Give up on a lost cat?
October 17, 2006 1:19 PM   Subscribe

PetPsychologyFilter: Our 8 year old cat disappeared a few weeks ago. We've done (most of) the usual stuff. Should I keep looking?

We've had Maddy for most of her (approx) 8 years and she's never gone missing. (She's an outdoor cat, altho no collar.) At the end of September she disappeared. Mr. epersonae distributed some fliers; I posted on flickr, my blog and in a local online forum, and we've been going to the animal shelter.

He doesn't want to go back because it's too stressful, he doesn't think we'll see her again, and he wants to start his healing process. (Besides, every time he goes is another time that he'll be likely to bring home a new kitten!) I can only go on Mondays & Saturdays because of my schedule.

I miss her intensely, although we have several other cats. Should I post more fliers? Keep going back to the shelter? Check out some of the tips on other AskMeFi threads? Let it go, and if she comes back she comes back? Assume that she's dead and start grieving for real?

The uncertainty is totally crushing, and I honestly don't know what I should do.
posted by epersonae to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I was a kid our family cat -- outdoor kitty -- disappeared for several weeks. We humans freaked. She did come home as if nothing had happened.

If the kitty doesn't come home, it is entirely possible that she adopted a new family down the road. Not all missing pets are dead.

Remember cats don't wear watches or carry calendars so your days of worry doesn't register. To the cat it is just a little while doing something new.

I can't tell you when to start to grieve or when to let go of seeing your kitty again. I would be crushed if the same thing happened to me and I would wonder what you're wondering.

I hope your kitty does come home.
posted by birdherder at 1:40 PM on October 17, 2006

Our family cat also vanished for a few weeks when I was a kid. We were all sure she was dead, until a construction worker arrived one day and told us they had found her hiding out in a house they were building nearby.

She lived many more years, spoiled to the very end.
posted by Ljubljana at 1:56 PM on October 17, 2006

If the kitty doesn't come home, it is entirely possible that she adopted a new family down the road. Not all missing pets are dead.

I just wanted to confirm this. I lost a beloved cat when I was a teenager. After a couple months of posters and searching, we just gave up and moved on.

A couple years later we found as someone else's pet. They had found her as a stray and had never seen our posters. She didnt have an ID (our fault but she had never wandered far before) The family had some young kids who had fallen in love with her so - we just let it be and were happy that she was ok.
posted by vacapinta at 1:56 PM on October 17, 2006

I would begin to plan on a life without the kitty, but you never know...when I was a kid, we had a cat disappear for an entire summer. We were sure he was gone forever, but one night in September, he was outside the door crying for forgiveness. Turns out, he had spent the summer at a local campground mooching food. I too, hope your cat returns , but it might be time to turn the page.
posted by lobstah at 1:57 PM on October 17, 2006

I would keep looking as long as you can bear it, and then start healing. If it's too much as it is now, let it go and grieve.

And if you get another cat, please chip them and have them wear a collar with ID tags to increase the chances of this not happening again.
posted by agregoli at 2:04 PM on October 17, 2006

Best answer: In a lot of ways, you'll never stop looking. There isn't a cut-and-dry healing method, there are just ways to make it slightly less acute. To me, going to the humane society is agonizing, so at the point when it's less likely that I'll find the cat and more likely that I'll bring home a replacement (still missing the first cat), I have to cut myself off. Not that a missing cat can ever be "replaced" of course, but I prefer to choose cats when I'm in a happy mood, not in a grieving mood. After 2 or 3 weeks, it's unlikely that your cat will appear at the humane society, so it's probably not the most realistic thing to keep going. It's also unlikely that a continued active search is going to be fruitful, although of course every once in awhile it does work. From what you say, though, I think you might be stretching out the pain of this. It's hard, but it might be time to let fate do whatever she has in mind. Force yourself to assume the cat jaunted happily off to comfort a family with a sick, lonely child and is doing its job well thanks to your loving example, or that it is living the high life in a kitty circus somewhere with tuna fish and long naps after the one-brilliant-show-a-week (cat unions are powerful). It doesn't stop you from missing the cat, but it does remind you that you ultimately can't control these situations. You've already done the best you can (and the best any sane cat-person would), it may be time to just let things happen.
posted by dness2 at 2:22 PM on October 17, 2006

I grew up in the country. We had indoor/outdoor cats. On two occasions, we had cats go missing for years at a time, only to return and resume their former roles in the family. Give your remaining cats some extra love. I know it's not the same, but it can help.

On the other hand, most of the cats I know who've gone missing have stayed that way.
posted by jdroth at 2:51 PM on October 17, 2006

Best answer: I don't know if it's too late for this, but a technique I learned from an expert cat finder:

Pick a place outside your home that has one bright outdoor light and a door nearby. Place the cat's litter box out there. Make sure all the other lights in the house are turned off except this one. Go outside, and as loudly as you can, open the stinkiest, most cat-enticingest can of cat food you can find. Leave the food out there, near the litter box, and leave the door ajar. Monitor to see if the cat comes around. If she does, make no sudden movements but call her quietly back to the house.

Another trick I've heard is to use a Havaheart trap, logic being that cats who are not used to the outdoors freak once they get out there and will not return to you even if you're just a few feet away. (Yours obviously doesn't fit this case, but it still might work.)

If your cat was friendly to strangers, you may want to consider that someone nearby may have taken her in, thinking she was a stray. Have you dropped off flyers with all the neighbors in your vicinity? It may be worth a shot.

I would definitely consider microchipping (it's not expensive) and getting a breakaway collar with tags for your other cats. I found that my cats tolerate the mini tag from Boomerang Tags well.
posted by Sully6 at 2:52 PM on October 17, 2006

Can't you give the shelter your cat's photograph and tell them to call you if she or a lookalike is brought in? Or can you call in advance and ask what new kitties have arrived that day so that you don't have to drive all the way there? It seems like daily visits would be very stressful, and there has to be a middle ground between continuing those and giving up on the shelter altogether.

I'm not sure if these anecdotes are helping or hindering your healing process, but my family also has a cat who's been known to disappear for weeks at a time and then saunter back in as if arriving home five minutes late from a tea party. The first time he did this we freaked out, too - now we're used to it. But on the other hand, friends' cats who've disappeared, particularly after a move, weren't always so lucky. It sounds flippant, but you'll be uncertain till you're certain, and if the uncertainty is what's driving you crazy, it might be more conducive to your healing to assume she's gone forever. That doesn't necessarily mean giving up all hope, but it might better than the continual disappointments of pulling out all the stops to no avail.
posted by granted at 3:14 PM on October 17, 2006

My dad searched day and night for 6 months looking for his lost cat and eventually found him, dying at the SPCA, literally on his way to be euthanized (he had to argue with the staff that the cat could be saved). The cat went on to live another 12 years, and was my first pet. Mr. epersonae is jumping the gun; keep looking!

My Grandma's cat bolted during a house move but turned up 7 years later in another city (started out in Montreal, found in Val-d'Or) in a story that includes roasted chestnuts, a monkey, & a missing eye, and is way too long to tell. The cat was totally thrilled to be found and brought home & lived to the ripe old age of 23 Keep looking!
posted by zarah at 3:27 PM on October 17, 2006

Response by poster: thanks. the youngest of the remaining is chipped, and I'll definitely get it done to the other 2, plus collars for the lot. (we've tried that before and had trouble, but those tiny tags look potentially good.)

jamaro, granted: I've put our lost kitty flier in the shelter's lost cats book. (I hadn't thought about calling regularly: I did that the first day and the descriptions are just vague enough to be heart-rending. She's your typical big black & tan tabby.)

I'm going to keep looking a little longer; maybe send out/post fliers again.

but I do like the thought of her in some sort of kitty circus. (or something along the lines of this comment from the local site)

one of our other cats disappeared for a few days a couple of years ago. I've always assumed he was hiding out in the neighbor's garage. the reason mr. epersonae isn't generally allowed to go to the shelter is that he went to see if the one cat was there...and came home with a kitten. the runaway showed up like an hour later.
posted by epersonae at 3:27 PM on October 17, 2006

Response by poster: "a story that includes roasted chestnuts, a monkey, & a missing eye"

posted by epersonae at 3:28 PM on October 17, 2006

The shorter version: cat was found by my Grandma's best friend in the company of an organ grinder/street vendor who sold chestnuts and had a monkey, and one way they were able to confirm the cat's identity was by the fact that he only had one eye. Unfortunately his other eye had become infected during his 7 year absence and it subsequently had to be removed. He lived the rest of his life totally blind, yet never bumped into any furniture and was quite content, even chasing and catching the occasional winter house mouse! But he mostly lounged in sunny windows :) He's a legend in our family.

Never count a cat out, they'll surprise you most of the time. I believe it's really worth making an extended effort to find your missing kitty.
posted by zarah at 3:45 PM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I second Sully6's suggestion of using the cat's own scent to entice her home and would add another suggestion incase you haven't got the litter anymore...

Empty the bag/container of your vacuum cleaner outside your front and back door (it doesn't have to be right infront of the doors), top up the vacuumngs about every ten days. Your cat's scent, (if she was an indoor/outdoor cat) will be firmly ingrained in the dust you vacuum up (you won't be able to detect it, but Maddy will). The wind will distribute her scent and if she's within a pretty wide area, it may just be enough to entice her home. In the UK this is a common method recommended by various 'lost feline' organisations, and I've heard of great results using it, even after cats having gone missing for several months.

I can understand wanting to move on after her disappearance, when everything seems futile, but I think "a few weeks" is a relatively short time in which to give up hope. Print out more flyers, distribute them near and far, ask refuse collection if they have picked up any cat bodies lately that fit Maddy's description, ask local children, leave flyers at local veterinarians, contact all your local animal rescue organisations/charities and for a good while yet, I wouldn't give up hope.

I hope she comes home or is found safe and well

Good luck!
posted by Arqa at 4:36 PM on October 17, 2006

Be sure to take a look at this very informative site. I would DEFINITELY keep looking and flyering. It was only through persistence (two and a half weeks after he went missing) that I found my own lost cat.
posted by bchaplin at 6:05 PM on October 17, 2006

I forgot to suggest asking all your neighbours to check in sheds, garages, outhouses etc, cats sometimes get accidentally shut in these places!

It will help with the process of moving on if you know deep inside that you did everything that you possibly could do to find her.
posted by Arqa at 3:36 AM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

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