Pet Connections

Manny’s Unexpected Journey – How to Find Your Lost Cat

We try to provide good physical and emotional health to our furry family members. For years my  husband and I have taken our cats out for car rides, on bike rides, for walks and hikes. One of our  disabled cats has traveled all over the United States and even to several Airbnb’s in the Caribbean. The  cats love these enriching opportunities. Unfortunately, even with all the best preparation and the use of  a cat harness that was “designed to keep even the best escape artist secured,” our cat Manny got  startled, seemingly turned feral, and somehow opened the snapping buckle. He ran into the woods,  then down over a steep hill. We were unable to safely follow. 

We called in reinforcements and drove to the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill, certain that we  would be able to see a 20 pound, mostly white cat as we walked along and scoured the pre-spring  landscape. Six of us searching and me scaling the side of the hill for some reason (I was not thinking  completely logically) did not produce results. To make a very long and painful story short, we did get  Manny back home after hundreds of flyers and signs, two drone sessions, ten game cameras being  “baited” each night, attempts at trapping and meeting many ungrateful raccoons, dozens of searches in  the woods and in neighborhoods, calls and texts to neighbors from FindToto, and three sessions with a  tracking dog. We were also extremely fortunate to have the help of a local volunteer lost pet recovery  group and other cat rescuers in the area. 

What I wish I had known before I was in a highly emotional and barely rational state of mind was the  science behind lost cat recovery – having a strategy based on the behavior of cats and what they tend to  do in their emotional, barely rational state of mind while lost.  

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there that at best, does no harm, but at worst,  interferes with getting our kitties back home. One of the biggest fallacies is the “put their litterbox on  the porch” piece of advice. People waste important time thinking they are doing something that will  bring their cat home. So what should we do? Kat Albrecht who founded the Missing Animal Response  Network observed that when a cat is panicked or afraid, he will hide in silence and will not come out until he reaches a threshold point specific to him, based on his temperament and comfort level. This  may take just a few hours for very friendly and outgoing cats or many weeks for our scaredy cats. For  Manny, it was 40 days. Nothing is going to draw the cat back home until he reaches that threshold. 

Because cats find a hiding spot rather quickly, it makes sense that they do not travel very far. In fact, a  recent study of more than a thousand cats showed that about half were within a distance only a few  houses away and the majority were within 500 meters of their point of escape – about 5 football fields in  distance, when found. Of cats found alive, most were recovered within 7 days and nearly all the rest found within two months. A physical search greatly increased the chance of finding the cat alive. In  addition to a slow, methodical, physical search within the 500-meter area (during the day and night and  including the inside of the house), distribution of missing cat flyers with a clear picture of the cat and missing cat posters (mounted on neon backing) attached to poles and trees in the area helped the most.  Posting on missing pet databases, social media such as Facebook, or via an automated phone call alert  system were also helpful in finding the cats. While only half of the people that lost their cats contacted a  facility or sought professional help from volunteer lost pet recovery groups, a pet detective, or a trained  search dog (with her handler, of course!), this was found to have one of the highest rates of recovery. 

I was amazed at how helpful the scent tracking dog, appropriately named Magic, and her mom, Carmen, were to both our search for Manny and my state of mind. I worried that Manny was stuck on the hillside  somewhere and unable to get to water, but Magic “told” us that he had walked a good mile near the  railroad tracks below. This gave us the first point to search using the baited game cameras with yummy,  smelly food in view. Posters led to phone calls saying that Manny might be near a chiropractic office. To  be sure it was him, Magic came back again and verified it. That night, we saw Manny on the camera for  the first time! Although he decided to avoid our humane traps and didn’t come out the night I stayed  out watching with the security system camera and power inverter from my car, we began to understand  his patterns of movement.  

When another sighting that resulted from the FindToto robocalls was reported to us, we were again able  to validate that it was Manny from his smell. I saw him three times in one night while watching the  camera feed 100 feet away in my car, but he still refused to go into the humane trap or eat the rotisserie  chicken I bought. The very next day, a flyer we handed out around the neighborhood surrounding the  park six weeks prior resulted in a call. My husband went to check it out. Finally it was Manny! While he  still ran initially, his dad’s calm, patient nature allowed him to finally snap out of the nomadic cat mindset and happily get carried to the car and back home. Using a combination of the techniques  worked for us, and while Manny lost nearly half of his body weight despite me cooking for him every  night, he did recover from his ordeal. 

While I hope you never need this guide, having the knowledge ahead of time will empower you to make  the best decisions and give the greatest probability of getting your cat back home with you. Manny  would definitely approve.

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