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Lost cats are generally quite close by their home, either shut in somewhere, injured, or frightened and disoriented. It is imperative when a cat turns up missing to begin an aggressive search immediately. Your cat's life could depend on it.

Look first in your immediate area. Check the house carefully. Listen for sounds of distress (cats explore wierd spaces and can be fatally attracted to vertical spaces -- look behind the water heater, for example). If there have been changes lately, with nifty places to explore created, look there. Don't forget to look in your own backyard in case the cat has been injured.

Then go door-to-door, taking a pad and pen with you to write down your name and number. Ask your neighbors to look and listen for a cat in their area. Ask them to check their garage or other outbuildings, look in their trees, check their basement. Leave your name/phone and a description and name of the cat. Tell them you may be back with a photo/flyer later. Ask if you might enter their property to look yourself (the cat might be too frightened to respond to a stranger).

Check the streets and alleys. An injured animal may not be able to get home or may choose to withdraw into a quiet place. The sooner the cat can be gotten to emergency care the better its chances of survival.

Ask neighborhood kids if they have seen anything. Give them your name and number. Kids can be a great source of neighborhood goings-on.

Try to think like a cat, your cat specifically. Look around and try to imagine what might have happened that would help you look in the right places.

Now make those posters to put up around the neighborhood and take back to those neighbors you have already contacted. Leave posters at vet clinics, animal control, and all over the neighborhood. When putting up your posters don't forget to check for a "found cat" poster -- it could be yours. At the vet's ask if an injured cat was brought in as a "stray" and ask for a description. Vets will stabilize injured cats before they are taken into the animal shelter.

If you offer a reward, beware the hostage-taker or bogus calls. (I met a couple whose bulldog pup was held hostage for $100 when they had offered $50 reward; they paid out of fear for the pup's life.)

Place a "lost cat" ad, in case someone has picked it up as homeless. And don't forget to read the "found" ads daily. Check the neighborhood paper as well as the city-wide one.

Check Animal Control frequently (every other day or at least every third day) and be prepared to go down and look at the animals in the kennels; I have heard cases of the lost animal being in the shelter but not reported to the owner (by error, not design). If the cat had i.d., this part of the task is made easier, but if the i.d. was on a collar, don't count on it; the collar could have been lost or even removed.

Don't give up. Keep looking in those same old spots, calling and listening. Try new spots; enlarge your search-area to the next block or the next after that. Don't be embarrassed and try not to let yourself become paralyzed with anxiety (I know the feeling).

Last word of advice is DON'T GIVE UP THE SEARCH TOO SOON. Don't give up as soon as the cat fails to return home or after only a few days and don't just wait for the cat to come back or not. Keep looking and keep checking.

Sharon Talbert Friends of Campus Cats

Reprinted with permission

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