In the dead of winter our eight-year-old house cat went missing. She had never been outside in her life. It was a pet nightmare – she was gone for six weeks and in the end we found her literally a stone’s throw from our house.
I spent those six weeks ‘cat hunting’. Our neighbours were extremely generous and all gave me carte blanche to search their property night or day. My warm cat hunting gear hung at the ready by the front door, along with a container of kibble and flashlight. I would spend time each day and many nights out calling her name and searching for her, crawling in the snow on my belly under decks and into garages full of stuff.
My daughter and I researched ‘finding a lost cat’ online and it was honestly very helpful – we learned that timid cats will find a safe place to hide and in fact will hunker down to the peril of their own lives (ie. starvation). That is what Eileen did. When we eventually found her in a neighbor’s backyard one street over, she had been hiding under their deck and could easily hear me in the quiet of the night calling her. But her instinct of fear and survival outweighed any common cat sense.
We learned that ‘flyering’ was likely our best chance of finding a hiding cat, she wasn’t likely to come running out to meet me. And in fact, many lost cats turn feral, so if you find them and they are feral you get one chance to grab them before they flee.
We put together a coloured flyer and stapled/taped them all over the neighbourhood…Eileen was everywhere. People called that they’d found her and we’d leave our dinner and dash off to see if was Eileen, but they were all false alarms. We didn’t know who felt worse us or the people who thought they’d solved our missing cat problem.
I had a couple of people call me out of the clear blue to share their missing cat stories, giving me hope that they can be found after missing for weeks, months and even years. We took heart in those stories but also listened to people who warned about the foxes and coyotes in the neighbourhood, which scared the heck out of us.
We had no luck and on the sixth week, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we couldn’t maintain the hunt forever but decided to flyer a second and last time.
The day after we put up the next round of flyers, was the first nice spring day and we got a call as we were returning home from a family event outside the city, that our neighbour one block over thought Eileen was in her backyard. We were about an hour away from returning to the neighbourhood.
When we got there my husband dropped me off at our neighbour’s home, with my ‘cat hunting kit’ (kibble, flashlight etc) – we figured it would be another false alarm, especially after all this time – I planned to walk the short distance home and meet him there after I’d had a look in their backyard.
She was nowhere to be seen in the yard, so I shone the flashlight into the dark narrow space between their house and one beside and two big eyes stared back at me! I ducked back around the corner not wanting to scare her to run the other way out to the street.
I took a deep breath and looked back and there she was, so I crouched down and shook the kibble container. She gave out a huge meow and came towards me. I figured I had once chance to grab her, not knowing if she had maybe turned somewhat feral and when I did she cuddle up to me purring so loud it drowned out the sound of my heart pounding.
She was super skinny (half the size she was before) but otherwise looked ok. The next day, the vet said she’d likely eaten some snow, but that was it. Another couple of days and she’d have starved to death.
We’d found her just in time. Flyering does work…never give up.