Lost or Found a cat?

Lost your cat?

Most of us have, at some time, had the experience of calling our cat and getting no response - just an empty void. Usually the cat returns within a few hours looking completely innocent. At other times there is no such happy ending, and you become really anxious.

Always start the search in the house. Cats can get into very small spaces, so search around furniture, in washing machines. Check whether any drawers, cupboards or wardrobes have been left open and later closed, perhaps imprisoning a sleeping cat. Check any boxes that might seem tempting - I remember two who, while the children cried bitterly, were happily asleep in a box of Christmas decoration.

Then search your garden, garage and any outbuildings. If the absence persists, phone all local vets and any rescue organisations. Many vets have a lost and found notice board or book. Leaflet the neighbourhood, asking people to check their outbuildings. If your cat is nervous, ask them to leave doors open so the cat has a chance to make its escape in its own time. Put notices on lamp posts and in local shops. Go out calling when it is dark and quiet, and stand and listen for any reply. Cats will often come more readily under conditions of darkness. Use a torch - it's easy to see their eyes reflecting the light, and an injured cat may not want to leave shelter, even for its owner.

Cats may wander a surprisingly long way in a fairly short time if they are lost, so widen your search as much as possible.

If you have moved recently, make sure the people in your old house and neighbourhood are aware of its loss. Cats have travelled long distances to return to what they see as home.

Local councils keep a list of any dead cats they are asked to collect, and a phone call to them may be worthwhile. Some police stations may also record cats killed on the road in their incident books. Both keep their records only for a week, so time is of the essence. Whilst nobody wants to find out their cat has been killed, it's better to know.

Remember, un-neutered cats can roam a long way. Microchipped cats are more likely to be returned to their owners.

Found a cat?

How can you decide whether a cat is genuinely lost? Cats are very good 'two-timers'! You may know the children's story of a cat that went to a number of houses, and it was only when it was ill and each took it to the vet that its behaviour was discovered.

If a strange cat suddenly appears and then hangs around, do not feed it immediately, but do leave clean water for it. If possible, get an elasticated collar and attach a note to it, asking the owner to contact you. If the collar stays on, then the cat may be homeless. If the collar disappears it may have been removed by the cat or an owner that has not made contact.

When you are as sure as possible that the cat is genuinely homeless, phone all local vets to see whether there is anything matching its description on their list - most vets keep a list or notice board of lost and found animals. If at this stage the cat is obviously hungry then begin feeding, but use basic cat food as treats may tempt it to stay when it has a home.

Your next step will be to try to find a permanent home for it, unless you decide to keep it. This can be difficult. Try local rescue centres, but don't be surprised if they are full. You can find details of these in the Yellow Pages, or from a vet.

Sick and injured cats can be reported to the RSPCA, as can cats that you know have been abandoned, as the owners can be prosecuted. Contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234999.