by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
There is very little worse situation for a cat parent to come home and not find your cat, or for him not to come home at the usual time.
Before we start on looking for him, there are some things that should be set in place before he goes missing. Sterilisation, unless he (or she) is a registered breeding cat, is a must. A microchip is another essential, with your details up to date; if possible add your vet’s details in the event you are on holiday when he goes missing. A clear, up-to-date photograph showing his face and unique features, plus a written description should always be at hand, and made available to catteries and house-sitters when you are away. While it is almost impossible to cat-proof your home or garden, there should be minimal opportunities for him to get out.
If you live in a complex where cats are allowed, take time to learn all the cats and their owners. Each owner can be part of the neighbourhood cat-watch and report issues or behaviour to the owner. A list of cats and owners circulated to all owners may be useful too.
Here are some ideas on what to do and how and where to search. Immediately start the process, the longer the elapsed time the more opportunity he has to get further away or sustain harm.
Cats need to hide to be safe, so you won’t find him in the open. Don’t underestimate his ability to be small and hidden, look in every small crevice and small, dark space there is. The widest part of a cat (except extremely overweight cats) is their cheeks just below the ears – if his head can fit in a space so can his body.
The first place to always search thoroughly is home, followed by garden. Use a torch to shine into small area to pick up his eyes if he is hiding there. Open every cupboard, look above, below, next to, and behind every item in every room, move every curtain and loose item, look in the ceiling, on the roof, in the garage, in and under every tree and bush in the garden, behind every pot.
Using his photo and description, create a poster and include your details. Put up posters in places where they will be seen by most people, in shop windows, bus stops, libraries, schools, shopping centres, and circulate around your home area too. Be wary of offering a reward without seeing your cat and positively identifying him as scamsters are everywhere.
Talk to people, especially children as they are more observant than adults. Ask neighbours to check their garages and sheds, if possible to leave an opening for him to get out if he is too cautious to respond to them. Work on the premise ‘somebody know something’; talk, network, advertise, broadcast to as many people and places as possible to find that ‘someone’.
Report him missing to all the local vets, rescue shelters, authorities, and to local Facebook and other social media groups. The wider the net the more likely he will be found.
Leave his favourite access point, or a window, open so that he can get inside when he comes home. It has been noted that most cats are found or return at night, when it is safer to move around. Borrow or rent a baby monitor and place it outside so that you are aware if he comes home during the night and can’t get inside. If this is not an option, create a temporary bed from a cardboard box with familiar items in it for him to feel safe.
Walk the neighbourhood and call him using your normal dinner-time or game-time voice. Remember to pause after calling to give him the opportunity to identify your voice and respond. Generally, pause after each call for two to three times the length of time you have called. Listen carefully as he may still be far away or behind a wall or door.
Help him to smell his way home by putting out some used cat-litter and items that he, or you, use or wear so that he can hone in on the smell. Toys, bedding, and clothing are common, but make sure they are safe, cannot be stolen or used by other, especially non-family, cats.
Possibly the most important action we can take is not to panic, not to sound anxious or fearful when we call him, and not to run around frantically. This doesn’t mean not looking for him, just to be more focused and logical in the search.
An animal communicator may be able to give information on his whereabouts, from his perspective, and possibly ask him to return home or make himself known to someone who can help him. Not all cats will respond to this form of communication, and not all lost cats are found or returned. Look for recommendations and references before engaging a communicator.
The best way to find a cat is not to loose him at all! Free-roaming cats that do not come home every day may benefit from a tracking device.