Professional pet detectives share their experience and knowledge to help you find a lost pet.
Lost cats requires immediate attention and knowing something about cat personalities can help you locate your missing cat sooner rather than later — or not at all.
More than ten inches of snow blanketed the city of North Wales, Pennsylvania, last winter when Bernadette Palmer’s two-year-old adopted cat, Callie, fell out of a second-story window and disappeared. The missing cat had never ventured out of her loving home and seemed to have vanished without trace.
After a week of frantic searching, Palmer called in lost-cats detective Steve Hagey of the Detect-A-Pet Lost Pet Services in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. Apart from photographs, Palmer also filled him in on the lost cat’s cautious temperament, pointing out that she had xenophobic tendencies, or an abnormal fear of foreign things — even the sound of rustling paper scared her.
Hagey considered what he knew about cat personalities, and, then, armed with motion-activated surveillance cameras and a bionic ear to amplify sounds thousands of feet away, he spent a total of 34 nights searching for the missing cat in the freezing cold.
His persistence paid off. Nearly four weeks into the search, a neighbor claimed to have seen the missing cat. Hagey followed the lead and discovered a feral feeding station where he sighted Callie and set a humane trap for her. Another five days passed before he managed to confine the starving, filthy, flea-invested pet and return her safely to an overjoyed Palmer. By using what he understood about cat personalities, Hagey was able to find Callie.
Cats are very territorial creatures. In unfamiliar territory, lost cats (particularly cautious cats like Callie) usually look for the first place that offers concealment and protection. They instinctively and silently hide to protect themselves from predators. How long they remain in that hiding place and what they do when they emerge depends entirely upon their temperament. If you have a missing cat, don’t wait to see if she returns. Start searching immediately.
“If your pet has easy access to the outdoors and suddenly vanishes, ask yourself, ‘What’s happened?’” says pet detective Kat Albrecht, founder of Missing Pet Partnership in Clovis, California, and author of The Lost Pet Chronicles: Adventures of a Canine Cop Turned Pet Detective (Bloomsbury USA, 2004). “Cats have been known to curl up in an open car that subsequently drives away, or they can be chased from their home environment by a dog. When an indoors-only cat escapes out of the safety of home, the question is ‘Where is she hiding?’”
According to Albrecht, all cats fall into one of four types of cat personalities:
With a gregarious personality, this curious feline will run to the door to greet a stranger, is generally unafraid, and consequently gets into trouble. When displaced, she will hide at first and then most likely begin to travel. She could easily get within a five-block radius of home quite quickly. Don’t assume she will come when called.
This cat is aloof and doesn’t care for people. When a stranger is present, she tends to stand back and watch. When displaced, she’s likely to hide but eventually will break cover, attempt to come back home, and meow to be let in. There is the possibility, however, that she will travel larger distances.
Generally, a cautious cat (like Callie) likes people but is shy and will dart away to hide if a stranger comes to the door. Sometimes she’ll peek around the corner and slowly come out to investigate. When displaced, however, she will immediately hide in fear. If not scared out of hiding by people or other animals, she’s likely to return home on her own or meow to attract attention when her owner comes looking. This could happen within two days. But it could take as long as ten days before hunger or thirst prompts her to break cover. In Callie’s case, she found food at a feral feeding station set up by cat-loving volunteers quite close to her home and came out of hiding at night to eat.
Xenophobia is a fear or hatred of anything strange or foreign. This fearful behavior is either part of a cat’s genetic make-up or the result of traumatic kittenhood experiences. The xenophobic cat will hide when a stranger comes into the home and will not come out until well after the company has left. She doesn’t enjoy being held or petted and is easily disturbed by any environmental changes. When displaced, she will bolt and hide in silence, remaining in the same hiding place, immobilized by fear. If someone other than her owner finds her, she could be mistaken as being wild and homeless, spitting and hissing out of fright. Sadly, as a result, xenophobic cats are often absorbed into the feral cat population.
In many instances, the best way of capturing a missing cat is with a humane baited trap. Cats have a very keen sense of smell. If you use a baited trap (which you can get at a feed store or hardware store), line it with towels that have a familiar “home smell” to entice her to go inside. You can even place some of her kitty litter inside as well.
When you make “lost” posters, don’t forget to include your cat’s personality traits, likes and dislikes, and include a telephone number where you can be reached at all times.
Ask your local animal shelter for help with traps or employ a pet detective with a search dog that is trained to detect cats to help retrieve your pet.
It’s not easy to gauge a cat’s personality type if she’s sitting on a wall or on the sidewalk. Most lost cats will move to higher ground if approached by a stranger. If you think a cat in your neighborhood could possibly be displaced from its home, ask your local no-kill animal shelter to assist with a trap – unless she’s really friendly and will come to you. Make “found” posters and post them within a five-block radius of your home. Hopefully, you’ll be able to reunite the cat with its owner.
Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. Her work appears regularly on in various national and international publications. She is a member of the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers Association of America.
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