Twice I’ve lost cats. The first time was only a few weeks after I’d moved to Philadelphia, and while I was at work my cat Spike managed to knock a window screen loose and fell to the ground and vanished. I had to go to a family funeral and was worried sick, but when we got home the next day, he was at the door of our building, meowing his little head off.
More recently, our cat Jax managed to get out — AND get locked in someone’s garage. How she didn’t hear him yowling in there, I have no idea: he’s the loudest cat I’ve ever owned. Finally, five days later, she opened the garage and he came home. Whew!
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Fortunately, many cats do return home on their own. In fact a recent survey indicated 74 percent of lost cats were recovered by their owners. But if you suspect that your cat is lost, there are some simple steps you can take to increase your chances of a happy reunion.
Don’t Freak Out
If you think your cat is lost, don’t panic. Cats have a special talent for finding the most unlikely and obscure hiding places. And a cat who doesn’t want to be found will happy snooze away while you call and coax and search. Cats are also amazingly resourceful, so even in unfamiliar surroundings, a cat’s instincts to seek water, shelter, and food will often keep it alive and well for sustained periods on the lam. So stay calm. You’re more likely to conduct a more thorough search if you do.
Start at Home
Someone once said that to catch a thief, one must think like a thief. Retrieving a lost cat is much the same. Think of the places your cat might hide within your home. A cat that is frightened or sick will often go into seclusion in a dark or enclosed space. Check all the places you think your pet might find an appealing hiding place—under beds, in closets, in laundry baskets, behind furniture. Some cats will come when called or tempted with treats, some won’t. In most cases, patience wins out.
Broaden Your Search
Once you’ve convinced yourself that your cat is not in your home, widen your search parameters. Fortunately, technology can help you here. A photo of your pet, uploaded to your smartphone, can serve as a handy tool when asking friends and neighbors if they’ve seen your cat. Knock on doors and ask around. You’d be surprised how many times you’ll find a neighbor has taken in your cat. (We once found one of ours after two months. Turns out a neighbor had been feeding him cans of tuna in her garage and he didn’t want to leave.)
Temperament also plays a big role in where a cat goes after escaping. When a cat finds itself in unfamiliar territory, most cats will hide in a safe place to protect themselves from predators. If you have an indoor-only cat, odds are this hiding place won’t be far from the house. Consider your cats personality and widen or reduce your search accordingly.
Put up Posters
In a neighborhood where there is a fair amount of foot traffic, the old low-tech poster method is still often the best. Your flyer needn’t be fancy, just clear and concise. The words “Lost Cat” should be large enough to be seen by passing motorists and pedestrians alike, and always include your contact information. Include a photo (in color if possible) and a brief verbal description of your pet.
Check Local Shelters and Vets
If your pet was found by a good Samaritan, that person may have turned the animal over to a shelter or vet. A quick web search will give you the phone numbers of places in your neighborhood where you can call. If your cat has a tag (or better, a chip implant),your chances of finding it safe and well improve but still the odds of finding your cat at a shelter is slim, only 2 – 5% of cats ever get reclaimed from shelters.
Set out Food and Water
As we said earlier, cats do often return spontaneously. And hunger is a powerrful motivator. Be sure to set out a bowl of food and one of water on tour porch or by your back door. Your cat’s keen sense of smell may lead it home. Some have even found success by placing a baby monitor by the food bowl to monitor any activity. That way, you can get some rest.
Use the Internet
Craigslist and other sites have postings for lost and found pets. Use them. Often these are the places a good Samaritan will report finding an animal that seems lost or sick. And don’t be afraid to enlist the help of local friends in your search—the more eyes on the lookout, the better your chances of finding your pet.
We hope these simple steps help you locate your wayward feline safe and sound.