I’ve run across some really sad cases of guardians who lost their feline companions and did not know what steps to take to recover them. Here are some basic guidelines that were originally published in my book 250 Things You Can Do to Make Your Cat Adore You. These steps should also work for most other types of animal companions.
The following are the basic rules:
1. No matter what your commitments may be at work, they can wait. The material world isn’t as important as your cat’s life. Recruit relatives to look after the kids. Tear up your dance card, postpone your wedding. Take emergency leave. Do whatever it takes to free yourself up.
2. Beg, borrow, steal, or charge an answering machine so that the number you are about to plaster up everywhere is always answered.
No matter who else you are expecting to hear from, no one is more important than the person who has found your cat or has a lead to his whereabouts. Record a new phone message along these lines: “Please, don’t hang up if you have information about my missing cat. I must speak to you. If you can leave your name and number, please do so, twice, speaking very clearly, at the sound of the tone. If you do not have a number, this phone should be answered by a live person between x and y today, or you can reach (someone else you absolutely trust) at (another number you are absolutely sure of). Your call is vital to me. If I do not call you back, it means your number didn’t record clearly. Please let me talk to you. Thank you.”
3. Find out which humane societies and animal control agencies exist in your area. Don’t assume there are only one or two. Ask each place you call, “Where else should I check?” then ask again and ask every time you call. Different people give you different leads. Check yellow pages; ask veterinary hospital receptionists; call pet shops; and ask the sheriff’s office dispatch clerk.
4. Visit each shelter every day no matter how often they assure you that they will call you if kitty shows up. Lots of called-in and turned-in animals go unrecognized or ignored in busy shelters.
Ask to see the Lost and Found book. Be pleasant but persistent. You need these people, but-very quietly, in your own head-assume they are, at worst, incompetent or, at best, too busy to be relied upon. I love most shelter workers, and if your cat’s life is on the line, you will need help from them; but saving your cat’s life means never relying completely on anyone other than yourself.
5. Make clear copies of the best photo of your cat you can find (try a one-hour processing place or use a copy machine if you have to). Ask that a copy be glued or taped into the Lost Book in every shelter and put one on every bulletin board.
6. Call all local papers and run an ad. Say only, “Lost. Cat. (Whatever) color. Reward. Phone Number.” Don’t mention kitty’s gender or breed (if any), haircoat length, or other confusing details. Most people couldn’t sex an elephant accurately … If necessary, keep running the ad until the paper goes out of business. Check the Lost and the Found ads in it daily. People at newspapers sometimes mix the ads up.
7. Don’t chintz on the reward. How much could you rustle up for emergency surgery if you needed to or if your roof sprung a leak? You are not tipping a waiter, you are trying to lure people who otherwise would not give a hoot into finding your irreplaceable angel. Cough up.
8. Try to get local radio and television stations to run an announcement for you. If there is something catchy about your cat that might engage their interest, mention it.
9. Strip-search the neighborhood:
a. Talk to mail carriers, delivery people, and folks you haven’t uttered a word to, or wanted to, in years.
b. Bribe children; they hear and see more than adults.
c. Use a flashlight to peer into gullies and drains, parked cars, and toolsheds.
d. Go out at night and call your cat’s name when all is quiet. Listen carefully for the faint “meow” of a cat stuck backward down a standpipe.
10. Salvage or buy some giant pieces of plywood. Spray paint your simple, standard message on them:
RELIABLE PHONE NUMBER
11. Put flyers in vets’ offices in case your cat has been injured or taken ill. Drop them into storm doors in the area, and put posters on telephone poles. Cover a Large Radius. Many cats are found one to two miles away.
12. Call a pet-locating service for advice. Petfinders, Inc. has been in the business for twenty-one years and can be reached at 800-223-4747. Locating services will also register animals and send their information to shelters for you.
13. Post a notice on the World Wide Web. This is not to say you should hold out any great hopes, but never leave a stone unturned.
14. You have the legal right to visit laboratories and dealers to look for your friend. Contact them quickly!
15. Follow any and all leads and do anything anyone suggests. Light a candle for Saint Jude if you feel like it. Who knows what will bring kitty home?
Most important, never, ever give up, and look everywhere.