By Kathy “Kat” Albrecht
Professional trained searchers don’t wander aimlessly in the woods when searching for a missing hiker. Instead, an organized search plan is implemented based on the knowledge of the behavioral patterns of lost people. For example, backpackers behave differently when lost than do hunters, berry pickers, and Alzheimer’s patients. And because search-and-rescue managers are so familiar with these patterns of behavior, they can accurately predict where a lost person will be found. Backpackers are typically found on or near an established trail, hunters are typically found deep in the woods, and Alzheimer’s patients are typically found within ¼ mile radius of where they became lost.
LOST CAT BEHAVIOR
Indoor-Only Cats. The territory for an indoor-only cat is the inside of the home where it lives. When an indoor-only cat escapes outdoors, it is “displaced” into unfamiliar territory. Usually they will look for the first place that will offer concealment and protection. Their instinctive response is to HIDE IN SILENCE because that is their primary protection from predators. How long they remain in that hiding place and what they do from there is dependent upon their temperament. Using baited humane traps as a recovery tool is a highly effective method for recovering displaced, panicked cats that are hiding. The investigative question to solve when an indoor-only cat escapes outdoors is: WHERE IS THE CAT HIDING?
TEMPERAMENTS THAT INFLUENCE DISTANCES TRAVELED
Curious/Clown Cat. These are gregarious cats that get into trouble easily, run to the door to greet a stranger, and are not easily afraid of anything. When displaced, these cats might initially hide but then they will most likely TRAVEL. Strategy for recovery should be to place fluorescent posters within at least a five block radius. Also, interview neighbors in a door-to-door search, thoroughly searching possible hiding places in yards of houses and other areas within a close proximity to the escape point. Do not assume that the cat will come when you call!
Care-Less Cat. These aloof cats don’t seem to care much about people. When a stranger comes in, they stand back and watch. When displaced, they will likely initially hide, but eventually they will break cover and come back to the door, meow, or possibly travel. Strategy should be to search hiding places nearby, interview neighbors door-to-door and search their yards. If these efforts do not produce results, consider setting a baited humane trap.
Cautious Cat. These cats generally are stable but they show occasional shyness. They like people, but when a stranger comes to the door, they dart and hide. Some of these cats peek around the corner and eventually come out to investigate. When displaced, they will likely immediately hide in fear. If not pushed (scared off) from their hiding place, they will typically return to the point where they escaped from or they will meow when the owner comes to look for them. This behavior typically is observed either within the first two days (after the cat has built up confidence) or not until seven to ten days later when their hunger or thirst has reached a point where they will respond. Strategy would be to conduct a tightly focused search in neighbors’ yards and to set baited humane traps.
Catatonic/Xenophobic Cat. Xenophobia means “fear or hatred of things strange or foreign.” Xenophobic cats are afraid of EVERYTHING that is new or unfamiliar. Their fearful behavior is hard-wired into their character; it is caused by genetics and/or kittenhood experiences (nature or nurture). These cats will hide when a stranger comes into their home, and they typically will not come out until well after the company has left. They do not do well with human contact (being held, petted, etc.) and they are easily disturbed by any change in their environment. When displaced, they bolt and then HIDE IN SILENCE. They tend to remain in the same hiding place and become almost catatonic, immobilized with fear. If they are found by someone other than their owners, they are typically mistaken as being untamed or “feral.” The primary strategy to recover these cats would be to set baited humane traps. Xenophobic cats that become “lost” are routinely absorbed into the feral cat population.
Rescuer Behaviors. The behaviors of people who find stray dogs differ from the behaviors of people who find stray cats. . . . When people find stray cats, they also misinterpret behaviors. When rescuers observe a cat with a xenophobic temperament they assume, based on the cowering and skittish behavior, that the cat is an untamed “feral.” While it is true that feral, untamed cats that are unaccustomed to human contact will hiss, spit, twirl, lunge, and urinate when humanely trapped, this “wild animal” behavior is also common in cats who have xenophobic temperaments! We know this because we have talked to owners of lost xenophobic cats that had to be humanely trapped in order to be recovered; the owners verified that their cats exhibited wild behavior while in the humane trap. These behaviors are a reflection of a fearful TEMPERAMENT, not a lack of TAMENESS. Shelter and TNR workers should scan all “feral” cats for microchips and conduct research (check classifieds, lost cat reports, etc.) to determine if the new “feral” actually is someone’s xenophobic pet cat that has escaped outdoors, perhaps several weeks or months before it was found.
A FINAL WORD
(Kat Albrecht is a former police detective-turned-pet-detective and author of The Lost Pet Chronicles: Adventures of a K-9 Cop Turned Pet Detective. She also is the founder of Missing Pet Partnership and CEO of Pet Hunters International (www.pethunters.com), the first-ever pet detective academy that trains and certifies technicians and search dogs to track lost pets.)
Live Catch Trap
Wild cats on their own
Cat sleeping in the dirt (D. Scrani photo)