How to find a cat in a dense neighborhood?
January 31, 2019 11:01 AM   Subscribe

Our cat got out yesterday. The challenges of living in a dense neighborhood is making it challenging to really search around us. Do you have any ideas? We're trying to not freak out.

Our little buddy, Fromage, got out of the house yesterday morning. It's been a really hard time since then. He got out at 6:30am, and we figured it out by 10am. Since then, we've:
- put up flyers around our house. There seems to be some sort of neighborhood ordinance - because someone took down a lot of our flyers. Today, I'll focus on delivering flyers to local businesses, and putting them on more creative spots.
- gone door to door on our block - handing out flyers, slipping them through door slots. Explicitly asking people to look in their back yards.
- put a little 'home' shrine in our backyard - things that smell like home for the cat.
- put out notices on reddit, our neighborhood facebook groups, nextdoor, and craigslist
- alerted the chip company, and the local animal shelter, that we've lost our cat.

We live in SF, in upper haight/cole valley - our cross streets are Downey and Waller. As you can see the houses are pretty close together - and there's a ton of space for a little scared cat to hide.

Do you have any ideas on how to find my cat? Right now, my current idea is to find someone with a drone and a thermal camera - it might be able to canvas my block better than the half-assed efforts of my neighbors.
posted by justalisteningman to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's unlikely he went far. Put out his litter box and water, but not food (will attract other animals). You said you made a home but the litter box is the main thing you want. It will smell it's scent. Have this right up against the door.

It's hard, but I might go out and sit in random places like by the nearby houses and see if he comes out. The reason for sitting in one place, is that he will watch and be scared but might eventually come out to you.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:07 AM on January 31, 2019 [14 favorites]

When both our cat (~1/3 acre lots) and my girlfriend's brother's (townhouses) cat got out, what eventually got them back was sitting on porch or patio with treats and calling out to them. This was after a few fruitless hours of searching in the dark with a flashlight and calling out.

I would caution against a drone, as the noise may scare them and cause them to hunker down.
posted by 6ATR at 11:09 AM on January 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

What OnTheLastCastle said, but specifically, if you have dirty litter in the litter box, leave that in there.
posted by lyssabee at 11:14 AM on January 31, 2019 [10 favorites]

Twilight and dawn are the best times to find him venturing out of wherever he's hiding.
posted by thelonius at 11:28 AM on January 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you know any neighbors or have a neighborhood listserv? When this happened to us, our next-door neighbor remembered a spot that a raccoon had sheltered in that they hadn't blocked off, and the cat was in there. She was like 30 feet from the door she exited, surely heard us calling and shaking food, but was too freaked out to actually leave her safe spot.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:29 AM on January 31, 2019

Do you know any neighbors or have a neighborhood listserv?

You might check to see if your block/vicinity/neighborhood is covered by NextDoor, which I understand can be occasionally useful for these sorts of things, as goofy as it is for lots of other things.

edit: crap, you mentioned nextdoor already, sorry.
posted by jquinby at 11:37 AM on January 31, 2019

Came here also to agree that Dirty Litter Box Outside is a must.

Shaking treats.

Can you make a little warm place for your kitty outside, something that they have slept in at home so it will have a familiar scent?

Also - are you 100% SURE your cat got out? I searched my house for close to 1 hour the other day looking for my cat who I knew wasn't outside, but I was darned if I could find him. Turned out he was stuck because the washing machine and just sat there silent, waiting to be found. So, your cat MIGHT still be inside, maybe?

Just also wanted to wish you ALL the luck in the world and hope you find your baby!
posted by JenThePro at 11:53 AM on January 31, 2019

Do NOT put out the litterbox, this is a myth. Doing so may attract other animals which may run your cat off. DO put some of your dirty laundry outside. offers a money back guarantee.
posted by txtwinkletoes at 11:58 AM on January 31, 2019

Is there a specific lost and found pet Facebook page for your area? There's one in my area and it is bananas how invested the people who follow it are about helping others get their lost pets back and spreading the word about lost or found pets. Like: I posted a found report/picture about a chicken on my mom's property and an hour later there were people walking down her road clucking for it. That (or an area cat rescue group) might also be a good source for a live trap for your porch if you want to go that route. Our animal control also loans live traps. It's possible you might catch something you *don't* want in it, but a lot of people have some success with those.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:00 PM on January 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

Chances are extremely high that your cat is hiding under or in a space very close to your home. So aside from above advice, searching at night is a good idea, when things are at their quietest, with a flashlight that will reveal their eyeshine from places under porches or things like that.

Basically, what you want to do is explore all the likely spots within about two doors of you. And then spiral outward.
posted by RedEmma at 12:00 PM on January 31, 2019 [5 favorites]

To build on what thelonius and tchemgrrl have said:

I've had disappearing cats, and when one of them pulled a Houdini, I'd call his name at dawn and dusk while rattling a paper bag with dry food in it.

I've never been able to coax a cat into the house with this method. Outside the house, the fugitive would go into "Everything is a predator, even my person!" mode. But at least I'd see my kitty and know that he was OK in the world.

What worked to nab the runaway was a humane trap (e.g., Havahart or Tru Catch) rented from a local hardware store. I baited it with something smelly (I used tuna; sardines or mackerel are also options) and draped an old towel over the top to make a space that looks safe.

More things to keep in mind:
How to Set a Humane Trap for a Lost Cat
Tips for Hard-to-Trap Cats

Good luck -- you'll be in my thoughts!
posted by virago at 12:02 PM on January 31, 2019 [8 favorites]

Trail cam to see if he’s coming around.
Humane trap (can purchase from Amazon).

If he’s usually an indoor cat he likely hasn’t gone far and is terrified. He might not come to you...but will go into a trap.

Or consider a pet detective (really) or pet finder service.

Call local vets too to give a description.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 12:03 PM on January 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Humane trap (can purchase from Amazon).

You might be able to borrow one from your vet.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:09 PM on January 31, 2019

Response by poster: Update: we found Fromage! I peeked over my neighbors fence, and she was staring back up at me!

Thanks for all your help and support. This has been a really hard few days.
posted by justalisteningman at 12:37 PM on January 31, 2019 [195 favorites]

I was hoping to come back from lunch and see a Happy Message.
WELL DONE - I am so very happy for you!
posted by JenThePro at 12:45 PM on January 31, 2019

I tried a humane trap. I caught A cat, but not the right was not amused
posted by thelonius at 12:55 PM on January 31, 2019 [20 favorites]

You must pay the cat tax now for all of us, please.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:23 PM on January 31, 2019 [21 favorites]

Thanks for the happy ending. Champagne all around, it goes well with Fromage.
posted by beagle at 1:44 PM on January 31, 2019 [10 favorites]

Yes, cat tax is now payable, pleease! Happy to hear Fromage is back home :)
posted by penguin pie at 2:09 PM on January 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh HOORAY! I am so glad to hear that.
posted by sciatrix at 3:40 PM on January 31, 2019

posted by glonous keming at 5:07 PM on January 31, 2019

Yay! Fromage is back where she belongs!

thelonius: I caught a possum in a humane trap. Quite an unnerving experience.
posted by virago at 5:15 PM on January 31, 2019 [5 favorites]

That is fantastic. In the future, I also recommend searching very late, when you will be the only one out so the cat won't be scared of other peoplepeople. Walk ten feet, call for the cat, wait for a while, repeat.
posted by jeather at 5:18 PM on January 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yay for Fromage home safe! If it ever happens again, I had the same thing happen this weekend and the only way I could lure her back inside (I saw her, I knew she was in the area but literally nothing was working and she SPRINTED away from me if she saw me) was just to leave my front door cracked open. After about half an hour she just sauntered right back inside. Might be worth trying if it happens again!
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:19 PM on January 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Glad kitty has been found! If this happens again (or for anyone reading this question in the future), one tip I read is to go sit outside your house, and just have a normal, not cat focused conversation (preferably at night/dawn/dusk). The idea is that if you're yelling for the cat or seem stressed, the cat is less likely to come to you, but the cat will be drawn to the sound of your normal, inside voice. Probably wouldn't hurt to bring a can of tuna that's been warmed up in the microwave for the scent, or even just wet cat food warmed up in the microwave.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:07 PM on January 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Tres bon, Fromage!
posted by rmd1023 at 7:05 PM on February 1, 2019

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