What to do if your cat goes missing, as Boo-Boo Kitty did on June 25.
1. Go ahead, panic. WHERE IS HE?? WHAT HAPPENED? Boo-Boo Kitty was a homebody who came and went as he pleased, but one afternoon he just took off like shot, like he was heading toward something, and he never came back. That’s not like him at all.
2. It easily could have been you who let the cat go out, and you’ve already forgiven him, but be a little angry at the guilty-looking husband who was so busy working that he didn’t realize Boo-Boo had been missing for over 24 hours. He just assumed that he came inside at night and went to sleep. You drove 15 hours (it should have taken 12) from Columbus Ohio, walked in the door, and immediately realized the cat was missing. Together start searching and calling in the dark, to no avail. (Husband keeps up the search even when you are thousands of miles away in Europe. He’s a keeper.)
3. Scour missing pet websites, including www.missingpetpartnership.org. List your pet as “missing” with RI Lost Pets, Craigslist, and other online groups. Bring posters to the local shelters and veterinarian offices. Try not to notice how many other pets are missing, too.
4. Don’t shake your fist at karma too hard when you think of how you spent a vacation’s worth of savings your missing cat’s teeth only two weeks prior to his disappearance. You did it because you rationalized, “Hey, he’s only nine years old, he’s going to be around for another ten years at least, let’s make him comfortable.” Be comforted that even though he has far fewer teeth Out There On His Own, at least you know he has his shots, and he always did like to gum the grass.
5. Make eye-catching signs. Get sheets of neon poster board, and cut them in half to double your supply. Include basic information only: “LOST CAT, GREY/WHITE TABBY, CALL ME.” Use plastic sheet protectors to keep your color photo looking nice for weeks on end, even though you devoutly hope the posters will be coming down in a few days, when you find him. Be sad but glad, weeks later, that the posters are still up and still looking good. Glad but sad.
6. Put up the posters at major intersections in your community, and be amazed and relieved that no one rips them down. Instead, all the walkers and joggers and bikers stop, read, and they start calling. It’s summer season and there are many, many people around to help look. Feel hopeful.
7. Hand out little flyers to all neighbors in a half mile radius. ALL of them. Accept their sympathy while trying to get access to their garages, sheds and backyards so you can conduct a thorough search. Keep flyers in a Ziploc bag with a pen, so you can add a personal message like “Spotted near your driveway on 7/14, please keep a look out.”
8. Talk to the lady down the street who feeds ferals. Find out that five of her seven ferals went missing about a month ago. She saw the coyote take one of them in his mouth. Also find out there is a chicken coop not too far away from your house and the coyote likes to park there and shop for dinner. Be sobered by this information, but also realize that there are several other cats who seem to walk about the neighborhood completely unmolested. It’s luck, it’s chance, and it’s also geography.
9. Use your sleepless nights to your advantage. When you awaken at 3am and worry about your cat, put on your shoes and go out with a flashlight and softly call him, hoping your neighbors are sleeping soundly. Flash the light into closed garage windows and sheds, hoping but also not hoping to find him or hear him there after three weeks of being missing. Cats can survive that long but you hate to think of the suffering.
10. Leave your family’s holiday early because you are heartbroken and anxious about your missing cat, and you got a possible lead the moment you arrived at their home, six hours away from yours. Go home and keep searching. At the Independence Day Parade in your neighborhood, hand out more Lost Cat flyers while wearing a vintage bathing suit because this year’s theme is “Living History.” Own the title of Crazy Cat Lady.
11. Begin a desperate search for ways to keep your two remaining cats safe. Invest in an indiegogo scheme that will build GPS pet collars trackable on an iPhone. Get your Invisible Fence fixed but balk at training Cecilia the Huntress Cat to stay inside it. Instead, buy the Loc8or, a kind of LoJack for cats, and put the little radio units on your cats’ collars. Be happily amazed at how well they work. Teach everyone in the family how to locate Lou-Lou and Cecilia with the little monitor, that beeps faster and louder when you get closer to the cat or the cat gets closer to you. Play this game of feline Marco Polo every night at dusk. It now takes you five minutes to locate Cecilia in the back yard, or one street beyond. If it took any longer you would be immediately alerted to trouble.
12. Hire a Missing Pet Detective to bring her dogs to your yard, to see if they can pick up a cat scent. Try not to be too elated to have the help and support, and try not to be too discouraged when they don’t lead you straight to your pet after three outings. The process itself is very interesting, even if you don’t get the result you want.
13. Deploy wildlife trail cameras (on loan from your awesome pet detective) in your yard. Put out a Kitty Buffet of smelly mackerel, cat food, and dry dog food to attract any and all creatures to dine in front of the camera. Do this so many times, you can do it by feel and not even need a flashlight. In the morning, see that the plates are empty. Bring your laptop and check the SD card from the camera. See raccoons, possums, birds eating your food . . .and a few cats you’ve never seen before. But not your cat.
14. After several weeks of not seeing any cats in your own yard, convince neighbors and vacant home caretakers to let you put trail cameras in their backyards. Check them daily. When you get no hits after a few days, find new neighbors to beg.
15. Leave used kitty litter at the lawn’s edge; they’ll smell their way back.
16. Put a can of tuna in a crock pot with water. Heat it up. Load it into a spray bottle and spray it on trees and shrubs near your home, hoping the smell will lure your cat home. (This even impressed the pet detective.)
17. When you find cats on camera, prepare humane traps and hope to catch them — maybe catch your own. Trap two giant ferals within 12 hours . .but release them when you realize it’s a Saturday night and you have nowhere to send them to be neutered. Damn, damn, damn.
18. Follow up every lead. Try not to be too elated when a caller insists they saw your cat. Text them a photo of your cat to confirm. Try not to be too deflated when they don’t call back right away, and then you have to call them after waiting an hour to find out that, “no, I guess it wasn’t him.” They weren’t even going to bother calling back; that’s the part that hurts. Don’t they know you are sitting on tenterhooks waiting for their response, while they think they’re making it easier on you by just ignoring you? What do they think you are doing, thinking about something else? Learn to send out more than one photo — send out three photos, like a kitty lineup, and see which one they choose.
19. Start a Facebook page to keep track of sightings, and keep people looking. Upload videos from your trail cameras, which are really kind of entertaining. Give the feral cats cool names like Kanye, Pharrell, Greystoke, and Christian Grey (he had many different shades of, well, you know). Upload photos of every cat you can find in your neighborhood, so when people call and swear they found your cat, you can direct them to the Facebook page where they will either exclaim, 1. “I really did see your cat” or 2. “Oh, I guess it was that one who lives down the street, sorry.” Two other local cats are missing, add them to your page.
20. Practice your calm demeanor when someone casually mentions, “You know, my neighbor found some kind of pet intestines on her front lawn a month ago, that same place where we thought we saw your cat. But she didn’t call you about it because she didn’t want to upset you.” You’re not upset about a dead cat’s intestines; you’re upset because you’re thinking this ordeal could have been over a month ago if someone had bothered to pick up the phone. Your phone number is all over the telephone poles in the neighborhood. Swear to yourself that you will never do that to anyone else, out of fear of upsetting them.
21. Go to that house and check out the property anyway. Find no evidence of fur or anything that would suggest a coyote kill. There are coyotes and fisher cats in the area, but there are also many places to hide, and you’ve had potential sightings. Be aware that lack of despair is not the same as hope.
22. Feel tremendous sympathy when your neighbor’s cat suddenly goes missing four weeks after yours. Share your advice, your kitty buffet, and your cameras.
23. Let your heart race four days later, when you get a solemn call from a friend two blocks away, who has found part of a cat in her backyard. The landscape crew was mowing her lawn and blowing away the freshly cut grass when they noticed fur in the air. They remembered your signs and they told the homeowner. Shake as you drive to her house, only two blocks away. Follow the bits of grey fur — a sure sign of a coyote kill — until you come upon the remains of a cat — a tail and a leg, nothing else. Scrutinize it carefully and realize it’s not your cat. . .it is probably your neighbor’s. Take the remains to her house, and hug her as she identifies them as her missing cat. Be sad for both of you. Her ordeal is over; yours isn’t.
24. Acknowledge that Boo-Boo could have met the same fate. Keep looking for evidence of death, as well as life.
25. As weeks turn into months, and the sightings are further apart and each trail goes cold, begin to face it as much as you dare. You worked so hard, you did everything you could. Your neighbors are amazed and slightly appalled at your tenacity. You attracted every cat in the area, except him. The sightings could have been him, or could have been Greystoke, a feral cat who had some similar markings. Boo-Boo could be eating plates of wet food and purring into the neck of someone only a few miles away, or he could have died the night he went missing, and you will probably never know for certain, but more than likely it’s the latter. You never had control over any of this. If he returns home, it will be a miracle that will be shared on the missing pet blogs for years. But you don’t expect a miracle anymore.
26. Return the traps and the cameras to the pet detective. Start to take down the signs in the neighborhood. It’s very hard to do this so you do one at a time, every few days. Keep one trail camera for yourself, just in case, and because it is still kind of interesting to see the wildlife in your own yard. You hear that some vacationers adopt a cat for the season, then take off in the fall, leaving the cat to fend for itself (horrible). Maybe you can catch these homeless cats on the camera and start a feeding station. Maybe Boo-Boo strayed that far and he’ll show up there. Maybe you can still salvage this experience.
27. Be always grateful you were never conducting a desperate search for your missing child.
28. Be satisfied that you were able to dispel many misconceptions about missing pets; it might help the next grieving owner. So much of the folk wisdom is dead wrong and it reduces the chances of cats coming home. FACTS: Even confident cats can become scared when they are out of territory, even just a few feet. . . . Even friendly, social cats can appear feral when they’re trapped, which can lead to them being euthanized in a shelter instead of being reunited with an owner. . . . Lost cats will not come when called, at all; they shut down into survival mode even if their beloved owner is three feet away with food in hand. It can take a week or longer for them to break cover and move. . . Cats who show no signs of ill health or age do not just go off into the woods, fixin’ to die. . . .Cats do not just decide they want to live somewhere else and take off like hobos; they will warn you first by detaching, and by disappearing for a short time. And all of this applies to dogs, too. They are creatures of habit.
28. Cats who are one Pounce short of a can, cats who started life rough in the barn and were grateful to live in a warm house, cats who were declawed as kittens and didn’t have great hunting skills, cats who sleep all day behind your back, cats who are first in line for the crunches, cats who look for chances to purr into your neck — they do not just run away. They are missing, they are lost, they are gone. You can do a lot of things to help bring them home. One of them may work. All of them may work. Or not.
29. You have used your hard-won knowledge to help others. It just couldn’t help Boo-Boo. Be sad about that for as long as you need to be.
30. Admit that the girl cats are not exactly crying into their Meow Mix about Boo-Boo’s absence. They get more food when they want it, and both of them have become more social with the rest of the family. Boo-Boo hogged the spotlight, like Rebel before him. But you miss that wonderful, quirky male feline adulation. You are already cruising the PetFinder website, looking to save a cat from a shelter. You just want to save something.
31. Oh, how you wanted to end this post with a little update saying Boo-Boo had been found and was purring contentedly behind your back as you were writing. Maybe that’s why you didn’t blog for three months. You were hoping to write a happy ending. All you can really write is, to be continued. . . .