The unthinkable has happened. Your pampered indoor cat has gotten out, somehow, and you’ve been walking around the block seemingly for hours, then up the street and back again, calling her name, singing her favorite jingle, stopping neighbors whose names you don’t even know, neighbors surprised to hear you have a cat. No sign.
How frightened your darling must be as the sun sets and the sky darkens! It isn’t cold yet, but soon it will be. She does have that coat. Will it be enough? People are getting home now, from work or the gym, noisily opening garage doors and closing them again. Raccoons come out at dusk sometimes in this neighborhood—you’ve seen and heard them—and bats—you never see or hear them, but once or twice a year a bat is found on the pavement somewhere nearby and tests positive for rabies. There’s a flyer about it at the vet’s office. You reach into your pocket, thinking maybe if you rustle the treat bag one more time—this pocket has a zipper? is this even my jacket?—there is a loud screech in the dark, and…you wake up to find Mizz Fluffpot nestled at the foot of your bed, snoring, warm and safe and smug as can be.
The most important step toward being able to recover a lost cat is realizing that it can happen, even if one has an indoor cat and no small children to leave doors or windows open. Earthquakes, fires, building contractors, and incautious guests can all create circumstances in which a cat escapes. (As I write this paragraph, someone in the room reminds me that the one time his cat got out, it was a burglar who had left the door wide open.)
In light of these realities, there are several measures that all cat owners should take in advance so that, if the unthinkable does happen, the odds of a good outcome are improved:
- Make sure that your cat is microchipped, and that the microchip registration is current. A cat you adopt from Purebreds Plus will almost always have a microchip implanted already, but be sure to discuss with the foster mom what you have to do to ensure that your cat is correctly registered.
- Think carefully about immunizations. A cat that is always indoors, in a closed household with no other cats in it, is not at great risk of catching infections. This is one of many reasons (apart from other risks) that we require all cats that we place to be kept indoors. However, if an unvaccinated cat does get outside, he or she is vulnerable to diseases, some of them deadly.
- Consider having your cat wear a collar. There are pros and cons to collars, but a collar with your contact information makes it more likely that a person who finds your lost cat will contact you.
- Keep a carrier handy. If you live in an area where an earthquake, fire, or other natural disaster might make it necessary for you to evacuate quickly, having a carrier handy at all times will make it easier to secure your cat on your way out the door.
- Be diligent about sequestering your cat when building contractors or repair people are at work in your home, or when absent-minded guests are visiting.
- Get an accurate photograph of your cat, so you can show it to people and include it on fliers if necessary. Keep a machine-readable copy for use on social media.
First Things First
These are the first things to do when you realize that your cat is lost:
Don’t Wait. Start to search as soon as you notice that your cat is missing. Cats tend to stay very close to the house at first, then widen their territory over time.
Look up, look down, look all around. Look under bushes, decks, and parked cars, and up into trees or other places where your cat might have climbed. Don’t forget to look behind you. Check sheds, garages, and children’s play structures.
Carry a flashlight. If it’s dark or likely to become dark while you are searching, carry a flashlight. Even if something has made your cat afraid to come out of hiding, you might catch a glimpse when the light reflects back from his or her eyes. If your cat is one of those who love playing with a laser pointer, a flashlight playing on the ground might have the same effect, but don’t actually use a laser pointer and flash it into your cat’s eyes.
Use your voice. Call her name, sing her favorite song. Make whatever other sounds seem to attract your cat. When I can’t find my cat in the house, I sometimes lure her out of hiding with birdie sounds that I make by loudly kissing the palm of my hand.
Use food. Rustle the treat bag, or shake the jar. Even if you are wary of giving your cat tuna, this is an emergency. Also, leave food in your backyard; the first place your cat is likely to look for food when he or she gets hungry is near the house.
Use scents. Some cats can be lured back home by familiar smells, such as dirty laundry, litterbox contents, or house dust from the vacuum bag (which, don’t we all know, is likely to contain familiar-smelling fur).
If at first you don’t succeed, it’s time to get other people involved.
Pester your neighbors. This is the time to talk to strangers, even if it means knocking on doors and asking people to check their garages or backyards. Talk to people who might be out walking dogs, jogging, washing their cars, reading gas meters, lugging groceries back up the hill, or delivering mail.
Use your phone. Call your local animal shelter and find out whether you can rent a live trap for the purpose of trapping your lost cat. Contact any local feral-cat rescue and alert its feeders to look for your cat. Call the nearest veterinarian’s offices and your local animal shelter, so they can look out for your cat. Be sure to mention whether your cat has a microchip, and be sure to provide your new mobile phone number and any contact information that has changed since your microchip registration. And remember your old neighbors? Call them in case your cat got confused and went back to the old neighborhood. Don’t forget to call the microchip registry, and see whether they can help disseminate information about your lost cat.
Use social media. Spread the word on all your social media networks. Include the best photographs you have of your cat. Multiple photographs of the cat from different angles can help others recognize your cat by his or her markings.
Post fliers. Post fliers on lampposts, electrical poles, and community bulletin boards. Post them at all the nearest veterinary offices—not just your own vet’s office. Make sure the flier includes your contact information, an accurate photograph of your cat, the date when your cat was lost, and where he or she was last seen. In the message on your telephone answering machine, ask anyone who has seen your cat to specify the date, time, and location of the sighting.
Haunt the shelter. If your local shelter has a website with photos of recent arrivals, use that resource, but do not rely on it. Visit the shelter every few days to check for your cat.
Contact your pet insurance carrier. Some carriers help with advertising in the case of a missing pet.
Don’t Lose Hope
My friend whose cat was let out by burglars was on vacation at the time and came home a week later to find his cat missing. Fortunately, a neighbor had seen the cat and been feeding it in the interim.
Another friend let his cat bask outside in the sun, knowing the cat was old and wouldn’t venture far, but some elderly neighbors assumed the cat had been hit by a car and took it home. It was only a week later that the neighbors noticed the fliers my friend and posted and contacted him.
All of which is to say that, while swift action improves the chances of recovering your cat, he or she needs you to continue the search for weeks, even months, before you even consider giving up.
May the nightmare never befall you.
E.N. – Purebreds Plus Volunteer