc.
He was SCARED. So scared that he hid when his beloved mama came in to get him. I had to feed him more food to coax him out. Then she went in for the grab to get him in the carrier so he could go inside for the day.
What Do Blacky and Blue Both Have in Common?
They are both allowed to go outside. Blacky is one thing. His mama, Rose, found him as a feral cat when she lived down the Jersey Shore. He was already neutered and ear tipped when she found him. He never forgot his feral roots. Although I strongly suggest people keep their cats as indoor-only cats unless they are caring for a feral cat colony, I know Blacky and know how impossible that is for him.
However, Blue’s owner adopted him from a shelter and his owner likely entered a contract to keep him indoors-only. They let all of their cats outside. In the US, in our town, on our street, in this day and age, there is no way I would let my cats outside. I don’t even like my ferals living out there! Blue’s owners have since adopted another kitty and are doing the same thing…letting new kitty out with all of their others. It’s frustrating because I feel it will only be a matter of time before he puts our entire street on “high alert” once again to help him find a cat that he LETS outside to begin with!
That being said, indoor-only cats get out by accident, too. Here are some tips to help you find your kitty! I’ll also talk about tips to keep them safely indoors, as well!
One More Thing Before You Start Your Search…
PLEASE make SURE your kitty is definitely not hiding in your house FIRST! This happened to one of my good friends AND my neighbor. When I assisted with their searches, I asked them first if they were SURE their cat wasn’t hiding somewhere inside the house. They both SWORE their kitties weren’t in the house.
In both cases, kitty was, in fact, still inside the house. Meow-Meow was hiding in a room that was under construction under some sub-flooring in the crawl space, and Phoenix was accidentally closed inside a hallway closet a few hours before they realized he was missing!
Let’s Find Your Lost Cat!
- Scent is EVERYTHING to your cat! The FIRST thing you want to do is put something that smells like him AND his favorite human in the house. A shirt that hasn’t been laundered yet, his favorite bed..and catnip can’t hurt, either. They say that a cat can smell their own scent from miles away!
- USE SOCIAL MEDIA! I’ve seen SO many pets reunited with their owners using Facebook and the Next Door app! Share, with a GOOD picture of your kitty, in all local pages as well as any lost and found pet pages for your area. Do a post from your personal profile and make it “PUBLIC” so other local friends can share! Make SURE you include location, town and state so local people can share your “Lost Cat” post. And include a phone number. Make it EASY for your cat’s finder to actually get in touch with you! Also, if you report your lost pet to Pawboost, your lost pet will be added to a nationwide database and they will do a Facebook post in your local state’s lost pet Facebook page. While on social media, check all local pages and lost and found pages for “found pet” posts!
- PUT OUT FLYERS!! Don’t skip this step! Not everybody in your neighborhood is on social media, especially elderly neighbors. You can use any one of the preprinted flyers on Google or make one yourself on a word processing program. Be sure to use a CLEAR picture in good lighting and include anything that’s unique to your kitty, such as a rare marking, scar, stumpy tail, ear tip, etc. Again, include your phone number on the flyer. You want to make it as EASY as possible for someone to get in touch with you if they find your kitty! Use a staple gun to place the flyers on every other telephone pole for a one-mile radius in each direction of where kitty went missing.
- For indoor kitties, search close to your house FIRST. Likely, they won’t be far from the house. My aunt’s indoor-only cat (and my former feral), Junior, got out twice. Both times, she set off her smoke alarm while cooking and, without thinking, she opened her slider door a crack to air out the house. The piercing wail of the smoke alarm scared Junior and he and BOOKED out that door. Both times I found him in the alley behind her townhouse, hiding in the brush. I should note that when I called him, he came crying to me, but he ran from me when I tried to grab him. My aunt noticed her sensor porch light lit up a couple of times, so we thought he was trying to make his way back to the house. I sat quietly in the yard and we put wet food by the door. Both times he came back home when we quieted down and she was able to coax him inside.
- USE A FLASHLIGHT, even if it’s during the day! A flashlight will help you to see their eyes if they are hiding under a deck or in bushes. If your cat is particularly timid to begin with, it may help to wait until dusk or nighttime when everything quiets down and try looking then. Often, when it gets quiet outside, they will work up the nerve to come out of their hiding spot.
- LOOK UP! I forgot this when Blacky was missing and almost forgot to mention it in this blog post!! Cats climb trees and forget how they got up there ALL THE TIME. Use a flashlight, even if it’s during the day, so you can see the reflection of their eyes.
- KEEP CALM! I’m guilty of this one. Cats mimic our energy. I made this mistake with Junior and also when I found Blacky. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found Blacky alive and well and my nervous energy frightened him.
- Use a humane trap. This one works particularly well if your indoor cat has never been trapped in a humane trap before. Here are some tips for trapping cats. Using tuna, sardines or stinky wet food is your best bet. If you see your kitty near the trap but just won’t go inside no matter how hungry they are, try using a dog cage to trap them. Here’s a Facebook Live video I did showing how to do that. NOTE: Often, well= meaning people tell you to set a trap at dawn or dusk when kitty is most likely to come out of hiding, which is true. However, dawn and dusk are also the time that neighborhood community/feral cats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and predator coyotes are out looking for food. BE AWARE of those risks. **PLEASE NEVER LEAVE SET TRAPS UNATTENDED!!** Rather, hide where you can’t be seen from the trap, yet you can see what is going near or in the trap.
- VISIT your local shelters to check for new intakes! Calling them isn’t enough. You want to visit them every day or every other day and ask to see the new intakes. Find out which shelter does “open intake” for your town or municipality. Check that shelter first because if someone calls Animal Control when they find your kitty, Animal Control will take kitty to that shelter. Also, check with local rescues, as they often take stray pets and adopt them out if the pet doesn’t have a microchip. They see so many dumped off pets, they may assume that’s what happened with YOUR beloved pet.
- If you live in an area with commercial establishments like restaurants or fast food joints, check with them. Your kitty may go after the food in their dumpster or the rodents who frequent their dumpster.
- Bring cat food and treats with you when you search! If your kitty is anything like ALL of mine, they react to the can of cat food cracking open or the shake of the Temptations treat bag! That’s exactly how Blacky came out of hiding!
- PICTURE THEM home safe and sound. Get a mental picture of their face in your mind and talk to them. Tell them you can help them if they will just let you know where they are hiding. I swear this worked with Blacky. Telepathy is not as freaky as it sounds and is much more common than you think, especially if you and your kitty have a tight bond!
- DON’T LOSE HOPE! In May 2016, an emaciated gray/blue cat showed up on my property late one Saturday night screaming for my help, despite the fact that my resident ferals were trying to chase him off. We held him in Mom’s bedroom until Monday morning so I could take him to the vet. Luckily, he had a microchip. While I had the vet examine him and treat him for worms, etc, the owner called the vet back. We delivered him home later that day. Smokey was missing for 3 1/2 months. His home was 1 1/2 miles from my house. He was an indoor-only cat. The kicker of the story is that his mama owns an animal rescue!
A Note on Putting Kitty’s Litter Box Outside…
I originally had this listed as one of the tips. Chances are, someone else probably already told you to do this.
After doing more research and talking with a friend, I personally would NOT put kitty’s litter box outside if they are lost.
Yes, cats are very driven by scent. However, I see people commenting on “Lost Cat” posts all over social media, “Put their litter box outside”. No other tips. No guidance on HOW to do this without your kitty becoming Coyote Dinner. And that leads people to believe that’s ALL they have to do. Put the box outside and poof! Kitty magically returns home without incident!
It doesn’t work that way. What works for one cat and one situation may not work for another.
We already have kitty’s scent outside by putting their bed or toys out there. And using their bedding or an article of clothing that smells like “home” is a MUCH safer way of using their scent than putting soiled litter outside, which could potentially attract predators.
Read more about the risks involved with putting your lost cat’s litter box outside here!
Prevention is KEY
The best way to find your lost cat is to prevent him from getting out in the first place!
I looked up articles to link to for this post and I cannot believe how many missed this first and MOST IMPORTANT tip:
- SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR CATS! This alone will greatly reduce the likelihood of your kitty ever getting outside to begin with!
- DOORS CLOSED! When I moved back home, I noticed how Mom likes to start talking to visitors AS they are leaving. Like, when they open the front door to walk out of the house! They stand there with the door open to continue their visit or just to be polite. I now walk our visitors out when they leave for two reasons…first, it’s the polite thing to do. Second, it prevents our visitor from standing there with the door wide open while I’m silently having a heart attack and stifling the urge to scream, “UH, CLOSE THE DOOR!!”
- LOCK THEM UP FOR DELIVERIES OR RENOVATIONS/CONSTRUCTION. I cannot even tell you HOW many times I hear, “My cat escaped while furniture was being delivered!” or any variation thereof. Renovations stress cats out. The noise that comes with large deliveries or renovations scares cats. They may be looking to escape the noise. Your frightened cat may grab that opportunity to dart out that open door. Just recently, we had to replace our entire HVAC system. And the cats were NOT happy because I locked them in their “safe rooms” for the job. I provided food, water, litter boxes and hiding places in the closets of all three rooms (for five cats). There was a lot of scratching at doors, meowing, and dirty looks from my cats. But, now the job is over and they are SAFE at home.
- When cats are scared, they go into “fight or flight” mode. Try to minimize opening doors during loud thunderstorms, fireworks in your neighborhood, or loud windy storms (nor’easters, hurricanes, blizzards etc). I bring this up as we had the remnants of Hurricane Michael slide just to our South last night. The wind and thunderstorms scared my indoor cats most of the night. If someone opens the door while they are in “flight mode”, anything can happen, even if your cats usually aren’t interested in the door in the first place.
- FEAR THE DOOR. This happened by accident with my cats. Our door jamb swells in the humidity and sometimes it’s impossible to close the storm door quietly. As a result, our indoor cats are afraid to approach the door when someone is going in or out. If they are lurking by the front door on a summer night because of the bugs flying around our porch light, I will knock on the door to get them away from the door before coming inside. If I am going outside and Rascal decides to walk me out, I completely ignore him by the door, walk to the other side of the room, then give him love. I don’t ever want my cats associating that front door with positive things. We never open the door when our cats are right near it.
- Have a plan for emergencies. My biggest fear is fire. If we have a fire, I have to get five indoor cats safely outside as well as Mom, who is a stroke survivor. She is mobile, but takes her a while. I always remind her if we have an emergency like that to just quietly go outside. She tends to get very anxious and yells a lot when she’s anxious, which will work against me if I’m trying to calmly get five cats into five carriers. I try to make sure I have at least one carrier per cat in accessible locations throughout the house. I also have a lidded hamper with a roll of packing tape near it just in case I have to put a couple of cats in there to get them safely outside.
- For more tips on helping to prevent your cat from getting out, Click Here.
- If you have a “door dasher”, here are tips for your particular kitty!
Suggestions are Welcome!
I wanted to do this post so I could share on Social Media every time I see a “missing cat” post.
This is by no means a complete list and we are always open to hearing suggestions, tips, and things that have worked for YOU!
Please, if there is something I missed, or something that helped you to bring your kitty home, comment with your suggestion or connect with us on Facebook and share your idea!
Our hope is that our post helps to bring more lost kitties home!
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