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Include this page in your shelter's Lost & Found resources 
to help your community recover lost cats &
 prevent strays from landing at shelters.

   Free Lost Cat Poster Templates 

    Free lost cat flyer templates to download & customize

Free template for lost Cat posters by pet detective

Use these free Lost Cat templates for better results than the typical old REWARD LOST CAT posters. A specific call to action tells people what to do (take a picture) so owners can quickly confirm or rule out false sightings.

Use to take out distracting background so the cat's image is clear and large. For poster backing, use orange as it's the most noticed color to the human eye.


To download, just click on these lost cat flyers to customize your template in Word.


The first page shows an example of a finished flyer.  On page 2 simply add your phone number and cat's photo.  Keep the text short & sweet so people will read it!

Lost cat flyer template free pet detective


Use this Tips Guide to help when you hear about a cat up a tree or to help someone with a lost cat.

Parallel Lines

Stray Cat Paper Collar Template

Stray Cat Paper Collars

Use this simple template to help lost cats and their owners.

Download and write your phone number, note, and tape the ends together around cat's neck.

Lost cat finder Search guide kit
RTO for cats help for shelters RTH cats

Lost Cat Webinar for Maddie's Fund with Kim the Lost Cat Finder.

Maddie's Fund "Understanding Lost Cat Psychology" keeping lost cats out of shelters.

To find a lost cat, you need to understand lost cat psychology and how they see the world. Learn to think like a cat to find your lost cat and best practices for feline recovery and stray shelter intake prevention.


Use the  "Lost Cat Kit" as a Resource on your  "Lost & Found Pets" page. Anyone part of a cat rescue group, shelter, or Facebook group for lost cats can sign up for an auto donation program here.

*sponsored by the Community Cats Podcast , Maddie's Fund, and PetCoLove 

How to Boost Cat RTO - RTH rates for shelters
Webinar transcript

Whether you work with a shelter or not,  you're probably all well-aware of the low "return to owner" rate for cats. T

This session from two trusted Feline RTO experts  will explore the correlation between lost cats and RTH numbers then give you ways to help with both.


Is anyone here part of the Maddies RTH challenge this year?

Implementing the methods you're about to learn in this Return to Owner webinar will give you a big jump if you are signed up for the Maddies Grant. Even if you’re not, this session will help you get more cats back home. For the last ten years, my full-time profession has been recovering lost cats.


Think of us as your go-to resource for lost cat tips and advice - whether you’re out the field, at a shelter or guiding owners online through Facebook and Nextdoor.


In the next hour, I’m going to share some of my methods, talk about lost cats and how to increase your Return to home happy reunions. First, know we use RTO and RTH interchangeably for cats. There's been a new movement to call this shelter program RETURN TO HOME.



Before Specialising in lost cats

I worked with PASS for Austin Pets Alive! to solve Cat behavior in-Home.

In 2012 Trained in Cat Psychology and Tracking. 

By 2014  was traveling on cases 

In 2016  coached a park ranger named Shannon Jay to recover his lost cat.

The next year, went to California to teach Shannon and his firecat Group 

How to recover PTSD cats 

after their houses were burned down in the  Wildfires.


 ..The thread throughout has been the study of "lost cat behavior."


So far, I've recovered cats in 48 states and 23 countries.


In some cases, it was coaching people long distance, 

some were going out in person, 

and some were a result of my online Search Guides.

My cat journey started with my own lost cat, Mr. PURR. 

…he’s the reason I made this my career.

Mister Purr would have died in a metal shipping container had I listened to the typical lost cat advice.

That 5 days he was missing was a real lesson in understanding the immense pain and stress owners go through.


Finding my cat Mister Purr is what inspired me to go FULL TIME into helping others and become known internationally as the expert lost cat finder and "Cat Detective."


Over the years, we’ve found that when 

owners use the right tactics FOR THEIR SITUATION, the cat gets recovered

and shelters don’t end up with this influx of strays.

…all the lost cats who were never found.

A lost cat situation can blindside  even the very best owners – and cat experts.

It’s a  skillset few understand.


NO one thinks they need it UNTIL THEY NEED IT.


These poor people are in panic mode … getting tons of tips thrown at them, often making the situation worse. 

Here’s a look at the average shelter outcome for cats.

Although Adoptions have increased in recent years,

reclaim rates for cats are still hovering …around 2 and 3% at most shelters.



  So why is RTH and RTO still so bad for cats?​

 Let's look at 9 key reasons ... and some ways to make it better.


REASON number one ...very few owned cats are microchipped.

IN fact, LESS THAN 1% of owned cats have a microchip.


Here are some of the typical reasons why…


...with microchipped cats at only 1% percent…

No wonder reclaim percentage hovers at 2 and 3.


Another contributing factor…Most lost pet groups are dog focused. And when someone does post a cat, the owner gets inundated with Cookie Cutter tips that may not be appropriate for their situation.



There's a BIG difference between lost dogs and cats

In general,

DOGS roam. Cats HIDE. 

When a dog gets out, they run…

 they run from cars, they run from people…

They run and roam but …THEY GET SEEN

CATS hide.

And they are really good at it. Masters at HIDE AND EVADE.


Reason # 4  Lost Cats are rarely Found   ---the Old Wives Tales

we see these daily from armchair experts

...propagating bad advice online. And just about everyone we coach has already tried these main offenders, and attracted in other cats and various wildlife.


This coyote eating out of the litter box is one of the many reasons we advise AGAINST putting out kitty litter or anything that smells like the cat.



Reason 5

The Misconceptions. Human thinking.

Here are some examples…


Most of these assumptions are wrong.  

So let’s talk about what’s right.......What’s been proven by science and borne out by experience.




Instead of our Human Thinking, we need to consider…


The cat who always comes when you shake the treat jar AT HOME 

is going act a lot different after getting loose in the vet's parking lot.

  • A stressed lost cat goes into a survival mode   

  • For the first week nothing matters as much to them as their safety 

  • Food is not on their list of priorities here.


But a panicked owner doesn't process this and will base their search on what their cat was like at home. 


Compounding this…Cats see the world differently.

  • Studies show …cats can't tell humans apart very well --especially outdoors.

  • While we can see up to 200 feet… cats can’t make out detail more than about 20 feet in front of them.

  • And a stressed cat is not going to let anything get that close.

  • All they know is ...SOMETHING BIG IS COMING.And Survival Mode says, GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE.



And since cats see you logn before you see them, Combing the area can mean pushing the cat farther away and the owner assuming that since they searched an area, the cat must not be there.


Which leads into REASON 8…Owners assume the worst.


Petra is a good case story example of this.


This escaped cat was lost early JANUARY… in scrubby Texas coyote country.

Owner assumed the worst …GIVING up by FEBRUARY .

YET I found her, kinny and matted 10 months later.


 So after nearly a year lost –with zero sightings –this indoor only lost cat had survived, despite the weather extremes and coyote presence.


Petra’s story also illustrates the mismatch between human time and cat time.


Here’s a typical scenario to show the progression and the difference.

FIRST, the cat is lost.

  1. Owner tries the usual advice, but nothing is working.

  2. Around 2 weeks, they assume the worst and give up.

  3. After 3 weeks the cat gets hungry & desperate enough to emerge 

  4. After 4 weeks they may approach a human….who may or may not post a FOUND cat NOTICE.


The tragedy is,

the owner is in grief avoidance and no longer looking.

It’s painful to keep searching for weeks and deal with the crushing disappointment and stress every day.


From there, the cat is usually rehomed or taken to a shelter.

…and here comes another unidentified stray through the door.


So how do we solve this?

One key is prevention... 

before the cat shows up at the shelter.

And prevention starts with education

Owners look to shelters for advice

We need to offer them resources based on science, not memes.

A lot of shelters do offer tips on their Lost & Found page.

Some are even cat focused. This is a great progress…

but it's tough to cover all the Scenarios and Permutations with a tips sheet . Owners freaking out at 2am need the right strategy for their cat.


They need situation-specific advice.


The FBI does not hand out general tips sheets on 

How to find a missing person.

It’s a science. With procedurals.

“Is it a runaway kid? or a confused senior? “

“Is it city or county terrain?”

“ What weather is coming?”


Each situation requires different tactics.

And the first 48 hours are key.


We all know, there are no typical cats.

 Every cat is different. 

Their recovery strategy should be, too.



 A good start is based …on the 4 cat types -- to determine strategy.

But then you have to add in other factors…

And you end up with almost endless permutations.


  • Situation

  • Age

  • Weather

  • Geography... 

…so many details that matter and make a difference.


This is why even advice based on Cat type can backfire and put the cat at risk.


Here’s an example…


This is Ciara ... xenophobic kitty lost at a condo complex… 

visitor came over with a dog --Ciara freaked and dashed out the door. 

They searched, 

they called, 

they put up posters.


Zero sightings.


Now if you look at this map, you can see outside her door was mostly parking lot.


So what does Cat Psychology say?

That she will hide…probably under a car.

However, with all the human, dog and car activity... it’s not good enough. 

So her next best bet…


…is going underground.

we found 3 of her hairs caught on the storm drain cover to confirm


Set up a camera to

 watch the tunnels.

Got the image 

and caught her at midnight.


Ciara's an example of how you can 

put flyers on every phone pole 

and post to every Facebook group,
but these cats are not coming out to be seen.


This next case is a cat lost away from home.

This was PONCHO in California. Adventure cat lost in the wilderness.

As soon as Poncho was out of the car, he backed out of the harness and ran down the slope.

The owners quickly got a Search Party of friends & local rescues to come help. 

They spent 10 days combing the hills: 

shaking treats, calling, and setting lots of baited traps 

Which drew in lots of hungry wildlife…





... including coyotes.


Finally, the owners contacted us on Day 10. 


We told them to 

  • call off the search parties, 

  • get rid of the traps, 

  • and dispose of all the food.


All that bait had attracted multiple coyotes into the area, which could easily have caught and killed Poncho.




So you can see, posters, traps and search parties were not going to work.


This case needed specific advice factoring in

  •  Terrain
  • weather and 

  • wildlife population.


They followed our plan and PONCHO was found.


(away from the areas they had drawn coyotes, thank goodness) 

Here’s Aleksandra once they got home.




This case is MILO - an indoor-only cat who disappeared overnight.

He was on the couch when owners went to bed, then by morning, POOF...he had vanished.


After searching the house, 

they did the usual: 

a trip to the shelters, 

putting up posters, 

going out to buy traps.


On day 5, I reviewed their profile and spotted a key clue. 

One of the owners had been up in the middle of the night to get something out of the garage.


 I told them to search EVERY cubic INCH of the garage --and any vehicles parked in it.


Milo had been hiding in the owners Tesla for 5 days. 

Here he is – under the radiator hose. 


He stayed there 

throughout 17 miles of driving: 


the trip to the shelter,

 the putting up posters, 

even two trips to Home Depot. 


All that time, Milo was up in the chassis of his owner's car.


Focusing on the usual "shelter/posters/trap" Advice 

could have meant  

Milo getting run over at any of the stops or turns they made 

During those 5 days.


Sometimes giving out 

Standard Advice 

can do more harm than good.



So the moral of these cases?


Each cat requires special techniques 

It’s more than just putting out 

A trap.



After years of cases like these, I got some advice.


A lot of you may know  Monica Dangler. 

She suggested I combine my research and 

experience into an online guide.

That way, people all over the world could get instant access to my techniques.


We needed an online guide that would be 

Comprehensive… but not overwhelming.




The goal was a DIY kit owners could download 24/7.


I made two versions, in English and Spanish.



it lays out all the Strategies and Best practices.

So owners  (who know their cat best) can tailor their technique 

and avoid the typical mistakes.



on how to recover any cat in any situation.


The e-book tells WHAT to do.

The video tutorial shows HOW to do it.


Owners learn how to 

Do things they've never done 

when they're panicked and sleep deprived.



It covers things they need to know like the diff


Cat traps    vs raccoon traps


... how to set them, programming trail cameras, setting up motion alerts.



Details like 

Which bait is best?

Trap covered? Or uncovered?


Let’s pause here a minute to show you a video. THIS IS A LOST CAT who the owner tried to trap in his own yard.


Lately, I see a lot of people jumping right to the trap when a cat is lost, like it’s the magic wand.


This SET A TRAP advice is like the new DIRTY LITTER BOX tip. Well meaning but misguided and not always right for the situation.

But trying to trap an escaped indoor cat is not like catching  the typical feral who is comfortable outside and used to eating in certain place every day, cats who are used to a certain car driving up and certain person coming toward them.




I’ve seen this phenomenon over the years and want to show you how fearful these indoor cats are when a trap appears in their yard. 

It’s been speculated that for the cat, this is almost like when you pull a carrier out to prep for a trip to the vet.

Only they are not in their safe happy home – they are out in what they see as the Amazon jungle in survival mode.



Plus, other assorted Tools & Templates.


Now in 90% of cases, the DIY kit is all they need.

all they need is the DIY kit

However I also offer them live coaching and on-site search in most states.



People look to shelters for expert advice.

Let them know these options exist.

Here’s how Oregon Humane does it.


Now a menu of good resources can prevent cats from coming  in the door.

BUT what  can we be doing 

IN the shelter?



We need a better system.


One that encompasses both human AND cat psychology.

One that does not put extra demands on staff,

And ideally, it would be cheap or free.



Here’s a way to cover all three – using one dedicated volunteer.


When an owner comes through the door,


  • Creates a Lost cat report
  • Signs owners up for auto alerts
  • Gives them a contact sheet and resource list.


The resource list can be as simple as THIS.

These are national groups owners should at least be aware of.


You may want to include a standard disclaimer like this one from Oregon that reads:

…”these links are provided as a resource only. These are outside organizations/companies, not affiliated or necessarily endorsed by our shelter.”


Note For anyone who plans to add a link to the Search Guides on your website, 


You may want to know about the Shelter Donation Program.

Any time someone in the community uses the guides, 

it gives the shelter an auto-donation.


Any rescue group, 

shelter, or individual can use it.



Here’s the link for that.


This lets you educate the community and it's a simple passive way to

get Recurring Donations for your shelter


The next step after Resources…


Signing the owner up Auto Alerts

These will be photos of new intake cats sent to the owners via email.

The photos are key for this…


this system is compliments of JOHN DUNN our brilliant & beloved Best Friends podcaster.



Here’s how it works:


FOR every cat who comes through the door, we get 2 very specific photos:


  •  A front FACE close-up 

  • and a full body side-view .


This is ideal for the 

Auto alert emails 

AND to 

Give potential adopters so they’ll have the perfect lost cat flyer images if they ever need them.


These photos are key for quick recognition of the cat out in the world, and for some reason people 

Rarely Take them.



Auto Alerts


Here’s how that might look when it lands in their inbox.


This is a passive way they can still  “Keep a lookout” 

in case their cat finally lands at the shelter 3 months, 6 months, 10 months later.

All they need to do is glance at the images to stay involved.


PLUS...This is also a prime opportunity to include a COUPON for a

”Free microchip once your cat is found!”


This way the owner has motivation to let you know their cat was found!

NOW you can:

Update your data.

boost your cat RTO …

And another cat gets microchipped.


So there it is.
Three steps.

And nothing new for staff to do.


Now let’s talk about non-stray intake

The owner surrenders.


The key here is APPOINTMENTS combined with COUNSELING.


(learned this from Patty back in Manchaca days at  Austin Pets Alive.


An Appointment Period gives time to observe the cat’s behavior issue in home –and solve it. 

(Like the Jackson Galaxy method)


Solve the Behavior = Cat stays in Home!


As a side bonus: use those in-home visits as a chance to microchip the cat.



Because as we know, c

Chips are cheap insurance.


If you can find a way-or get a grant- 

offer FREE microchipping for CATS.


Make it easy for the owners. 

It could be a drive-thru like   did or better yet –IN HOME.

In the home is ideal because

 it addresses 3 of the 4 reasons owners don’t chip. 




Field services can also do a lot to prevent intake. 

Although there are more focused presentations coming on this,

 Here’s  a sample procedure.


In addition to chip scanners for field services, 

putting them in Fire Stations has proven to be an excellent alternative 

Especially when vets, shelters and PetSmart’s are closed. 


Anyone here doing SNR? … Return to field?

Then you probably already know 

HEALTHY cats have a 65% BETTER CHANCE getting home if LEFT WHERE THEY ARE

And obviously, 65% is WAY BETTER than 3%


Additional suggestions for feline shelter programs and events:


“Every cat we touch gets a chip”

  • Plan a cat-only microchip event or in-home program
  • Register during adoption
  • Create a central cat coalition group 
  • share info on all lost, found, incoming cats.
  • Each org reviews /adds daily.
  • Enlist shelter volunteers to monitor "Lost and Found cats" online and make matches.
  • Offer a trap & camera Rental program w a deposit system 



We hope you’ve gleaned some useful ideas today you can take back to your shelter and implement for the good of the cats in your community.


 If you use my lost cat tips --or quote them online --all I ask is that you Link a Credit to this page or to www. 


It's always best to allow each owner formulate athestrategy that's right for their cat and situation rather than quote tips and bits out of context.


Share a link to this page and this way, we can all work together to keep cats out of shelters while getting the lost ones back home.


Whether you call it RTO for RETURN TO OWNER or RTH for RETURN TO HOME, it's  all about reuniting HAPPY CATS with their LOVING  OWNERS.

Here's Nomu (and Krystal) after 10 months of searching. He was found at an airport miles from home.

They had consulted at least 3 animal communicators who had pinned him all over the map except where he was.

Now I have heard of animal communicators who have had success with lost cats but I also know they’ve downloaded my lost cat kit which may account for some of that.


Contact me via to write me or share with others.

Meanwhile, a quick salute to Maddies Fund for sponsoring this RTH Day and the generous grants they offer.

I want to be a useful resource to make real changes in cat’s lives.

Try some of these techniques and help your shelter improve their RTH for cats.


At the current Feline RTO number of 3% ....there’s no where to go but up!

Kimberley Freeman


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