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How to Locate an Escaped Wild / Exotic Cat, by Richard Morris

Of course, different breeds do behave somewhat differently once lost, but in general these ideas can be applied to all breeds. I hope you never have to experience a lost cat, but if it happens, if you take time to read this, you won't waste time on the typical, non productive ways folks seem to do. Time is very critical when searching.

This is a real effective way to get a hidden cat to just walk out of the thin air and back into your arms.

The most effective way to have a cat come out of hiding and respond to you and maybe just walk right up to you (believe me, you will not see the cat) is this simple method.

The rattling of food (dry) in a sack, or even better is the dry treats in the cans you can buy. Shaking the treats in a can (I put Three Dog Bakery "Pity The Kitties" treats out of the cardboard box they come in into a can with a plastic lid. Of course, shaking it makes a lot of rattling noise. The cats, no matter where in the house, no matter what they are doing, come running immediately.

This conditioning response is well known (ever hear of Pavlov's dogs?). You just won't get a better method of calling your cats if than if they are being tempted with their favorite treats. It is foolproof and extremely effective.

If you think he will come to your calling him, keep at it. If not, get a portable spotlight and search the area at night. It will be a lot easier at night because he will be looking right at you and his eyes will reflect the light. Honestly, he may be scared to death and on the run. Walk your neighborhood and knock on each door. Show the pictures and chances are good that someone has seen him. Once you find a spotting you will know which direction he went. If he is in the woods and is declawed, he is in trouble as far as food goes. So he will be getting hungry. Shake a sack of food or something (like I said, rattle the food bowl). Any noise he recognizes will help him gain the courage to come out and be seen. My feeling is that he will lay low till dark. If he responds to a food bowl rattling or has a toy that makes noise try it everywhere. He will be hiding somewhere.

So, I suggest that everyone whose cat has a chance of escaping, should add this can or rattling treats to the daily activities. It's actually fun for everyone, and may at some point save your cats life. (Keep in mind, this will probably work for the owners only, it's unlikely, a lost exotic is going to come up to any stranger).

The rest of the ideas I have are to be used in conjunction with the above idea if possible. I was tailoring some of this to Servals traits as that was what had escaped. You will know the habits of your cat better than anyone else, so alter anything in this to your situation and your cats behavior.

Daytime things to do and what to do the first day.

In the daytime, it's rare to have a lost cat willing to come out. Wait for dark to really walk and look in the area. Use the daylight hours to notify law enforcement or the appropriate agency (in some states you have as little as 1 hour to report the escape of a wild or exotic cat ). If you wait longer, you face being arrested or heavily fined. Document that you have met the legal requirements, get the name of every person you talk to as well as the time. It's very important to be able to prove you really did it. If you aren't up on the requirements, post a message on the yahoo groups. There are lots of folks that keep track of these things and will help you find out very quickly.

If you feel comfortable with getting a TV station involved (this can have a lot of bad side effects), call the local Stations that have news. Most likely, they will be willing to help you by mentioning on the local news (be sure if you do this try to offer a reward). Be sure to take the station pictures of him and stress that he poses no danger to anyone, but if seen, call you not try to catch him.

Do go to each of your neighbors and tell them to watch for the cat and give them a flyer that has a picture , description and your cell number and home number. Print out a good "lost Cat" flyer with a picture (color if possible) reward (it really helps) and several contact numbers. Color copies from Kinko's are very helpful. Be sure to put in the flyer to call, not try to capture. A reward, no matter how small will make an amazing difference. Money motivates people into becoming proactive members of your search team. Kids are usually willing to help with the promise of a reward and they will last longer than the older folks in a search.

The second and 3rd days go talk to the neighbors again and see if anyone ever saw anything. Have more flyers on hand in case they saw it but had already pitched your first flyer. Unfortunately, after the 3rd day, if no one has seen the cat, it's probably on the move and no longer in your area. At that point, the sign method takes over.

Personally, I had a lumber yard cut me a dozen 2 foot x 2 foot boards (1/8 inch masonite) and the stakes to mount the signs to 1/2" x 3" x 4 feet long with one end pointed to drive them into the ground. I used bright white paint with LOST CAT, REWARD clearly visible from a distance. small description and large phone numbers on the sign. I put them up every few blocks in my neighborhood. They ended up being the reason I got him back (near dead, 3 weeks later, but he was still my baby). Signs are not cheap but they remind people you are asking for help. Personally, I can never read the sheets of paper that people usually staple to phone poles. (and never get out of the car to read them). Save the signs once you find the cat in case it happens again. Cost per sign was around 3 dollars at that time. Putting the signs out should be done ASAP. Make time for it.

The real time to search and how to search

Get yourself one (2 or more is better, read on) of those handheld rechargeable spotlights. and look for him when its dark. Carry a cell phone or walkie talkies for communication so when your light runs down you can be brought another or if you spot him, you can call in the troops. I am telling you, if he is still around your place, he will be watching anything that moves around him (and that will be you). You will see his eyes reflect the light even in heavy brush. And he will be behind or under something, most likely not in the open. My guess is that you will not get him to come to you at this point. You will have to spot him and catch him.

If you see him and he won't let you walk up on him, stay with him till you get him. Even if that means waiting till daylight if he won't let you close the distance. It also helps to have 2 people looking when the spotlight is being shined around. (you may get 2 of the spotlights. they typically are $15-$30 per light. Get them now and put them on the charger ready for tonight. when you run one down swap it out for another. I swear to you, this is about the most likely way to get him back. And the lights work well in the woods also. Even a measly 3 or 4 cell flashlight will be of some help using this technique.

What to look for around the place he escaped from

You should know how well a serval or other wild looking cat will blend in the woods area. If you still feel like you need to look (this is in the daytime), then look for areas where you can spot footprints. He will be leaving distinctive clawless footprints as big as a dog (of course, this depends on the size of your cat). (I hope you can tell a cat from a dogs footprint, dogs leave nail prints....) Finding the direction he would go is a crucial detail. If you ever walked him starting from where he escaped, it's likely that he (from habit or a sense of comfort) went off in the same direction.

Analyze your cats personality, this is to understand what he is like to do and not do.

Think about his social skills. Does he come up to strangers or (more typical) hide from the new unknown things? Try to think like him. If you can see where he got out of the pen, put yourself in exactly the same spot. Look around. You know his mannerisms and how he acts. YOU can probably figure out which way he would have gone if you can get calm enough to think straight (go get the lights first).

My final thoughts on lost cat behavior

When he is moving, I would be real surprised if he goes into the open. Typical behavior is a self preservation type thing and these cats will move through brush or make short fast dashes to a new spot. That's one reason I asked about his social behavior. If he is unusually outgoing, he may actually be seen. (doubtful) Remember, he is in a strange situation and doesn't understand what has happened. His behavior is most likely going to quickly become that of a non pet (not social to humans). And the more time that elapses, the more wild he will have to act just to survive. He probably doesn't even understand that a pond or water source is a good place to hang around. All he knows is that he is now alone and hungry and thirsty.

The typical lost cat will not move real far from the home. They will usually get trapped in somewhere or go in a hole and then be afraid to come out. I had a cat get lost once, he ended up being about half a block down the street. He had gone into a yard with a pile of lumber and crawled under it. He basically did not eat for nearly 3 weeks and was within a day or 2 of starving to death when I finally found him. That was when he was about 2 years old. I just lost him this year to kidney failure at 18 years old.... My very best friend, my son, Frank, finally was gone forever....

It worked for me

I hope the ideas I have stated make sense to you. I have been in your place and it's a real drag. With a light, I spotted my cat over 1/2 a block away. All I saw were eyes. I didn't know it was him till I got closer. Fortunately, he let me approach. And I picked him up. Without the light, he would have been a goner. I also saw skunks and a possum. We have coyotes in our area and I was really afraid one had eaten him. (He could have handled one , but they travel in packs).

A description of the spotlights and where to get them

On the lights, Harbor Freight and Tool has 500,000 candle power portable spotlights on sale regularly. The lens is basically as big as a small round car headlight and they are great. They end up selling for less than $15.00 on sale and come with a recharger. Great price. Look on eBay. You should get at least 2 of these lights and keep them charged. Wal-Mart has something like these lights as well. Just remember, the bigger the brighter the light, the faster you can spot the cats eyes reflecting the light back.

How to Locate an Escaped Wild / Exotic Cat, by Richard Morris

Many thanks to Richard Morris for allowing the use of this article on ExoticCatz.com. This article is copyrighted 2005 by Richard Morris. All rights are reserved.

A glowing testimonial and tips from a successful user of this advice:

Thank you to Richard Morris: This literally saved my cats lives!

Richard: I owe you so much for this excellent article. Three of my beloved cats (Two Savannahs: F1 Harley the Lake Cat and F2 Pinny the World's Smallest Savannah Cat and one of my "doorstep children" Princess) managed to get the sliding glass door onto our deck open Wednesday night and when I got up they were gone without a trace. Spent all day calling for them, walking and golf-carting around our property and our neighborhood, putting an ad in the paper, calling animal control and humane society (and crying my heart out!).

Then I remembered that I had read this post and saved it in a special Yahoo Mail File. I made up circulars and put them in our closest neighbors' mailboxes (knew they'd stop and get their mail as they came home from work.) Then I went to Walmart and bought the largest, most powerful spotlight they had. Per your suggestion I waited for it to get dark, then we started combing our property and the neighborhood with the spotlights (I got two). Finally gave up (in tears again.) At 10:30 the phone rang and one of the neighbors said, " From the picture you left in our mailbox, I think one of your cats is on my back porch."

Went over and there was Pinny; caught her and brought her home. (She had gone across the road, tho, which made my blood run cold!) Saw Princess run under our house but couldn't catch her; still no sign of Harley. Sat up on our glassed-in back porch which leads out to the deck to watch for Harley or Princess to come up. Around 3:00 a.m. I heard the pack of coyotes that lives in the hills behind our home begin howling. Went out with the spotlight and swept the back yard; they quietened down. Thought I'd just patrol the yard again with the spotlight, and then went around to the front of the house and swept the light across the road to the general area where Pinny had been, and lo and behold, just like you said, the spotlight picked up a golden glow.

There was Harley, sitting behind the neighbors' trash cans at the edge of the road, where they'd been left for trash pickup. As you recommended, I shone the light in his eyes until I could walk up to him and pick him up, but he made no attempt to run from me, and didn't try to escape after I picked him up. He and Pinny were both fine, but terribly tired the next day; slept all day. As for Princess, I slept on the back porch for the next two nights and finally caught her this morning at 4:00 a.m. when she was outside the door crying; she was cold and hungry, but it took me a couple of hours to coax her to me because she was so badly frightened. (The smell of tuna helped, too! Lol!)

Your very, very good suggestions (especially the spotlight to pick up their eyes) made it possible for me to get back my beloved furs; I would have never gotten over their loss, and I spent three miserable days until I got them all back inside, safe and sound. Needless to say, all of the locks on the sliding glass doors have been reinforced, and Tim cut off broom handles to put in the bottoms of the doors so they can't be opened easily. Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Best regards, Sandy


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