Twelve years ago this November one of the feral cats I cared for, Snowy, disappeared. He had been a part of the colony, it’s “king” really, for many years and every morning he greeted me with a sweet, hungry meow and a little headbonk. His appearance was the cue for the other cats in the colony to come stretching out of their little cat houses or leaping out of the ramshackle barn that was the center of their community. Then, one day, he just wasn’t there.
Snowy was a neutered male who did not roam. He was a consistent part of the colony and had been for many years and had become, as far as he was able, very friendly to other cats and sometimes to me. Snowy was not a true feral. At one time in his life, he had known people. Maybe he was a yard cat or even a house cat with his own little bed and toy mice. I often wonder what stories the ferals that I care for would tell me if only they could speak. Many of them, I am sure, would not be happy ones. Snowy didn’t have the wary curiosity of a wild animal, he had the fear of humans that comes from abuse. But, over time, he had learned to trust me.
When he disappeared, and, again, this was more than a decade ago, I was at a loss at what to do. Microchips were, at this time, rarely used by vets, especially in our rural area, and even the vets who did recommend or place them had to contend with companies that all had a different frequency for their chips. So even if a cat or dog was chipped, the vet he or she was taken to might not have the reader to find their chip. But, given Snowy’s wariness of humans, it was unlikely he would be caught and taken to a vet. It was more likely he would have ended up trapped and sent to a high kill shelter or worse. Even now, no kill shelters are rare here and ten years ago I could count them on one hand. Feral cats or even pets who don’t “present well,” who growl or hiss out of fear or cower in their cages are usually killed rather than any attempt made to socialize them. Yet people continued to dump animals at these facilities without a thought for what would happen to them content that they’d “done the best they could” for an animal they’d found or a pet they no longer wanted.
I checked local pounds and shelters, left posters and contact information offering a reward and posted Snowy’s image and story on the few lost and found and pet community pages that we had available at the time. I checked with local farms, knowing many farmers here trap animals they consider pests including cats and some kill them, but no one had seen or would admit to having seen Snowy. I walked every day calling his name in the woods around the feral community. Every flash of white in the green and then autumn brown of the woods made my heart leap. But it was always a rabbit, a squirrel, or another cat. It was never Snowy. I looked for him daily for a year and even now I search the face of every Siamese mix that I meet hoping to see those familiar twisted whiskers and those sweet little eyes. But twelve years is a long time, especially for an outdoor cat.
In the twelve years since I lost Snowy, I’ve helped several lost cats find their homes. Some had collars and turned up at the colony desperate for help, others had being “living rough” for some time, but were tame enough for me to catch them and have them scanned for chips. Many of their owners had posted their photos on local lost & found pages or at local vets and once I called them, they were able to claim their kitty and take him or her home. Only one “owner” (who had microchipped his kitty) was indifferent when he was contacted, telling me that he was glad that his cat found a home and that it was really their daughter’s cat and she had gone to college. I found a new home for that cat (now named Chips) where he is a very happy, slightly plump cat who will live out his days with people who genuinely care for him.
Many lost pets do find their way home thanks to social media, pet community centers, microchipping, and concerned networks of animal-lovers. If your pet goes missing, please do not lose hope. It’s true that it’s likeliest that you’ll find your pet within a few weeks of him or her going missing, but there are stories of pet owners being reunited with their furry friends years after they were lost. Some of the pets that found their way to the colony and eventually back to their homes had been gone for more than a year. Their owners will likely never know what caused them to leave home or the journey they took. They may have had other “homes” along the way before they found their way to me.
If you do find a cat or dog you suspect is a lost pet (even if they aren’t wearing a collar), take them to your local vet to have them scanned for a microchip. All microchip manufacturers now use the same frequency for their chip readers and chips are very inexpensive to have fitted and to maintain. Generally, they cost $7-12 for a yearly subscription and most chipping companies have their own lost and found pet networks. I can’t stress how important it is to microchip your pet. I’ve seen pets reunited with their owners because of these chips – pets whose owners were looking for them but who had travelled further than they ever expected. Without the chip, I would not have seen their lost and found posts or known they were looking for their cat.
Most of these tips are commonsense, but when you’re worried about a lost pet, it’s often hard to think rationally. I know I was overwhelmed with fear and grief and having a pet community page helped me not only get the word out about Snowy, but also gave me ideas about other ways to search. Social media has come a long way in the last twelve years. It will now be your primary means of finding your pet although never underestimate simply walking and calling their name, asking neighbors if they’ve seen your pet, or leaving our a carrier with a familiar blanket and food in an area where your pet may visit. I knew Snowy would return to the colony if he could – to its familiar sights and smells and to the other cats he loved. But in the case of an indoor cat who may have escaped into the outdoors, small reminders of home like their carrier, their blanket and toys, or even an old t-shirt can be invaluable tools to help them find their way back to you. If you don’t know which way your pet may’ve traveled, you can leave little “stations” with a shelter like a carrier and some familiar items like towels, bedding, tshirts, or toys at several locations.
As a few other suggestions:
- Contact local animal shelters and animal control agencies. File a lost pet report at local shelters and pet community centers. Make sure you include a recent picture of your pet and offer a reward (even if you can only offer a small one). Although offering a reward may attract some unscrupulous people, it will attract more attention to your posters. Most kind-hearted people will help you out of the goodness of their hearts and because they care about animals. But the point of the poster or online ad is to get the word out there to as many people as possible.
Visit shelters daily (or call if you can’t visit) to check for your pet. Many shelters now have online sections where you can screen new admissions.
- File a police report. If you suspect your pet was stolen, file a police report.
- Walk your neighborhood. Look for your pet the old-fashioned way, on foot. He or she may be afraid and hiding under a porch, in bushes, or even in a tree.
Leave “safe spaces” with a carrier and familiar items nearby along with food and water. Your pet will be attracted to them if he or she is still nearby.
Put up posters everywhere, talk to mail carriers, UPS drivers, and anyone who is likely to travel the general area. They may have seen your cat. Talk to neighbors and keep checking back.
- Get the word out. Post notices on every lost and found board, on the walls of local vets and pet community centers’ Facebook pages, and ask your friends to please share your message.
Describe in detail and make it memorable. Things like Siamese with a kinked tail, crosses her eyes a lot, and has a funny barking meow are going to “stick” more with the reader than “9 year old Siamese mix.”
You may also want to consider placing ads in local newspapers and asking local shops if they’ll let you post a picture. My local coffee shop is always willing to let you post Lost (and Found) posters for pets on their community board.
- Don’t give up – ever! Keep looking and posting even after months or even years. Your pet may still find his or her way home. You aren’t being “unrealistic,” you’re being hopeful and, along the way, you can help other owners find their pets.
As a few resources to help you in your search:
Humane Society’s Lost and Found Tips: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/what_to_do_lost_pets.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/
ASPCA’s Lost and Found Tips:https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/finding-lost-pet
ASPCA’s missing pet app:http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/disaster-preparedness/aspca-launches-mobile-app-pet-parents
Petfinder’s Lost and Found Tips:https://www.petfinder.com/dogs/lost-and-found-dogs/find-lost-dog/
Missing Pet Network’s Lost and Found Tips:http://www.missingpet.net/advice/
Remember if you find a lost pet or an animal you suspect is lost to post their information on a pet community board as well as with local vets. A quick Google search will help you find vets in your area, as well as shelters and community centers. Petfinder is another great resource to find shelters in your area.