I just recently went through the experience of having a pet go missing for two weeks. That’s a specific form of hell, as anyone who has ever lost a pet knows.
This girl right here – Cairo – is our little former feral rescue. She’s clever and affectionate and one of the prettiest cats I’ve ever belonged to. It’s easy to forget she’s a former feral because she’s sweet-natured, but the first year or so of her life wasn’t spent around humans or even cats who are used to humans. It was spent around other cats who specifically haven’t been around other humans. So, there are a lot of things you tend to take for granted with a cat you’ve raised from kittenhood that you can’t, with a feral. For example, if you pat the couch beside you, she doesn’t understand you’re inviting her up. She will usually look confused. Even though our other three respond to these cues normally, Cairo just isn’t wired that way.
She also doesn’t come when you call her. She knows her name and will look at you when you say it, but she doesn’t grasp the concept that saying her name means you want her to come over to where you are. She’s a smart girl – she figured her puzzle feeder out faster than any of the others and she adapted to her microchip Sure Feed dish almost immediately. She’ll be all over you when she wants a cuddle. But her social development didn’t include a lot of the same types of cues kittens raised in a household have, and it’s not her go-to reaction to come when invited. So when she door-darted on us one rainy day, we knew we were in trouble. Cairo is terrified of rain, and the second she felt the rain on her body she wailed and bolted.
Let me say here, we eventually got her back home safe. We ended up buying a humane live trap and setting it out daily and after trapping two other entirely disgusted neighborhood cats, Cairo turned up in the trap one morning. I think she was as happy to be home as we were to HAVE her home.
What this post is about is the experience, both from the perspective of anyone googling info on how to find a missing cat, and anyone who has a friend with a missing cat because this whole thing has been an experience on more than a few levels.
There is a lot of decent advice out there on what to do when your cat gets out. What I did personally was to put a bag on the porch with some of her used litter in it, and a small box with a ratty old article of my clothing. Most cats don’t go more than a few houses away from their own house and things that smell familiar can help them find their way home.
We also submitted her info to PetFBI and PawBoost, and notified the NoKill Network. These organizations will post info about your missing pet on social media in your area, and NoKill will notify shelters in your area. We put flyers around our neighborhood and posted about it on our local NextDoor page – anything you can do to boost visibility and keep eyes out for your pet can help bring them home.
Here’s a big thing to remember: If your postings include your cell number, you will get texts from people trying to scam you. Typically, they will tell you they’ve found your cat, they are going to text you a code to confirm you are the correct owner and ask you to read the code back to them. Do not fall for this bullshit – they’re trying to set up a Google Voice number associated with your phone number that they can then use in other scams. If you get one of these, block them and move on. Do not give them any codes.
The next thing we did is to notify her microchip company. If your pet is missing and microchipped, let them know – they will flag your account so that if your pet is found and you are not notified, they won’t change the pet’s contact info if someone attempts to do so.
Knowing that as a former feral her instincts would probably be to lay low, we picked up a live humane trap and set it up on our porch near the litter bag. That was ultimately what brought her home – she got hungry enough to overcome her fear, and came for the food in the trap. The joy of seeing her in the trap and bringing her home, and having her yowling and climbing all over us in happy relief was indescribable.
Now if you’re reading this because you have a friend who has lost a cat, I have one big huge piece of advice for you: If you were thinking about lecturing them? DO NOT DO IT. SERIOUSLY. STUFF A FUCKING SOCK IN IT RIGHT NOW.
The second most upsetting thing during the time Cairo was missing, after the grief and upset of her being missing in the first place, was admittedly well-meaning people will all the tact of a moose in heat lecturing me about it. “Don’t put a towel in the trap! You’ll freeze her to death!” fussed one. “Don’t put food on the porch, you’ll draw wild animals!” snarled another (like I don’t know my own neighborhood enough to know whether or not I can do that? I live in the suburbs, ffs, not BFE). And the ever unwelcome and inappropriate, “HoW cOuLd yOu LeT hEr OuT?” Cause I totally did that on purpose?
You can find ways to ask for info or express advice tactfully, and now is the best time to practice doing so. You can explain that newspaper is better to use than a towel without making your friend feel like she’s gleefully looking to freeze her pet to death. You can offer advice without sounding like you think your friend is an idiot. There is no point in the entire experience of dealing with a missing pet that yelling, lecturing, or passive/aggressive snark is welcome, helpful, or remotely appropriate. Your friend is upset and stressed enough about the situation as it is, believe me.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go hug my cats.