2017-06-22 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Losing a pet is a traumatic, adrenalin-packed ordeal. Panic really sets in when an inside cat escapes because the cat is unfamiliar with the outside world. Strategies to recover an inside cat can differ from those used when an indoor/outdoor cat goes missing.

Why searching for any cat is difficult: The public is more apt to notice and help when a dog is lost. Most of us would make a mental note (and try to grab) a Cockapoo yet ignore a calico running across the street. Because cats have a long history of being free spirits, wandering cats remain inconspicuous to many folks. More people tune into the sight of a stray dog because it is an anomaly now. Gone are the days when LI owners opened the door and let their dogs roam the neighborhood.

In addition, NYS municipal shelters are geared as recovery refuges for lost dogs because NY state law protects stray dogs, whereas cats are considered “free roaming” and not in need of such protection. For many years most LI town shelters did not accept adult stray cats unless there were mitigating circumstances because a good or (not so good) samaritan may be turning in a neighbor’s cat merely out for a stroll.

Sample lost cat poster Sample lost cat poster In 35 years visiting Babylon Shelter I’ve only witnessed a few cat owners finding their lost pet at the shelter, while I‘ve seen hundreds of dogs reunited with families. Actually by NY state law, town shelters do not have to accept any cats or kittens. However, most LI town shelters do so now.

Cats are rarely found with collar ID tags because collars can get snagged. Breakaway collars rip off with the tags on them. Shelters and owners are beginning to microchip cats too. Up until recently, it was more likely that a dog would be scanned for a chip. Now most shelters scan all animals upon intake. Since April 2016, Last Hope has micro-chipped about 500 cats and kittens for adoption. As Microchip Maven, I prepare the chips for the vets, deliver them, register them and explain how microchips work to the adopters because many cat owners are new to this technology.

Needless to say, when a pet cat goes missing, the task is daunting. Even friendly cats can become scared and unapproachable. Owners need some tips to manage the recovery mission:

Inside scoop on inside cats: Most indoor-only cats tend to stay nearby. Typically they don’t stray more than five doors away. But first make sure they are really missing. Cats are adept at finding hideaways in the house too, and will ignore the can opener sound if sleeping soundly or not famished. Lost cats may have been spooked by a move, change in their familiar routine or new “intruder.” Indoor cats lack confidence and familiarity in the great outdoors. They are often hiding somewhere close to home like under bushes unless something else such as menacing dogs, teasing kids or thunder scares them further.

[I still have faint scars on the back of my hand from a similar incident 19 years ago. The first time I took “Veto” then a three-footed kitten to the vet, my sweet cat “Phoebe,” who never went out, was slinking down the driveway when we got home. She must have slipped out because “Veto” intimidated her. I grabbed her through a railing in our yard and hung on despite her struggle, drawing blood (my blood) because I was terrified I would lose sight of her in the dark if I let go. She was so scared; this aggression was not like her. Little did I know then she was an excellent judge of cat character. Veto lived to 17, but he never let us touch him without biting or scratching even though he slept on us.]

Besides hanging tons of LOST flyers, it may be best to concentrate the search around your home. It’s a good idea to get permission from neighbors to look in their yards. You may want to leave flyers in their door. Then search in places like neighbors’ sheds, garages and cellar entrances where a cat may be accidentally trapped. Leave food and a blanket with your scent on the stoop; set several humane traps with smelly bait like sardines and Kentucky Fried Original Recipe on your property especially at night because many cats are nocturnal diners. (Be forewarned you may catch a raccoon or opossum.)

If possible, keep your door propped open slightly. Sometimes the cat returns but doesn’t know how to enter the house.

“Maggie May” and “Stewie” are Last Hope kitten littermates. Maggie May got out and was gone over night. Her owners were alerted to her return when Stewie started making a big fuss at the window. He saw or sensed his sister in the yard, and her owners were able to coax her back in.

Outside feline fugitives: Adventurous indoor/outdoor cats are more likely to roam. If they don’t return at their usual time, start an all points bulletin search right away. Leave food and familiar items just as you would for an inside-only escapee. Canvas the neighborhood carrying treats. List lost cats on Facebook pages like Lost and Found Pets of Long Island and other social media sites. Flyers need a photo, color and the word “LOST” large enough to see from a moving car. Check shelters in person. Ask if any cats are in the isolation or at the hospital. Advertise in newspapers. Follow up on every plausible lead. Yes, it is true that some ill cats will wander off to die.

Others just have an insatiable urge to travel. A friend in Middle Island adopted an orange cat named “Fred” six years ago. Her property is extremely secure for rescued cats. When “Fred” vanished, she launched a massive search. Someone answered her newspaper ad to say she’d been feeding a cat outside the Farmingville post office that fit his description. It was Fred who must have snuck into a visitor’s car whose next stop was that post office. Several months later Fred disappeared again and was never found.

For Adoption at Babylon Animal Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Tamara” 7-243 is a stately 15-week-old kitten, very patient with rascal kittens who bug her or bite her tail. “Bandit” 17-314, the adorable Chinese Crested, is a mystery. He was found in Babylon Village and no owner has come forward.

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