Lessons Learned from Finding a Lost Cat

MISSING :  SIAMESE.    Everyone has seen the signs and posters around town asking for help to bring Norman, a twelve year old Siamese cat, back home. Barbara Rickards, who lives across from the American Legion, has learned a lot about pet rescue since Norman vanished that last Sunday in August.

“Norman is my Mother’s cat.  We have been taking care of him since she became quite ill last July.  He is an indoor cat that was declawed when my Mother got him from a shelter in Oregon. ( An older lady had given him up for adoption.)  He has been in our family for  6 years. He is very handsome and intelligent, noisy at times, with a big chest and a long tail. He is a wonderful cat that gets along with our dog. He travels up here every weekend with us and we are going crazy looking for him.  I thought he was sleeping upstairs that afternoon- not outside getting lost!  I haven’t told my mother yet because I’m still holding out hope that I will get him back for her.  We used to take Norman to visit her at her bedside every couple of weeks.”

Rickards thinks she left a door open when she went to rescue a kitten on the walking trail that sunny Sunday.  An immature white, black, and orange calico cat, wearing a pink collar and a tag identifying the kitten, was wandering the path alone.  Rickards notified the Police and Animal Control but was instructed to let the 6 month old go to find it’s own way home.  Later that afternoon, as she packed to return to Boston, she discovered that Norman was not sleeping upstairs but had disappeared.  The family stayed an extra night but efforts to find him were futile.  She returned the next Wednesday to resume the search.

While passing out posters, and searching for sightings of her cat, Rickards  thought of using search and rescue dogs to find Norman.  No one had a resource to recommend.  The Internet identified a Search and Rescue dog team up in Maine.  SAR works strictly with law enforcement and their dogs only look for people.  The SAR director, Nancy Lyons, responded to Rickards’ inquiry with a contact in S. Hadley, MA:  Compassionate Pet Rescue run by Danielle Robertson.  Danielle was kind enough to forward the names and phone numbers of two women with pet-seeking dogs.  These dogs are specially trained to play the game of “Where’s(Norman)?”  Danielle’s website (http://www.compassionatepetservices.com) is full of insights and tips for recovering lost pets.

Rickards reached one of these dog teams (http://www.ljtpettracking.com) this last Sunday and Laura Totis with her dog, Chewie, arrived in the early afternoon to begin searching the area. The game begins when the trainer asked the dog to sit down.  The “mark” is presented and she asked  “Where’s Norman”?  Chewie, a mix-breed female, was obviously used to this process. She didn’t get out of the car and come dancing over to meet Rickards.  She was strictly focused on doing her job. She set off around the perimeters of the family home and the local neighbor’s perimeters, catching a trail at times but not being able to locate Norman within the neighborhood.  Rickards took the search dog team to two locations where neighbors thought they had seen Norman.  No clear scent markers were identified.

It is thought that Norman, who is a very calm cat, has not stayed close to home but is moving toward an unknown destination.  Although his survival chances are limited, because of his age and declawed front paws, Rickards keeps passing out posters, hoping that someone will notice this handsome cat lurking somewhere in the neighborhood and notify the police.  She passes on these tips for people who find or lose a pet:

1)  TAKE A PICTURE!   A picture is worth a thousand words.  Snap a cell-phone picture if you see a pet you think is lost.  It will help to clarify what you saw.  A picture can be posted on the Internet to help owners locate their lost pets.  It might be the wrong pet!  Laura told the story of catching 7 different Siamese cats in Have a Heart traps.  “You don’t imagine (a farming community having) so many loose Siamese” she remarked.

2)  CALL THE POLICE  The Police Department is working with the Animal Control Officer to keep an active list of missing and found pets.  They are a central focus of information.

3)  LIST YOUR LOST or FOUND PET ON CRAIG’S LIST  Using the Internet helps coordinate the community information pool.

4)  CALL IN A SEARCH DOG EARLY  Search and rescue teams are far away.  We need to develop a search and rescue team here in New England!  But, the sooner the team hits the trail the better your chances are of finding a lost pet.  We all leave particles of skin and scent as we move.  Animals bedding down or tracking regularly along a path leave markers that the scent seeking dogs can definitely smell.  They love to play ” Find the Kitty/ or Dog” and search around looking for the “target” that will earn them their reward.

5)  MICROCHIP YOUR PET  It will help to identify them if they are lost.  Some people tattoo their pets.

6)  TEACH YOUR PET TO COME TO A WHISTLE.  Whistling travels farther than talking.  Norman is a cat that used to come running and bleating when he was called.  Laura and one of her dogs located a cat which had been stuck in a wall for two weeks (and lived!) which never made a sound at all.  Lost animals are frequently mute when they are distressed.

7)  CALL THE HUMANE SOCIETY  The Lakes Region Humane Society has given me a lot of good tips about locating Norman.

Well, this might have been the end of the article but there was a break in the case of “Where is Norman?”!  On Tuesday (nine days after Norman got lost) Rickards received a call from local neighbor, John Osgood, stating that he thought he had located the cat under the foundation of his mother’s house.  [Osgood’s house is located about ten houses from where Norman went missing.] Rickards sent her brother-in-law to provide food, water, and a blanket to the cat.  After work that day Rickards drove up from Boston to try and catch Norman.  Many animal rescuers have noted that pets do not respond readily to their owners after days of living wild.  Video cameras are often used to identify which animals are eating the left out food overnight.  Have a Heart traps are often needed to restore a pet to their home.  Rickards thought it would be easy, though, to catch Norman because he always came running when he was called, crying and bleating as he approached.  “He’s a big noisy baby!”

It was early evening when Rickards arrived at the location.  She could see a cat but it wasn’t obvious what type of cat was hiding under the house.  When the lights were turned on and John provided a flashlight, the cat had disappeared!  A quick trip to the family house was made to cook a piece of bacon in the microwave. When Rickards returned John pointed out the cat along the back of the house.  It was NORMAN!!  But, quick as a bunny, back under the foundation he disappeared. Rickards got on her hands and knees under the foundation, with steaming bacon in tow, calling to her cat but with the aid of a flashlight she realized that her cat was not going to come out. He was sitting as still as stone , not muttering a word. Remembering the story her husband told, of chasing his loose dog (as a boy) all over the neighborhood without success only to give up and discover the dog chasing him, she pulled out of the crawlspace, turned out the light, turned her back on Norman and started to speak his praises.  In less than a minute he began to cry out, his usual bleating meows and ran to her side.  The two were happily united and Norman was rescued.  Tired, with sore paws, and missing a few pounds Norman is one of the lucky lost pets who managed to survive his great adventure.

Thursday Rickards heard from Wolfeboro Police that a Siamese had been found in someone’s garage.  What are the chances that two Siamese would get lost in the same month?  Friday, while thanking other neighbors who helped in the search, Rickards learned that the tri-colored kitten’s owners lived way up the path.  Efforts are underway to unite this kitten and family.

“I’ve met so many wonderful people in my search for Norman.  It’s been reaffirming.  This is a great community in so many ways.  Thanks to everyone who kept an eye out for Norman!”
– B. Rickards
This entry was posted in Found after less than one month, Found Close to where s/he when Missing, Indoor-Only Cat, Kindness of Strangers, Lost Away From Home, Pet Detective or Search Dog, Posters or Flyers. Bookmark the permalink.

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