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When Your Cat Goes Rogue

hermoineI’ve seen countless “lost pet” flyers over the years. Each one seemed so sad and hopeless; leaving me with a sense that the poor dog or cat was probably gone for good.

It’s is an animal lover’s nightmare... and rogue cats are particularly hard to find. Unfortunately, I recently joined the ranks of frantic pet parents, handing out one of those desperate notes throughout Scarsdale and hoping against hope that my cat would return.

If you’re not a pet owner, stop reading now. You’ll likely believe that “cats do this all the time,” and maybe scoff at my worry and upset. I’m sharing my story for the Scarsdale cat moms and dads who shared advice, encouragement and concern along the way. You know, there are those of us who feel pets are our children.

We have an absolutely fantastic cat named Hermione (Mione, for short). A 10-pound Siberian, she beautiful, outgoing and loving… definitely not the typical aloof feline. She comes when called, plays catch and follows us around from room to room. She dutifully lies next to my computer when I’m at work, and instinctively lets me know when I need a break by walking across my keyboard. Mione and her fabulous sister, our dog Shea make our family complete.

Here’s the rub. While she’s more like a dog than a cat, Mione is still a cat and wants to go outside. Google Siberians and you’ll see pictures of huge, furry cats covered in snow. Well, Scarsdale is not the Russian tundra and we don’t want our cat outside.

We’ve been resisting Mione’s efforts to escape for two years now. To keep her content, we placed perches and towers near windows so she can see out, attached birdfeeders to windows to keep her entertained, bought a harness and leash to walk her around the yard and regularly use “Czarina’s Chariot” – a pet stroller – to take her along on nighttime walks with Shea (leashed cats simply don’t keep up).

Despite all this or, maybe because of it, Mione occasionally darts out of the house. If we go after her she runs further away, so we’ve decided it’s best to let her go. Fortunately, she’s typically gone just for an hour or two and returns ravenous and tired each time. I’m starting to think that I need to create a “cat run” similar to what former Met Keith Hernandez has built for his cat Hadji – enclosed tunnels and tents that allow the animal to be outside and remain confined.

Just When You Think You’ve Figured Things Out…
In the meantime, we’ve learned to live with Mione’s jaunts; while irritating, they don’t panic us anymore. But, a few weeks ago Mione didn’t come back. She got out at night, which was unusual; she typically makes a break for it during the day. We left the door open for a couple of hours, called, shook her treats, opened a can of food, ran the ice dispenser (she loves playing with ice cubes – a Russian thing, I guess), all to no avail.

We were angry. Already feeling down because it was Sunday night and the weekend was over, we didn’t need to have to worry about the cat too. My husband and I decided to teach her a lesson and closed up for the night, confident she’d come back in the morning when he walked Shea. And, she’d probably be annoyed at the inconvenience of spending a cold night under a bush.

Monday morning arrived; my husband took out Shea. No Mione. I quickly decided that something was terribly wrong and immediately began searching, armed with both the dog and cat treats.

Mione is micro chipped, but the brat won’t wear a collar. I put one on, she indulges me for a day, I wake up the next morning and the collar’s on the floor. I’ve given up because of the microchip. But, as I searched for her, I wondered if anyone would take the time to check for it. Maybe people would think she’s just another unfortunate stray and ignore her. Uh oh… my mind raced.missingcat

As I walked the streets, and looked under decks and through shrubs, I beat up myself over the collar thing. I also realized that people might think I’m a thief casing their homes, so I decided to enlist my neighbors. I posted to the Scarsdale Moms and Scarsdale Social Facebook groups, and winced at the idea that my cat was another statistic. I emailed the microchip service, which was supposed to contact local shelters and vet offices; I wondered if they’d really do it.

I followed conventional wisdom and placed her used litter box on the patio. For once, I was happy I hadn’t cleaned it yet, because the stink was supposed to guide her home. I built a small shelter with her cat bed inside. I didn’t put food out, wanting her to be hungry enough to come inside to get the goods. A Scarsdale mom suggested that I contact Scarsdale police. I traveled to the Post Road building and knew the officers thought I was nuts as I told them my cat was missing. Regardless, they respectfully noted my information. I also contacted the emergency vet in White Plains; a friend had found her lost dog there just the night before.

Two more days came and went, with no sign of Mione. I visited shelters and vet offices, looked up in trees, searched at ungodly hours of the night and joined “lost pet” social media groups. I created the dreaded flyer and distributed it to pet stores, and planned to make more and go door-to-door. I was convinced she was probably hurt or sick, or simply too far away to get back home. When asking advice from relatives and friends, I was met with dark expressions and “I don’t knows;” they knew something all right – that Mione was lying dead somewhere.

I then broke down and placed food and dirty clothes outside to try and lure Mione back. A lot of people and animal organizations recommended I do this. My frustration and upset grew; this was like finding a needle in a haystack. I wondered if I should just stop. She’d come back when she was hungry enough, wouldn’t she? Was I doing everything I should? Was I good pet mom? WHERE IS SHE?!

Saved by the Cat Finder
Although I was grateful that word was spreading, and encouraged by the messages and texts from supportive cat lovers, I was miserable. How do I celebrate Christmas without my cat? It’s not going to be okay. Just as I was on the verge of giving up, the tide turned.

I received a text from a woman in California, of all places, who is part of a lost pets network. She mentioned services dedicated to retrieving lost cats and advised hiring one. Not surprisingly, I found no such service in Westchester but mentioned it to my husband. He started researching immediately, desperate to make me feel better. He found Kim Freeman, the “Lost Cat Finder,” who specializes in finding lost cats (lostacatfinder.com). Yes, she’s for real and just what we needed. Of course, I first thought she was some scam artist preying on distraught pet owners. Nope.

Freeman reports that an average of just two percent of lost cats are reunited with their owners. However, by following her techniques, one really can improve the chances of getting a rogue kitty back home. For $25, you can download her video and book – a small price to pay to get your fur baby back (printing color flyers costs more). After just a few minutes of watching the video, we found out that we were doing everything wrong. And, for the first time in a while, I had some hope.

Freeman’s Facts
We learned that most lost cats go unfound because their owners simply give up. Many times, they don’t come home because they are hurt or confused; you need to aggressively search. When they’re outside, indoor cats rely purely on instinct. No matter how friendly or easygoing they are in your home, they behave quite differently outdoors. You can call or use food, but they typically won’t respond, even if you’re just feet away. This explained why Mione wasn’t coming out when called.

Indoor cats usually do not stray more than a 250-foot radius from their homes. If they become startled or curious, they may go as far as 500 feet, but that’s it. They usually hide in cracks and crevices near buildings, and are able to go an average of 10 days without food and water. After that point, many will come out of hiding to try getting back home, but can be too disoriented to find their way. Ah, Mione wasn’t at the Weinberg Nature Center after all.

Get rid of the food, litter box and smelly old clothes. Yes, they’ll attract your cat… and every other animal that’s within “nose shot.” Wild and feral animals will pick up the scent and investigate, and most likely scare your cat away. So, we cleaned up the patio, and not a moment too soon, as rain was in the forecast and I wasn’t in the mood to clean up the mess.

If you know how your cat got out, keep that door or window open. Cats want to return the same way they left. Unfortunately, they are more likely to do this at night, when it is quiet and still. If you’re worried about a break in, you can attach a security chain.

After printing Freeman’s booklet and revising my search plan, I decided to keep the back door open that night, wide enough for Mione to slip through, but secured on one side with a heavy box. I settled on the couch, with the TV and lights on, and Shea by my side to discourage any unsavory character who may be lurking outside and waited.

Surprisingly, I fell asleep; I was exhausted from the previous nights’ searches and hearing about the pending government shutdown. At about 2:30 am, I felt something on my chest. Not unusual, as Mione typically lies on top of me during the night. I remember thinking, “Oh, it’s just Mione.” And, then, through the haze of badly needed sleep, the thought sunk in. I opened my eyes, and there she was, staring back at me, cold, but intact. On each side of her head was crusted-over blood; she had cut both ears and bled considerably. But the wounds had closed and she looked OK. No doubt, Detective Freeman’s advice surely set the stage for her return.

As for her injuries, I don’t believe Mione was in a fight; it’s more likely that she cut her ears on one of the old rusted chicken wire fences that dot our neighborhood. She had no other scratches or bite marks. My guess is that she hurt herself soon after running out, became frightened and hid under a bush somewhere close.

Needless to say, we all were beyond thrilled and relieved to have her back. Shea wouldn’t leave her alone for an entire day; in fact, Mione wouldn’t let anyone touch her ears except for Shea, who eagerly cleaned away the blood and wiped away the “outside smell” from her sister’s coat. The cat ate heartily and slept deeply for two days after her return, and we hoped she learned her lesson. She wasn’t even interested in scaling the Christmas tree; we began to believe the experience actually chastened her a bit.

No such luck. As my husband was leaving for work later in the week, the brat made a beeline for the back door. Mione didn’t get out that time but, needless to say, we’re back on cat watch every time we go in and out of the house. I’ve tried citrus oils to keep her away from the threshold and have moved on to a spray bottle. Well, I guess you can say that she, technically, has eight lives left. I, however, do not.

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