Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Featured article in "Our Place to Paws"

The following article is featured in the inaugural issue of a new e-"mewsletter" titled Our Place to Paws. For more information, to view a sample issue or to subscribe, email: faye@flrcommunications.com.

Lost Your Cat? Get ‘em Back!

by Kimber Wukitsch

Anyone who’s ever owned an animal knows that losing one is like losing a good friend. In cases of illness or death, the only cure is to let time heal the wounds, but when a pet runs away the heartache is mixed with the hope of recovery. I experienced this firsthand when my usually laid-back indoor cat Jaden ran away the day I moved into a new apartment. It was only a little over a year since my last cat had died of a sudden, tragic heart condition, and although I was completely distraught I was also determined not to lose another animal if I could help it. A little online research specifically geared toward lost cat recovery gave me both the tools and resolve to embark on an effective and ultimately successful search. Thanks to advice from the Missing Pet Partnership, a grassroots national nonprofit organization, I miraculously got my cat back only six days after he ran away.

While not everyone will be this successful in quickly finding their animal, there is actually somewhat of a science to recovering a lost cat; the key is to realize that your cat’s temperament holds the answer to your search methods. Missing Pet Partnership identifies four primary personality types and suggests recovery strategies for each:

1. Curious/Clown Cat: These are gregarious cats that run to the door to greet strangers, get into trouble easily and are not readily afraid of anything. If they get out, they might initially hide but will then travel further away from their home.
Recovery strategy: Place fluorescent posters within at least a 5-block radius of your house, interview neighbors door-to-door, and thoroughly search possible hiding places in yards of houses near yours. Do NOT assume your cat will come when called.

2. Care-less Cat: These cats tend to be aloof and don’t seem to care much about people; they will stand back and watch when a stranger is around. When displaced they will usually hide initially but then may come back to the door and meow, or possibly travel.

Recovery Strategy: Search hiding places nearby including neighbors’ yards, and interview neighbors door-to-door. If these tactics don’t work, consider setting a baited humane trap.*

3. Cautious Cats: Such cats are generally stable but show occasional shyness. They like people but will initially dart and hide from strangers, although they may come out later to investigate. When displaced they are likely to immediately hide in fear. If not scared off from their hiding place, they will generally come back to wherever they escaped from or meow when their owner comes looking. However—this can take up to 7-10 days, when their hunger and thirst has reached a point where they will respond.

Recovery Strategy: Conduct a tightly-focused search in neighbors’ yards and set baited humane traps.

4. Catatonic/Xenophobic Cats: Alright, admittedly this category title is a bit humorous, but holds true nonetheless! These cats are afraid of everything that is new and unfamiliar, and will typically hide when a stranger comes into the home and not come out until that person has left. They do not enjoy being held and are easily disturbed by any change to their environment. When displaced, they bolt and then hide in silence—they tend to remain in the same hiding place and become almost catatonic, immobilized with fear. If someone other than their owners finds them, they are typically mistaken as untamed or “feral.”

Recovery strategy: Set baited humane traps. Xenophobic cats that become “lost” are routinely absorbed into the feral cat population.

Once you identify your cat’s temperament type, it’s necessary to thoroughly and aggressively pursue the recovery strategies immediately following its absence. The longer you wait, the more likely they are to get into trouble or travel further away. In the case of Jaden, I immediately began conducting regular searches through the woods behind my new apartment, hung posters throughout my neighborhood and talked to my neighbors in person (this proved to be a great way to meet my new people!), and received several calls from neighbors who thought they had seen him. However, he was too skittish to allow anyone near him, which is why Missing Pet Partnership’s advice was so useful: I realized my only chance was to set a couple of humane traps in the areas he had been spotted and cross my fingers.

I was incredibly lucky to catch Jaden the first night I set a trap six days following his disappearance, when his hunger was likely working in my favor. This is highly unusual; I read stories online of people setting traps for weeks to months before catching their cat. But it speaks to probably the most important point: don’t give up or lose hope. It’s easy to feel rebuked by others who might tell you, “it’s just a cat” or, “you’ll never find your cat!” Sure, it’s possible you won’t get your cat back, but if you don’t try you’ll never know—only persistence can bring your cat back to you, and believe me it’s worth every effort.

*Humane traps are wire cages with a trip mechanism that, when triggered by an animal, will shut the door and contain it inside. They are usually available for loan at your local Humane Society. Some good tips are available at http://www.sonic.net/~pauline/trap.html

For more information on how to recover a lost cat or dog, visit http://www.www.lostapet.org or contact kimberw@gmail.com.

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