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Think lost NOT stray

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

I run a social media page in my community that helps disseminate information to local folks about pets gone missing or for people who find pets and want to locate the owner. One of the greatest frustrations I experience as a cat behaviorist is dealing with the misinformation regarding lost cats.

When I attended a session at this year’s Cat Writer’s Association presented by Kim Freeman, the Lost Cat Finder I was thrilled. Kim is a professional pet detective, and has spent the last nine years searching for lost cats. I couldn’t take notes fast enough and every time she offered a tip or explained why certain lost cat tips were folklore and not effective at all I couldn't contain my excitement.

I nodded my head YES!

As I listened to her I nodded my head so much I almost gave myself whiplash. Kim said;

  • 75% of shelter cats are considered strays, only 25% get adopted and 3-4% are claimed by their owners. YES, this is true!

  • Most lost pet advice is for dogs. YES! I’ve been saying this for years!

  • Many search methods are outdated. Putting food out will only attract other critters, some that may be harmful to your cat. YES!

  • Putting a dirty litter box out will not attract your cat but it may attract predators that want to find the cat, your cat. There is a reason cats cover their poop, so as not to be found by predators. YES!

The list went on and on and although it was great to feel vindicated what was more important was to find help for everyone who has a cat that goes missing. Here are some of the highlights of what I learned from Kim.

Consider your cat's personality

Your cat’s personality will affect their behavior when they are out of their element.

  • Curious-the curious cat who is more engaged and a bit bolder will be sighted more when it’s lost

  • Cautious-this cat is more tentative and will probably be more skeptical of people when it’s lost

  • Careful-a careful cat is nervous and wary and will keep itself away from people and places

  • Xenophobic –this is the stereotypical “scaredy cat”. Chances are this cat will keep itself hidden and will rarely be seen

And even if you have a curious, social feline, don’t assume that if you call him, he’ll come running. If your cat has been sighted, sit in the area and wait patiently. Don’t jump up and don’t grab at him. Patience is the key. This is so true. A number of years ago one of my cats escaped. I found him trying to get in the next door neighbor’s house. I ran up to him (mistake) and yelled his name (another mistake) and I now understand why he ran from me. This cat was a very curious feline but he was out of his element and terrified. The good news is he did get home safely, no thanks to my clumsy rescue attempts.

Consider your cat's senses

Cat’s day vision is not as good as their night vision. They can’t always tell human faces. When your cat sees you outside you are just a blur. Imagine what the poor feline feels when he sees a big, hulking yelling monster running toward him. He is probably not going to hang around long enough to let you get close enough to figure out it’s you.

To trap or not to trap

I had not considered trapping to recover a lost cat but with the right trap, you may greatly increase your chances of finding your feline. Kim mentioned Haveahart traps and Tomahawk traps. As I know nothing about traps, I would hire Kim for a consultation before I purchased a trap.

She recommended that you put something of yours (a shirt, blanket, etc.) that has your smell on it in the bottom of the trap. This will hopefully attract your cat and will deter other animals from approaching the trap.

As for bait, she said she’s had great success with Kentucky fried chicken – who knew? If you don’t want to make a run to the colonel’s then use what your cat loves.

What you should do before your cat is lost

Kim had some excellent suggestions.

  • Take a photo full face from the front so your cat’s whisker pattern is easy to see. Whisker patterns help a lot to identify a cat, especially when you are comparing it with other lost cats with similar coat patterns and coloring.

  • Make sure you have full body photos of your cat from each side and the front

Whatever you do, don't give up too soon

Kim ended her presentation with the exhortation to not give up. Some cats stay hidden for months and won’t approach humans until they are starving. Some people may assume your cat is a stray and feed it outside or take it in as their pet.

These tips were only a small overview of how to find lost cats. You will be happy to know that Kim offers many services to help you locate your lost kitty. There are phone consultations and even in-person searches. She has also written a book that can be downloaded.

Even if your cat isn’t lost, the knowledge Kim provides can help you help someone else find their beloved feline.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, Kim's lost cat tracking dog isn't a dog at Henry.

I hope this information from Kim brings you encouragement, either when your own cat goes missing or if you find a cat whose owners you want to locate and don't forget…….

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