CATS are natural wanderers and even the most domesticated ones sometimes feel the urge to answer the call of the wild. Outside is full of intriguing smells, sounds and movements – all very appealing to cats whose intense curiosity turns them into escape artists.
Once out, our intrepid explorers become lost in their new world, unmindful of the dangers that send us, their humans, into panic.
I have lost a few cats before – some temporarily, others completely without a trace. Over the years, cats have shown me their uncanny ability to find their way back home unless bad people take them or they figure in serious accidents. This is why they still need our help so their innocent excursions don't end on a tragic note.
Based on personal experiences, here are the “best practices” I would suggest to anyone whose cat has gone missing. Applying these tips within 48 hours ought to increase the chances of finding and bringing your kitty back home.
The search for a missing cat must begin at home. Cats are very good at hiding. You think you know their haunts and hiding places, but they can be masters of invisibility if they don't want to be seen.
Once you have established that your cat is not home, expand the search to the next-door neighbors and nearby areas. But before doing that, it's more productive to have ready for distribution flyers or posters that provide details about your missing cat and your contact numbers.
Usually, cats don't immediately venture too far from home as proven by a 2013 real world study on cats' mobility by research scientist and veterinarian Alan Wilson for the BBC and the Royal Veterinary College. In the study, town cats equipped with tracking devices were found roaming only near their homes.
“ (Only) few of them went into the surrounding countryside. They tended to remain within the confines of the village and roamed in those areas. One theory is that their roaming is dictated by the hunt for food—something more easily done in the village. For example, we saw cats going into houses other than their own,” said Wilson who is a professor specializing in animal movement, in a press release.
Once you've got your neighborhood covered, immediately expand the search online. Don't wait another day to make a public post about your missing cat on social media. Quickly share the information and your missing cat's photos in social network groups for cats and animal welfare organizations that you know have members from your locality, district or city.
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. The longer a cat is out in an unfamiliar territory, the more it will become defensive and stay in hiding, so we need to step up the search.
Engage friends and family to form search parties that will comb specific areas. Also, get outside help from the village security or local patrol cops who not only can keep an eye out for your missing cat but also people who might have taken it.
You want a missing poster that everyone can see and read even when they are driving. I found this to be very effective the last time one of my cats went missing.
Install your oversized poster where there's heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic all the time. Use a high-resolution photo of your cat because you want it to stay clear and vivid even after it's enlarge for print. Also, the poster will be exposed to the elements so make sure the print doesn't fade fast and your tarpaulin is thick enough to last. It's also a good idea to have two copies, if not more.
This is optional as you see fit. After a door-to-door inquiry and flyer distribution got zero leads on my two Siamese cats that disappeared one after the other, I felt someone was “collecting” them and I must give people an incentive to help me when a third one went missing, too.
It worked. Occasionally, I would get tips and alleged sightings, which tells me others have taken more interest in finding my cat, too. The reward, however, must be carefully worded to manage expectations and to protect the cat and owner from anyone who would try to exploit the situation. In the poster, I offered no specific amount but simply stated “Cash Reward Offered”. I also gave the number of the security personnel so they could screen the callers.
After almost a month of searching nightly both on foot and by car, I finally got a call one midnight that my cat has been spotted under a car a block away!
The fact that my most recent lost cat was discovered under a parked car reminded me how cats love to hide in tight, dark places. The same happened to a famous cat named Oreo, a “meowdel” for a popular gift shop chain in Manila.
The day he got lost, Oreo's family pulled out all the stops.
“We announced in Facebook that he went missing and my sister prayed to the Blessed Sacrament and I cried like someone died,” -said Peggy Pilapil-Lasa, Oreo's mom.
Their anguish ended when Oreo was eventually spotted hiding under a car at someone else's garage nearby.
If you have another pet cat or dog, let them join the search for your missing cat. After all, they're the ones who know exactly how each other smells so let's follow their nose!
Or you could just “listen” to what they're saying. When my Siamese cats started to disappear one by one, the father-cat would perch himself by the window at night and cry like he was calling them and they were answering back. There's obviously a certain sound frequency that only they could hear. His peculiar loud meows gave me hope that I'd still recover one of them at least.
A lost cat is a hungry cat. When searching for my cats, I sometimes would bring their favorite wet food in the hope that the smell would waft towards their location. In the end, it's the tool that persuaded my cat found under the car to go inside his cage so I could easily carry him back in the house.
Cats are nocturnal and night time means fewer people, cars and dogs on the streets – the best time to look for a nervous cat. Train your ears to hear the faintest meows and keep your eyes peeled for any figure that could resemble your cat. There will be a lot of misses, but you only need one hit to recover your cat.
While you're out looking for kitty, have someone wait in your house in case the cat returns on its own. Leave a door, a window or the cat flap open so kitty could go in quick and easy. Cats are smart. Twice my ginger cats took off and on both occasions they returned through a gate in the backyard that was purposely left ajar for their hopeful return.
Visiting local animal pounds and shelters can be emotionally draining, but it must be done if a missing pet has not turned up after two days or more. If your cat is not there, leave a detailed description of your cat and information on how to contact you in case he or she ends up there.
Lastly, don't be embarrassed to call out your cat's name in public because a cat lady (or guy) must do what a cat lady must do, even if it means sounding crazy.
Next time, we will share tips on how to keep your cats from wandering off in the first place.