I Lost Your Cat
February 5, 2019 10:29 PM   Subscribe

My housemate's cat ran out of the house as I was taking the recycling out. I tried finding it but no luck. How do I handle this?

My housemate has two female cats. Both have not been spayed because they're young. She loves them and is pretty fond of them both. They're pretty energetic and climb over everything.

I moved into the house two months ago. She and I have been friendly and very generous to each other. We always offer each other beers, food - share house duties. I pay rent on time. She's been a fine housemate and I believe she feels the same way.

My housemate is trans and she is having face and arm surgery today. She's been gone all day and I've been in and out. Tonight, when I came home - I decided to take the recycling out. I opened the door, grabbed the recycling bin with both hands and as soon as I stepped outside, one of them ran out. I did not know she was on top of the refrigerator, which is close to the back door. I immediately tried luring it in but it kept running away from me.

Eventually she jumped over a huge wooden fence and went into the backyard of a neighbor's house. I rang the doorbell and asked if they could spot her but they did not see her. I ran around the whole block looking for her, but it's dark out and I couldn't spot her. I spent two hours walking looking for her.

I left her bowl outside and right now I'm seeing if she'll come back. She's been gone for almost 3 hours. It's almost 11pm.

I'm not sure how long my housemate will be gone since she had surgery, but I texted her about what happened. And I do not know if that was a good idea. I have no idea how to handle this. I'm doing my best keeping an eye out but I feel terrible and incredibly guilty.

Should I have not told my housemate immediately?
She hasn't responded to my text. I'm worried about how she'll react. I know she'll be devastated and I'm definitely going to keep looking for her cat.

Thank you
posted by morning_television to Pets & Animals (27 answers total)
#1 Don't panic, cats don't travel far. She is probably within 20 feet of the backdoor watching you.
#2 If you have a can of wet food, open it and continue to open and close it loudly by the back door while gently calling the cats name. The cat will return.
posted by Toddles at 10:47 PM on February 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Similar to the can idea - if you've got dry food in a box, try shaking it occasionally near an open window or door.
posted by BinaryApe at 10:56 PM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Put things that smell like it on the doorstep
posted by evilmonk at 11:12 PM on February 5, 2019

You already texted her so try not to focus on if it was a good or bad idea to do so. For what it's worth if it were my cat I'd want to know right away even if I had had surgery at the time, because that's how I am about my cats. Other people might be different, there's no way for us as Mefites to know.

Chances are she's watching you from a hiding place. Even though she knows you she might not see you as much of a motivator to come back inside when there's so many new smells and things outside. But she'll head back towards familiarity given time and a little luck. If your housemate has a basket of dirty laundry, put it on the doorstep next to her bowl. If there's a blanket or bed the cats particularly like right now, put that out too. Put a bowl of fresh water nearby. If you can manage it, make a slightly protected area, maybe with some boxes or something, with the good smelling stuff inside, so she sees it as a safe place in case she gets scared. Ideally it would be within view of a window you can hang out by. You can also try microwaving some sardines or tuna so they are warm and extra smelly.

I'm sorry this happened. Hopefully it will end up okay and the cat will come back no problem. Please let us know if there are any developments!
posted by Mizu at 11:21 PM on February 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

Good ideas here. I’m sure you would think of this, but just in case you’re too frazzled and it slips your mind- make sure the second cat is safely corralled behind a closed door while you’re trying to lure the escapee back home. Bathroom with litter box in with her would be ideal.
posted by mymbleth at 12:12 AM on February 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

Please don't beat yourself up about this. It's an unfortunate fact of life with cats that sometimes, they get out. Not all cats want to be outside, but it's often difficult to keep the ones that do corralled a hundred percent of the time. You do the best you can, but sometimes they slip past you.

My experience is that indoor cats who get outdoors usually stay low to the ground, partially hidden, and quite close to home. Many of them are also big babies who realise quickly that outside is cold, has no servant to refill their food bowl, and no soft snuggly places to sleep, and decide that this is garbage. I would be unsurprised if you opened the door in the morning and the cat were waiting, meowing impatiently to be let inside. I'd leave water and a blanket out for her, and would open a tin of wet food, but would maybe not leave food unattended—raccoons and skunks like it just as much as cats do, and you don't want to increase the chances that she has to tangle with your local wildlife.

If she's not waiting for you come morning, I'd suggest looking around your yard really well—my escape artists have usually gone for the densest bushes they could find, under the deck, and under cars. It's probably also worth posting something to Next Door and asking neighbors to keep an eye out for her. Please keep us posted!
posted by mishafletch at 12:52 AM on February 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Our cats always came running to the sound of their box of treats being shaken loudly, so if there're any cat treats try that.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:04 AM on February 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yes yes to the suggestion of leaving some of her cat litter out, plus anything else that will smell familiar to her. Food is good but will attract other cats and other animals as well. If she’s not back by tomorrow, contact any local rescue orgs or shelters operating near you in case someone hands her in as a stray, get flyers and post them round. But she’ll probably be nearby and hiding.

In your housemate’s place I would have wanted to know ASAP so I would definitely have wanted you to text me right away. She’s undoubtedly going to be upset (and recovery from surgery is a tough time at best), but, it was an accident and you can only do what you can do on your end. I would just let her sit with the knowledge and whatever reaction she has to that right now, and if she contacts you before getting home you can reassure her about what you’ve done so far and plan to do later to keep looking for the cat.
posted by Catseye at 1:08 AM on February 6, 2019

Just popping in to say that the cat will almost certainly come back! I've been in your shoes and it's the worst feeling BUT this will probably end happily. I'm so sorry you're dealing with this stress right now: you sound so caring and considerate, which means a lot even if it's not the solution you want right now.

Regardless, please do not blame yourself. Whenever I have people catsit for me, I tell them that I hope everything works out but, should anything bad happen, I understand and will not blame them. (This policy has been tested but I completely stuck to it!)

You are doing your housemate a favor and she knows that there is risk involved; I would guess she's still recovering from the surgery and will get in touch tomorrow. When the kitten will be meowing outside for breakfast after having gleefully watched you hunt for her all evening! They're playful so it's an adventure and a game! Cats are sweethearts but also assholes like that sometimes. Also, the one kitten will probably miss her pal and want to see her, too.
posted by smorgasbord at 1:22 AM on February 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Cats will run away if they sense turmoil, but also for a sense of adventure after being cooped for a longer than tolerable time period. That said, they are territorial and if they miss their owner enough, they will (eventually) return.
posted by watercarrier at 4:05 AM on February 6, 2019

When you're looking under stuff outside, use a flashlight even if it's high noon. That's frequently the difference between swearing that somewhere is empty or easily spotting the cat's shape/markings/eyeshine.
posted by teremala at 4:24 AM on February 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

Yup, I was always use a torch when calling the cat as he will frequently be sitting in the hedges 15' away and the only giveaway is the reflection from his eyes.
posted by biffa at 4:40 AM on February 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

cats in general are impulsive and skittish and (sorry but it's true!) a little bit dumb, and when they do the door dash thing they almost always regret it right away, because it's scary and new and they didn't really want that! they just wanted to see! but now they associate the safe place they came from with the scary thing that just happened to them (bc they don't associate that scary thing with the impulsive choice they made). so now you need to associate the outside of the house, the door they should come in, with things that represent home and comfort and safety rather than the confusion and fear of being in a new scary place, The Outside.

so yes, you put things outside that smell familiar, you shake the treats bag, you put out their own actual water dish (NOT the food one as that may attract other animals which could frighten the cat away), put out their own dirty litter box (clean it thoroughly before bringing it back inside as if wild animals go near it their droppings can be infected with worms or disease). she probably hasn't gone far, and she probably wants to be back in a safe cozy familiar place, but right now everything is scary and confusing for her lil pea brain so you have to be calm and persistent.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:51 AM on February 6, 2019 [12 favorites]

How old is she? If she's older than 4 months, there's a possibility she's gone into heat early. In which case she would be SUPER motivated to leave the house and go meet some new... friends. Chances are very good she will come back (like most indoor cats) once she's had her adventures, especially if she can smell her litter box. But she will be motivated to wander further afield than other cats (who, like people said above, will usually hide in the immediate area). It would be a good idea to go doorknocking in a 1-2 block radius and ask neighbours if they've seen her — also ask them if they own any unfixed males. Oh, and ask them to check in their garages, sometimes cats will get in there and be unable to get out.

You and your roommate may become coparents very soon!
posted by 100kb at 5:19 AM on February 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

Hi, I used to live with an unspayed cat, and I agree with what 100kb said about it. Unspayed cats are far more motivated to try to get out of the house. When my roommate's cat got out--several times--we'd find her at the door the next morning still yowling and horny. The cat eventually got knocked up by my roommate's boyfriend's cat.

So on the good news side: the cat will most likely come back on her own.

On the bad news side, SERIOUSLY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD TALK YOUR ROOMMATE INTO GETTING THE CATS SPAYED. l'm guessing roommate doesn't want to and sounds quite occupied with their own surgeries anyway, but once the cats go into heat (and from what I recall of my experience, it kicked in in February) it will be a special kind of hell in your home. I got sexually harassed by that cat worse than I have by a lot of human men. For MONTHS because after a while the cat just won't go out of heat. There is yowling. There is stalking. There is peeing. Since I wasn't the mom figure, the cat assumed I was a boy and stalked me and presented her ass in my face as much as she possibly could. And this will happen again and again with the cat(s) escaping because they just wanna get laid, dammit. You will find yourself googling for "Q-tip trick to get cat out of heat." Don't do this. Even if you did this, apparently it doesn't work to get the cat out of heat for longer than 24 hours. (No, I didn't try it.)

Is your roommate fine with having a bunch of kittens? Are you? Is your landlord? I'm sure roommate has reasons and is broke or whatever, but unspayed cats drive everyone nuts and end up being more expensive in the long run when you suddenly have a bunch of kittens to deal with.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:57 AM on February 6, 2019 [18 favorites]

Shake the treats, call her, and if that doesn't work then put the litterbox outside. This will be especially effective if it still has her poops in it, because she'll smell herself and come home. If you're somewhere warm enough, hang out for a bit and wait. If it's cold, keep checking.

And then, yeah, get the kitties spayed. A huge number of perfectly healthy kittens are euthanized every year because there just aren't enough homes.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:26 AM on February 6, 2019

I think it's OK that you texted her for two reasons:

1) She may be able to provide better ideas about how to lure the cat back in, since she's had more experience with this cat.

2) The two times I've had housemates' cats sneak out on me (or thought I might have), it turned out that the cats actually did go outside/were allowed very occasionally, and my housemates hadn't thought to mention that, so my freaking out was out of proportion.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:49 AM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Alert social media, with pics if you have them, and put up flyers nearby-- someone may find her and assume she's a stray if it's not obvious she's a pet.
posted by kapers at 7:28 AM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

To defend the OP and his roommate a bit, he does say "Both have not been spayed because they're young." The conventional wisdom says to spay at 6 months, but that's often after a female kitten's first heat.

The SPCA usually offers free or low-cost surgeries for people with low incomes if cost is an issue. And if you do find the cat relatively soon and don't want the responsibility of kittens, most vets will do a spay-and-abort if the pregnancy is early. As far as I know there are no laws against cat abortions.
posted by 100kb at 9:39 AM on February 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Is it possible to shut the other cat safely in a room and then leave the back door ajar? She might just come back in while she's not being watched. This happened when my cat got out. She returned covered in cobwebs, which let me know that she hadn't gone far and had been scared and hiding.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:42 AM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of the answers so far.

As of right now, she’s still missing. I stayed up watching the window. I got up in the morning and looked. I drove around the neighborhood and called the local animal shelter.

My housemate texted me and asked for updates. I think she’s really upset and I’m dreading seeing her when she comes home. I amI wrecked with guilt and don’t know if things will be awkward now. I really hope she doesn’t kick me out.
posted by morning_television at 12:23 PM on February 6, 2019

Some anecdata: I have a friend with an indoor cat that got out and went missing for about 3 weeks (to the point that my friend was taking down the missing cat posters) before the cat reappeared one evening, a couple pounds lighter but otherwise no worse for wear. Not saying your experience will necessarily be the same, but don't give up just yet.
posted by Aleyn at 12:46 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Put up posters if you're able. We lost our cat once and put up Lost Cat posters - meanwhile someone found our cat and put up Found Cat posters. A third party saw both sets of posters and put us in touch. Posters work!
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:11 PM on February 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

There is a facebook page in our neighborhood for pet owners. (So if our neighborhood is Kitty Heights, the page is "Kitty Heights Pets.") People are always posting on there about pets they have either lost or found, and often the result is an owner-pet reunion.

So maybe check facebook for a similar group where you live.
posted by merejane at 2:01 PM on February 6, 2019

In addition to putting up signs around the neighborhood, walk around looking for signs that a rescuer might have put up.

If there is a local vet, also check there. At our vet's office, there is a bulletin board with with flyers for lost and found pets.
posted by merejane at 2:05 PM on February 6, 2019

Does the kitten have a microchip, and if so, is it up to date?

Most (maybe all) vets will scan found cats for chips, for free. So someone might find this kitty and bring it to a vet to be scanned. If so, your roommate will be notified. But some cats that have chips have outdated info -- like a prior owner, or a shelter. So maybe check any local vet to see if someone has brought a kitty in to be scanned, only to have the chip information be out of date.

And if the kitten is not chipped -- your roommate should get it chipped when you do find it. Same for the other kitten!
posted by merejane at 2:10 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nthing that the cat is most likely hiding somewhere near by. Posters are a great idea. I would also try to ask neighbors to look in basements, under their porches, bushes, etc, (or ask permission to go in their back yard to look.)

Dawn/dusk/night time are probably your best chances of finding kitty. Try heating up some wet food in the microwave (increases the smelliness).

If kitty still hasn't shown up, I would consider locking the other cat somewhere secure, heating up some wet food, and leaving the door to your house open for a little while (with you watching so you can scare away any animal that shows up who isn't kitty).

The cat is probably hungry and just wants to be home, so you may find it just strolls right back in the house.

If you do try this, definitely make sure the other cat is secured in another room in the house first.

I also read somewhere that it's recommended to just chill outside for a bit and talk in your normal speaking voice. If your roommate is home, even better. You two can just have a conversation. (Bringing along some food might not be a bad idea.) Sometimes cats who are scared can be put off by a person shouting out for them, but they are attracted to familiar voices talking normally.
posted by litera scripta manet at 2:29 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

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