Finding Spirit After 21 Days Lost in Rural Illinois

This is another story from my case files including an email from Spirit’s owner, Linda, going into great detail on everything that she did to find her cat.  Spirit was especially challenging because although she was an indoor-only cat, she had previously lived with a feral cat colony.  She is also a shy cat and went missing in a rural area of Illinois.

Background on Spirit

Spirit Pic 2Sprit is an approximately 3 yr/ old DSH female/spayed cat, front declawed, and microchipped.   She was wearing a pink break-away collar with pink bell and heart-shaped name tag with “Spirit” and our home phone number on it.

Spirit was adopted 1.5 years ago from a feral feline rescue group. Spirit’s previous owner left her outside quite a bit and she was found living with a local, urban feral cat community. After being trapped two times with the feral group, the previous owner surrendered her to the pet rescue group. We then adopted Spirit. While living with us, she was a calm, indoor-only cat that was friendly only around people she knows. However, she would run and hide from anyone she didn’t know. Her behavior falls between a “cautious cat” and a “xenophobic cat.”   We have two other indoor-only cats and she was very friendly and social with them.

Circumstances of Disappearance

Towards sunset on June 17th, one of our indoor-only cats pushed open the back door and went on to our backyard patio without us noticing for about two minutes. Spirit followed her out and ran into the bushes of out house. She would not come in and kept running away from us. We had no luck getting her back inside. Spirit stayed around the bushes of our house for the next two days. During that time, we put out a feline humane trap. Unfortunately, we trapped a local feral cat on June 18th and then a racoon on June 19th. After the evening of June 19th, we never saw her again. We reomoved the trap on June 22, after no sightings of her and just left food out for her to heopfully just start showing up again.  We live on 5 acres and most of the homes around us are on 5 acres.

How Spirit was Found

Hi Danielle:

Spirit after she was found.  She has a raw spot above her nose.

Spirit after she was found. She has a raw spot above her nose.

Well, all the hard work and persistence paid off because we have Spirit back after being lost for 21 days! She has a few scratches on her nose, lost significant weight and has a mild respiratory infection, but she is doing fine. She is now resting at home (sleeping right next to me as I write to you – she is like the Velcro kitty now), being treated with antibiotics and eating and drinking well.

We were able to successfully trap her near a residence/farm about 1/2 mile northeast from our house.   I am totally positive that we would have never been able to get Spirit without trapping her due to her shy personality and being in complete survival mode after three weeks on her own.

We would have not been able to get her back without the help and guidance from you. The large posters and flyers were the most useful in getting sightings of her and people involved. Spirit was very elusive being a shy cat and was only briefly spotted by people at night. She was rarely ever spotted during the day (which probably helped save her life with all the coyotes and foxes around where we live). We have about four spottings of her over a the 4th of July weekend, all by residents in one area. They were always brief glimpses of a white cat, but no one was ever able to say for sure if it was her or not.  We also only had one person remember hearing a cat bell, but no one actually saw a cat with a collar on.

Map Spirit Found

Map showing location where Spirit was lost and then found 1/2 mile away 21 days later.

I’m going to give you some details of what we did that helped us finally track down Spirit and get her as I hope that this info will continue to help you with other owners of lost pets.

  • Large posters used to find Spirit.  These are 11x17 and some were even enlarged to full-size poster board size.

    Large posters used to find Spirit. These are 11×17 and some were even enlarged to full-size poster board size.

    Besides calling all the necessary animal control and local rescue groups, newspaper ads, Craigslist, etc., we put out lots of large posters in a 1 mile radius of our home. We then put flyers in every mailbox in an approximately 1/2 mile radius once a week, with updates of any spottings including date, time, location, etc. We went door-to-door at many homes in any area there might have been a spotting.

  • We marked on a map every time we got a call or email about a spotting. If my husband or I were at home when a call came in, we immediately met the person at the location of the spotting. We would ask lots of questions of what the cat looked like, did they see a collar, did they hear a bell, point to the exact spot they last saw her, etc. We never saw her and I think I heard her once cry, and no one ever got a good look for us to even know if we were even tracking the right cat.
  • We asked anyone in neighborhoods if they owned a white colored cat to rule out any look-alike cats
  • We put out 2 wildlife video cameras to try to see her coming to one of the two traps set up (FYI – we never saw her on any of the videos taken, and she only came to the trap the other night when we finally got her). The video cameras for our case did not really add much value in finding her.
  • We got many neighbors who are pet lovers involved and they in-turn were going door-to-door to neighbors in their residences.
  • We had a very nice junior high school boy spend hours for several days going through the area looking for her. He was one of the people who had the most recent spotting of her that ultimately had us put the trap near the home she was caught at.
  • We had one of our town’s city clerk’s send an email out about Spirit being missing a cat (with photo) to all approx. 600 residents in our town (kind of like the pet amber alert). As we pinned down areas, she sent out additional emails to those neighborhoods.
  • The $500 reward really helped keep the interest to find her high (we ended giving out a total of $750 to three people who ended up playing a role in finally getting her).
  • We figured out that the two homes next to each other where there were spottings each had an indoor-only cat. Because Spirit used hang out with a feral cat colony before we adopted her, we figured that she might try to find other cats to be around.  So we used one of the indoor-only cats as kind of a “bait.” We had the homeowner leave her living room window open just a little bit (with the screen on of course) just so one could hear her cat meowing though it. We then put a trap under this window for two days, baited with the smelliest canned cat food we knew of. Sure enough, on the second day of leaving the trap under the window of the home with indoor only cat, we trapped Spirit!
  • We used two different brands of traps; TruCatch Trap with the drop-down back door and the Hav-a-Hart spring-loaded door. I can tell you that the Trucatch Trap has a much higher trap rate of the two (we caught several raccoons and a feral cat in this one more than the Hav-a-Hart) and this was the trap we ultimately caught Spirit in. The traps costs about the same, but the Trucatch traps with the quiet drop-down door and brown camouflage color are by far the best:
  • I also went out every night with a flashlight for 2-3 hours, looking for her. But to be honest, this probably did not help much as she always stayed hidden and quiet from me due to her shy personality.

Also, I am fairly sure that Spirit was not going to just find her way back home after a while. We were just blessed and lucky enough to get her before illness/starvation or a wild animal got her in this heavily wooded, semi-rural area we live in. My family and I are just so happy to have her back home and we feel like we have had a miracle blessed upon us. I can tell you that our family and many friends prayed for this little cat’s sat return.

I am happy to provide you with any other info that may be helpful.  Thank you again for all of your help!

Best Regards,

Linda in Illinois

Story from case files of Lost Pet Research and Recovery

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This entry was posted in Coyote or Wildlife, Found after less than one month, Found Close to where s/he when Missing, Humane Trap, Indoor-Only Cat, Pet Detective or Search Dog, Posters or Flyers, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Finding Spirit After 21 Days Lost in Rural Illinois

  1. Christe says:

    Glad to hear you got her back…and acted quickly. All the hard work paid off. I’ve been there and even had one of my traps stolen. It’s of no consequence when you got the cat…which was feral to begin with. Today I own another feral cat and when she runs out the door because of careless family members it worries me. “Skittles” is my heart and my 4 other dogs are my life. I’m very glad you found your cat!!! Meow!

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