The First Steps to take When your Cat Goes Missing

From the beginning— an organized approach is best…

The situation may be brought on by a trip to the vet or a front door left open, but the worst of nightmares begins when a beloved four pawed family member escapes or goes missing. If you have never encountered this situation, the experience can be quite a shock. For many of us it can be paralyzing at a time when we need to be on our best game. It is a time for action when you may feel the need to curl up and just cry. Below is a list of the most immediate activities to pursue when first you realize your cat has escaped or is missing.

First Response Protocol…

A step by step list

Relax and don’t panic… but also don’t wait to start looking. Statistics prove that pet owners with the greatest likelyhood of recovering their pet start looking immediately and have an organized approach. Be one of these pet owners.

Ground Zero Property Search: Make sure your pet is really missing. If you did not see him or her escape or do not know of anyone who did, take the time to do a quick search of your property and the most obvious hiding spots before bolting for the front door to look. With cats you need to take a little longer with your ground zero property search as a cat that is feeling poorly can be right inside the house hunkered down and feeling miserable. Think dark and concealed spots that are out of the everyday traffic pattern of your home or property. Check your home, yards, garage, outbuildings, shed, barns, etc.

Preparing to search:

What to bring: You can gather this in 5 minutes or less. A better idea is to have all of this prepared ahead of time and stored with your Pet ID kit*. You can also have some one else do this while you do the ground zero search.

  • Full body photo of cat – preferably taken from the side
  • 20 cards with 24 hour phone number & the words LOST CAT
  • Treats
  • Carrier
  • Whistle, squeaky toy or clicker if pet has been trained to one or thinks they are fun and will respond.

Immediately, grab your pet’s ID* kit with photo. If you do not have an ID Kit* or have not finished the identification requirements, grab a photo of your pet and a business card with your phone number on it. If you don’t have a business card or if the card does not have a phone number on it that you will answer 24 hours a day, take a yellow sticky, index card or any scraps of paper and write your cell phone number on them with the words LOST CAT. Make at least 20. Don’t forget the carrier and treats in case bribery is necessary. There is something in your refrigerator that will work in an emergency. Hot dogs, last night’s dinner, bologna, cheese, tuna fish may all work in an emergency. A missing pet is an emergency.

Bring in the troops: This is the time to call in your friends, family and neighbors. If possible, recruit those who will be supportive in your efforts and understand your concern and attachment for your pet. Call in your supportive friends and not the naysayers… you need to keep yourself focused and energized in your efforts.

Make it easy for the pet to return: Leave someone at the point of escape or your home in case pet returns. If no one is available leave a gate open, back door, car door, crate or something that pet is familiar with and may want to stay near. In the worst case and with nothing else to leave, take off a piece of your clothing and leave it at the front door, near the gate or on the front porch.

Head for the door and begin to search the surrounding neigborhood or area.

Searching for a Missing CAT in the first hours

Choose a Direction: If you know in which direction the cat went, go that way, (and forget the ground zero search as you know he’s out). If you are not sure of the direction and your cat has got out before, go in the direction he went the last time he got out. If you have no idea what so ever, go to the spot where you think the cat escaped and assume he went right. This is a percentage call because cats, like dogs, turn to the right more often than they turn to the left. If however, there is something scary to the right or something is blocking the way then choose another direction.

The cat that lives indoors or bolted in fear

Cats will bolt in a direction and tend to stay straight. Cats tend to run under cover, up against houses, bushes or fences if they are frightened or tend towards skittish behavior. When frightened all cats will bolt towards cover so if your cat lives indoors all the time or was most likely scared, look for cover that the cat could have traveled along. Think in terms of straight lines for direction of travel.

Get down on you knees and look from a height close to the level of your cat’s eyes, (about 18 inches is fine). You will be surprised at how different the landscape looks from this vantage. Look for obvious cover and things a cat could get under. Also if the cat has escaped before, retrace the direction he ran towards the last time.

The cat that has access to the outdoors and occasionally or regularly is let outside

When a cat that has regular outdoor access does not come home as usual, the highest probability is that something has kept him from returning. There is myriad of situations that occur in this situation but one usually must assume it is an incident of some sort. Male cats and females in heat may go wandering on occasion but there is usually something that will alert you to a change in behavior beforehand. If your outdoor access cat goes missing, it is necessary to consider an event or situation has occurred that is keeping the cat from returning as has been his or her routine.

Neighborhood QUIK search

Easy to remember formula:

5 for 2 no more than 1 in 12 (explained in the paragraph below)

Look within a radius of five houses for the first two hours using the techniques mentioned. If after two hours there is no resolution, expand your search spiraling out from the point last seen as the center of the spiral. In the first twelve hours it is generally not necessary to go more than one block in each of the eight compass directions.

Calling for your cat: One of the most difficult parts of a search is trying to remain calm when you feel something may have happened. As you call your cat it is important to use your inside, affectionate voice. When we are stressed or trying to project our voice, we put tension in our voice which most pets perceive as something wrong. Always use a low, soft voice and affectionate clicks and noises you use regularly when playing or talking to your cat. Screaming or yelling a cat’s name is not effective and sends most cats further away in panic. Most of us have funny, affectionate or maybe even goofy pet names we call our beloved pet… this is the time to use them.

  • Call the cat’s name but stop to listen…
  • Call… listen (pause to count of 10).
  • Call (pause to count of 10)… listen.
  • Continue calling in the areas you feel are more probable and likely for your cat to explore or hide in.

Remember to use your indoor, happy affectionate voice like you want to play or give affection.

Talk to everyone you see…

As you are looking, show your cats picture to everyone. Remember to leave them one of your telephone cards or premade flyer from your PET ID Kit*. Askeveryone you see outside, “Have you seen this cat?” Listen for their response but do not stop to chat unless they have recent information about your pets disappearance.

When you see your cat

When you see your cat, do not give chase but slowly go to your knees and encourage the cat to approach. Try these techniques:

  • Drop to your knees and use your inside voice. If your cat stops, encourage him to approach. Offer a tidbit or treat if you have one.
  • If the cat is running develop a strategy to “head him off at the pass”. Intersecting an animal’s forward direction is better than flat out sprinting behind. Angulation in the direction you think he or she will go is more effective.

Follow your leads and sightings until you either find your pet or run out of clues and sightings. If you go over three hours with no sightings or clues, head back to the point of escape to update and design a more formal search strategy with public awareness, development of witnesses and effective activities that are more likely to lead to a reunion with your pet.

A quick call to a licensed professional, skilled in missing cat behavior and scenarios, is time and money well spent. Experience has proven that pet owners who use the services of a professional at the onset of the their search, are rewarded with a faster recovery time. A well planned strategy with input from a professional, is an effective tool when a beloved cat goes missing.

*A PET ID Kit is a preventive measure, strongly recommended by Karin for pet owners whose dogs and cats are members of their families.

About the Author
Karin Goin is a licensed private investigator and the President of Pet Detectives, inc. a private investigative agency whose sole mission is the location and recovery of missing pets. By utilizing investigative skills, animal behavior profiling, escape scenario breakdown and environmental influences, she is able to “drill down” to the most likely scenario a missing pet may be experiencing. When not on the road with her K9 tracking team, she spends most of her time on the phone coaching pet owners in the search for their missing pets.

Karin and her K9s are regularly featured in newspapers, magazines and on television news segments across the country. She is the author of Finding Home… The Pet Owners Guide to Finding a Missing Dog and A Meow at the Door: Effective Techniques for Finding and Recovering a Missing Cat. She is in negotiations for a network TV series scheduled to air in 2008. Call 918-368-2228 for further information.



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