I’ve been keeping a list of places where lost cats have been found to help neighbors when their cats go missing. Before that ever happens, the best thing you can do to ensure your cat comes home safe and sound is to get your cat microchipped. You pay for the initial registration, but you do not need to pay an annual fee for the microchip to remain linked to you. Just make sure to keep your contact information updated if you change phones or emails or move. Also make sure to keep a good photo of your cat on your phone so you can post, text, or email a photo of your cat that will best help to identify your cat, especially if you are lucky enough to be able to use facial recognition software via the County.
When your cat is missing outside, check your property first and ask your neighbors to check their properties, too. An indoor cat who is not used to being outside will most likely stay close to home. Check under decks and crawlspaces, window wells, inside and under sheds, in garages, in and under vehicles, and inside barrels and dumpsters.
Don’t forget to look up; cats can climb up trees and onto roofs. If you live near commercial buildings, ask building mangers to check their facilities for your cat.
Double down on checking places close to home, including double-checking places you have already searched but maybe not well enough. They are good at hiding. Unless you are absolutely sure the cat is outside, don’t forget to look inside your house. Just because a door was open and a cat is missing does not mean the cat is outside. The cat could be hiding at home! Hiding places inside the house include cabinets, closets, drywall gaps (such as under sinks), drawers, and inside furniture (recliners, couches, beds, mattresses), including new or discarded furniture (pets are sometimes found inside furniture that has been recently donated). If you have recently moved items to a storage facility, even an offsite facility, check your storage room and the boxes you moved. As with airports, if a cat is missing somewhere in a large storage facility, leave out food and water.
Keep looking for your cat. You are the best person to be searching since your cat will respond to your voice. Searching on foot is best. Always ask for permission to look in neighbors’ yards and maybe they will help, too. If you have not found your cat within an hour or two, it’s time to spread the message. Email the listserv with a photo and the last known location of your cat plus your contact information if your cat is spotted. Let folks know if your cat is friendly or will run if approached. Put up photo posters on poles in your neighborhood. If your cat is microchipped, call the microchip company to let them know.
Post on Facebook, Nextdoor, and other social media with a local audience. Post about your cat on the County’s Lost Pet Facebook Page. You can no longer post directly but an admin will post for you. Also contact Animal Services and file a lost pet report. They have other great suggestions, including the facial recognition service. This page is recommended reading in advance of any cat going missing.
The initial hours are key. Cats cannot go many days without eating. If your cat is still missing by sundown, put out food, water, their used litter box, and a bed. Don’t give up on your cat but don’t expect the neighborhood to find your cat for you. You must lead the charge! Contact local shelters and local vets. If your cat is friendly enough to be picked up, then someone may have rescued your cat and taken your cat to a shelter or a vet, including emergency hospitals in case your cat was injured. Sometimes cats even pick new homes to live in, so your cat may have moved in with another family.
If your cat is an indoor-outdoor cat, then your cat will have a few more street smarts and probably knows where the porches are that have food. An indoor-outdoor cat may venture farther afield than an indoor-only cat, so broaden your search area. Indoor-outdoor cats may also know how to go down into the drains and emerge farther from your house.
If you are a neighbor lucky enough to spot a missing cat, never chase the cat. Let the cat’s family know immediately where the cat is and keep an eye on the cat from afar until the family comes. If the cat is known to be friendly, then you might be able to make a connection by sitting on the ground near the cat and speaking gently to the cat, using the cat’s name. Cat treats and smelly fish can help. Let the cat come to you. If you can get the cat into a carrier without harm to you or the cat, that’s the best! If you fear spooking the cat, though, it’s best to just observe until family arrives.
Finally, when your cat is home safe and sound, let everyone know so we can all stand down.
[Barron lives on Malta Lane and has 40 years of experience caring for cats.] ■
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