Use these tips, templates, and resources to help lost cats everywhere.
Lost Cat Psychology Webinar for Maddie's Fund with Kim The Cat Detective
To find a lost cat, you need to understand what they're going though and how they see the world. Learn to think like a cat to find your lost cat.
The "Lost Cat Kit" is an ideal Resource shelters can add to their "Lost & Found Pets" page.
Anyone part of a cat rescue group, shelter, or Facebook group for lost cats can sign up for the auto donations here.
*sponsored by Maddie Fund and the Community Cats Podcast with PetCoLove for the online Return to Home day for cats.
TOPIC: How shelters can increase RTO - RTH (Return to Home) Rates for cats.
Maddie's Fund "Understanding Lost Cat Psychology" keeping lost cats out of shelters.
Free template Lost Cat poster and flyer for download
This Lost Cat poster and flyer template is better than the old REWARD posters as a specific call to action will let you quickly or rule out sightings and avoid having people chasing your cat.
Click on the lost cat flyer image to download it as a 2-page
The first page of the template is to show an example: Use Page 2 to add your custom image and # phone number. Keep the text short and sweet so people will actually read it.
NOTE the $50 is ONLY for a CONFIRMED photo of YOUR cat.
Boost Cat Return to owner RTH rates for shelters
Whether you work with a shelter or not, you're probably all well-aware of the low return to home rate for cats.
This session will explore the correlation between lost cats and RTH numbers then give you ways to help with both.
Before we start…is anyone here part of the Maddies RTH challenge this year? I think this year they’re giving out 300 thousand dollars in Grants…
Implementing these methods 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 me 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.
Before Specialising in lost cats
I worked with PASS in Austin to solve Cat behavior in-Home.
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 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 Mister Purr is what inspired me to go FULL TIME into helping others.
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.
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.
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 chipped 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
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
And they are really good at it. Masters at HIDE AND EVADE.
Reason # 4 ---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.
You can see here one of the many reasons we advise AGAINST putting out kitty litter or anything that smells like the cat.
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…
LOST CAT PSYCHOLOGY
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.
o A stressed cat goes into a survival mode
o nothing matters but their safety
o 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.
o Studies show …cats can't tell humans apart very well --especially outdoors.
o While we can see up to 200 feet… cats can’t make out detail more than about 20 feet in front of them.
o And a stressed cat is not going to let anything get that close.
o All they know is ...SOMETHING BIG IS COMING.
o 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 example of this…
She was lost
early January… in coyote country.
Owner assumed the worst …and gave up by FEBUARY
I found her skinny and matted ten months later.
So after nearly a year lost –with zero sightings –she 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…
1. FIRST, the cat is lost.
2. Owner tries the usual advice, but nothing is working.
3. Around 2 weeks, they assume the worst and give up.
4. After 3 weeks the cat gets hungry & desperate enough to emerge
5. 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.
…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 put up posters.
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
o weather and
o 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
can do more harm than good.
So the moral of these cases?
Each cat requires special techniques
It’s more than just putting out
After years of cases like these, I got some advice.
A lot of you may know 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.
It’s a SHOW AND TELL
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.
Which bait is best?
Trap covered? Or uncovered?
Let’s pause here a minute to show you a video.
You know 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’sbeen 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
get vRecurring Donations.
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:
o A front FACE close-up
o and a full body side-view .
This is ideal for the
Auto alert emails
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.
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.
This is also a prime opportunity to include a COUPON
”Free microchip once your cat is found!”
This way the owner has motivation to let you know their cat was found
So you can:
boost RTO …
plus gets another cat chipped.
So there it is.
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 programs and events:
“Every cat we touch gets a chip”
o Plan a cat-only microchip event or in-home program
o Register during adoption
Create a central cat coalition group
o share info on all lost, found, incoming cats.
o Each org reviews /adds daily.
o Enlist volunteers to monitor online and make matches.
Offer a trap & camera loan or Rental program w a deposit system
Here’s Recap Before the Door… and in-Shelter protocols.
We hope you’ve gleaned some useful ideas today you can take back and implement.
If you do use my lost cat tips --or quote them online, all I ask is that you Link a Credit to LOSTCATFINDER.com
it’s better to let owner formulate a strategy with complete resources than to quote tips and bits out of context.
That way, we can all work together to keep cats out of shelters and get the lost ones back home.
It’s all about reuniting
BTW: this is 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.
Here’s my website www.LostCAtFinder.com and email so you can write me or share the link with others.
And a quick salute and purrs to Maddies Fund for sponsoring this RTH Day and the generous grants they’re offering.
But beyond Maddies Fund deadline, I want this stuff to be useful and be a recourse 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 3% level …there’s no where to go but UP!
ASSESS physical condition/collar tags
• Confer with Dispatch lost & found reports
• Photograph cat (face front & full body side view)
• Create an ID number
ENLIST DISPATCH to post on
• shelter's public website
• shelter’s lost & found Facebook page
• PETCO LostLove page
CHECK & NOTIFY
• Found Cat Notice at site
• LOST CAT FOUND CAT Door hangers