Anyone who has lived with them knows that cats are ninjas when it comes to slipping unnoticed out of doors and then hiding successfully from anyone searching for them. These little predators who live in our homes are hard-wired to remain hidden, and living a soft indoor life doesn’t dull their instincts. Trying to find a lost cat can be like searching for a specific grain of sand on the beach.
The first rule of success is knowing how to look. Cheryl M. Melton of Sallisaw, Okla., vice president and western area director for Forever Friends Humane Society, became an accidental expert in 2013 after a family adopted a cat from her rescue group. The same night they took him home, he slipped out the door and disappeared.
“I was determined to find Thomas,” she says. “This was the jumping-off point for me in finding lost cats.”
Thomas was finally recovered. Since then, Melton has helped owners find other missing meowsers.
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Even though you can’t see them, “lost” cats typically stick close to home. They may take refuge in bushes or a shed and hunker down for about 24 hours. They use their senses to gather information and won’t move until they feel safe. Then they will begin to search for food, water, shelter and, sometimes, other cats. If you have a neighbor who is known for feeding cats, check with her first, Melton advises.
“I have found that cats do not usually go further than 200 yards from the point of exit,” she says. “They don’t go in a straight line, and they don’t stick to roads like dogs do. They tend to slowly work their way around, and it seems like they always work their way forward. The cats I have found have been very close to home, not more than a half-mile at most.”
▪ Look for your cat at dawn or dusk. Cats are crepuscular, meaning those are the times of day they are most active. They like to hunt when it’s still cool or when it’s dark out.
▪ Put up fliers. They are the No. 1 way pets are returned to owners, Melton says. Put a large color photo of your cat on the flyer, topped with the words “Missing!” and “Reward!” At the bottom, add other details, including contact information. Post flyers on street corners up to a half-mile from your home. Place them at eye level so the driver of a car can see them.
“Put one on your door for your mailman to see, and make sure fliers are distributed to neighbors, pet stores, feed stores, shelters and online,” Melton says.
Because at the time she didn’t know how to look, it took Melton a month to track down Thomas.
“Once I learned more about staying close to the point of exit, that made all the difference, and we got him within the week,” she says.
One thing Melton learned from the search for Thomas was that no matter how loving and friendly a cat is, being lost is a scary situation for him. Even though your cat knows you, he may be too afraid to come when you call. Be prepared to set and monitor a humane trap once you locate your cat.
“Don’t give up hope,” Melton says. “Your kitty could be found in a day or a month or a year. It all depends on the area, the depth of the search and, of course, the cat.”
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, affiliated with Vetstreet.com.