Prevention is the best cure! Provide your cat with a break-away collar that has a valid phone number on it. This single simple step can in many cases get your lost or injured cat returned to you promptly.
Losing a cat can be one of the most heartbreaking experiences a cat lover can undergo. People can be in anguish for weeks wondering what happened to their kitty, and the sorrow and despair can linger for years if the cat is not located. When accident or sickness takes a kitty, at least the cat's people know what happened.
The good news is that when the cat disappears there are a number of constructive steps that can be taken to get the kitty home. In my years of experience I have only known two cats to vanish off the face of the earth, in many cases I have recovered cats that were missing for weeks or even months. The big secret is to be persistent and don't give up hope. So long as the cat's fate is unknown there is always the possibility the cat will return. I knew someone whose cat returned after an absence of eleven years. While this is obviously an unusual case, it illustrates the point that one should never give up hope.
The first thing to remember is that the typical cat is a very resourceful animal. When injured or badly frightened they will hide, often for days or weeks. After the great Oakland Hills fire of 1990 that destroyed over 2000 homes it was at first thought that most or all of the cats left behind had perished. Then starting about 2 weeks after the fire dozens of cats emerged from sewers and other hiding holes where they had taken shelter, coming out only when hunger and thirst left them no option. A cat's ability to survive adversity should not be underestimated.
The other main reason a cat may not return is that it is simply lost. It may have wandered a little too far, or may have been chased outside its familiar territory. And once lost the typical cat may not be able to find its way home without human intervention. In many cases kind hearted strangers may feed and care for the cat until its owners are located. I have twice recovered cats that were missing for over six months because a good soul took care of the cat and eventually noticed a flyer I had posted.
Knowing that the cat may be nearby and just waiting to be found makes it clear that despair is not the answer. There are three main things that can and should be done that will increase the chances of the cat being located. The first is to simply look for the cat. The second is to check local animal shelters. The third and possibly most important is to post flyers. After these three there are other things that can be done as well, detailed below.
Simply looking for the cat is the very first thing to do. There is a good chance the kitty is actually within earshot of its home. It is important to search a widening circle around the cat's home calling the cat's name or otherwise making familiar sounds. Go at least 3 or four blocks in every direction, calling all the while. The real secret to this method is to do it at night, preferably very late at night, like 3 or 4 am. A lost and frightened cat is most likely to venture forth when the world is as still and dark and safe as possible. I have known people to recover a cat that was missing for weeks simply by getting up at 4 am and calling for it outside their home! Remember that in the still of the night a voice is going to carry a lot further and be a lot easier to distinguish from other noise. It is also important to listen after calling, the cat may be up a tree or otherwise trapped, but it will often return the calls if it hears a familiar voice.
In fact sound has helped many lost cats return home. I got my cat Spot back because he was able to home in on the familiar sound of the lawn mower. And I read of a cat in England who escaped into an unfamiliar area after an auto wreck. His people recovered him by simply tape recording the sound of their can opener and playing it loudly. If you suspect your cat is nearby but lost, a familiar sound may be just the ticket. Remember, the kitty desperately wants to come home and all it needs is a little help.
If the kitty was lost in an urban area it is also crucial to go as soon as possible to the local shelter or shelters. Be polite but persistent, talk to the staff, go every day, make very effort to see that the staff remembers the missing cat. City run shelters can be especially crucial in this regard. They will not hold animals for very long before killing them. Even if the cat has a collar there is no guarantee that the overworked and underpaid staff of a city shelter will notice (and the cat may have lost its collar.) I must say though that I have never recovered a cat at the pound, the typical house cat doesn't get caught and turned in to one of these places, they are usually filled with strays and feral cats. But I always check for at least several weeks after the cat vanishes just for peace of mind. Make sure to put up a flyer at the pound, there is almost always a bulletin board for this purpose.
The third and most important long term strategy is to post flyers. Print up a highly readable and legible flyer and post it everywhere within a mile or so of where the cat disappeared. Make sure that the flyers have phone numbers that can be torn off. Be persistent and post for months if need be. Expand the area flyered if initial flyers get no results. I have found cats more than a mile from their home using this method. Also while flyering keep a sharp eye out for flyers that someone may have posted when they found your cat. I had a friend who lost his cat and he despaired of getting it back. I said, "Have you looked?" Well, no he hadn't. I insisted we look and less than a block away someone had posted a flyer describing his cat. My friend and his cat were both very pleased to be reunited.
As a codicil to flyers, it may well be helpful to put your phone number and kitty info on 3 by 5 cards and hand them out to people who may see the cat in the course of their daily activities. Garbage collectors, Postal delivery people, construction workers and any other people who may work in or travel through the area you suspect your cat is lost.
If the cat disappeared after moving to a new home make sure to check and flyer the previous home. Cats can and often do travel several miles (or hundreds of miles in exceptional circumstances) in order to return to familiar surroundings. My cat Max twice traveled over a mile through downtown Boise to return to his former abode. After the second trip I decided not to force the issue and he was adopted by the new owners (he was a wonderful cat.) The last I heard he had retired to a life of luxury on a ranch in Oregon, clearly Max knew what he was doing.
Talking to one's neighbours can be helpful. The more people that are watching out for the cat the better. And often one finds out fascinating things about the cat. When my cat Spot wandered off I found out that he regularly visited half a dozen homes in my neighbourhood. And in fact was very popular (and well fed.) Another cat that knew how to take care of himself. He returned this time shortly after I had mown the lawn, after he was missing nearly two weeks. He was hungry and dirty and I suspect that he was nearby the whole time but was unable to find his way back until he was able to home in on the familiar sound of the lawn mower.
There are a few other resources available for finding a missing cat. If there is a local Humane Society it should get a visit or two. They usually maintain a list of lost and found pets, make sure to check this out. They may also be able to give advice on searching for lost cats in their part of the world. In some urban areas there are services that will attempt to locate lost pets for a fee but only if the pet is found. These mostly seem to be fancy flyering operations, they can't hurt but are no substitute for other steps outlined above. Checking the "Lost and Found" or placing a notice in the local paper may work, depending on the area it covers.
Remember, keep looking and don't give up hope, only you can help your cat come home!
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