However, humanely trapping a cat becomes a major challenge when you have several outdoor-access cats in the immediate area. It is also difficult when you deal with a cat that is hesitant to go into a humane trap, especially if they’ve been caught in a trap before. Those were the two challenges I faced when I was asked to help my blind neighbor Georgina recover her missing cat Buddy in Federal Way, WA. Here’s a diary of my challenges and what I learned through the process of bringing Buddy back home.
Day 1 – Monday November 30th
My neighbor Caroline stopped by to tell me that my neighbor Georgina had lost her indoor-only cat. Buddy, a neutered longhaired white male cat, was missing. Although no one saw it happen, they believed that Buddy must have escaped outside when a door was left ajar by a visitor. Because of a previous commitment, I was only able to conduct a quick search around the outside of the house (with my 2 million candlepower spotlight). I did not find Buddy but told Georgina that I’d be back the next day.
Day 2 – Tuesday December 1
When I arrived the next evening, Georgina told me that her granddaughter saw Buddy hiding under the front porch. But Buddy bolted and was no longer under the deck by the time I got there. I went ahead and set two baited humane traps: one right next to the front porch and one in the backyard next to a large deck. In addition, I set up two motion activated digital wildlife cameras to observe any hungry cat activity around the traps.
Day 3 – Wednesday December 2nd
I returned the next morning and reviewed the photos. During the night, we had caught a neighbor’s cat in the trap but not Buddy. I did manage to capture Buddy on camera and confirmed that he was still in the area. At 5:01 a.m. he had huddled in the area of the trap, but he did not enter it. I figured he probably wasn’t hungry enough. I returned that evening and set two traps in the front yard – one by the front porch and one under a bedroom window.
Buddy is captured…on camera!
Day 4 – Thursday December 3rd
The next morning I learned that once again, we had trapped another neighbor’s cat but not Buddy. I suggested that the family talk to their neighbor’s and ask them to keep their outdoor cats indoors but that didn’t go over well. I pulled the cameras and reviewed the photographs. We had captured Buddy on camera four different times in the area of the trap. I then found out that Georgina’s granddaughter saw Buddy but he bolted and ran three houses down. She talked to that home owner and asked permission to search her yard but the neighbor refused. While this was discouraging, it was encouraging knowing that Buddy was continuing to come back to his home.
Day 5 – Friday December 4th
The next morning I learned that once again we’d trapped a neighbor’s cat and not Buddy. I decided to reduce our traps down to just one trap by the front porch. I explained that the family needed to be diligent to release any wrong cats immediately and restock it with warm food to entice Buddy into the trap. Sadly, the relatives who were supposed to help me (by baiting the trap again) didn’t follow through. On a few occasions I found the trap set but no bait inside. I knew that I’d never catch Buddy without their cooperation. To make matters worse, I reviewed the photographs and was dismayed. At 12:43 a.m. Buddy walked straight towards the open trap (which I’m not 100% convinced had bait inside of it). However, Buddy did NOT enter the trap. Instead, he proceeded to sit down right next to it and look directly at my camera as if to mock me!
He may as well have stuck his raspy little tongue out at me! It became abundantly clear that I needed to change tactics. No more humane traps for Buddy. I was ready to pull out the big guns! GAME ON, BUDDY!
Day 6 – Saturday December 5th
I realized that I need to switch to using a “drop trap.” A drop trap is a large net device that is propped up by a stick attached to a very long string. A bait station is placed underneath the propped up trap. When a cat comes under the trap to eat the food, the trapper yanks on the string which pulls the stick out and drops the trap. The cat is then caught in the net. Drop traps remind me of the Wiley Coyote vs. Road Runner cartoons with the ACME box propped up with a stick. In this case, I was the cleaver Road Runner!
Drop traps are great for hard to catch cats like Buddy who refuse to go into a humane trap. But the problem with drop traps is that they are surveillance based. That meant that this technique would require my sitting outside, perhaps for a few frigid hours, as I waited for Buddy to go under the trap.
For that first night, I did not plan to conduct surveillance. Instead, I propped the drop trap on top of two buckets so that it could not possibly fall. I warmed up 3 cans of salmon cat food and piled 3 cups of dry cat food onto a white piece of cardboard. The plan was to encourage every cat in the area (including Buddy) to come and fill their bellies by going under the propped up drop trap. I set the wildlife camera up so I’d know whether Buddy went under the trap and how often.
Day 7 – Sunday December 6th
On this day I picked up my camera early in the morning and saw that the pile of wet cat food was all gone. I looked at the photos and discovered there were a total of six different cats, including Buddy, who feasted under the trap. Buddy was caught on camera at 9:44 p.m., 10:32 p.m., 11:11 p.m., 12:25 a.m., 2:21 a.m., 3:09 a.m., 3:50 a.m., and 4:05 a.m. The photographs were evidence that Buddy was very comfortable with going underneath the drop trap. I was hoping this would make for a quick capture since the temperatures were supposed to drop into the low 20’s.
Buddy is under the trap…almost safely home!
I returned at 6:45 p.m. and set the drop trap. This time I propped it up with the wooden stick and attached the long string that ran from the trap-stick-thingy all the way through the driver’s side window (cracked open) of my SUV parked in front of Georgina’s house. It was freezing and I didn’t want to run my engine and scare Buddy, so I was thankful that I wore warm clothing. Ten minutes after setting up, a car alarm went off a few houses down. It blared for nearly an hour. I was so frustrated that I almost gave up. There was no way that Buddy would come out as long as the alarm was going off! But I waited it out and at about 7:50 p.m., the alarm stopped. I decided to sit and wait a little longer.
I kid you not, right when I was about to open my door and give up for the night, I looked over my shoulder to see Buddy meandering up to the trap! It was 8:06 p.m. and it all happened so fast. Buddy slipped under the trap and started feasting, I yanked on the string, the stick flew, the trap fell, and Buddy jumped around like a wild animal! I leapt from my SUV and got to Buddy before he could work his way out of the trap by his flailing around. After a very difficult struggle (hissing, spitting, growling, biting…this was Buddy doing this, not me) I was able to get Buddy safely into his home. Georgina was so relieved and I was relieved that I was successful in outsmarting one very smart cat!
If I had not stepped in to help capture Buddy, I have no doubt that Georgina would’ve eventually given up. Buddy would’ve likely been absorbed into the stray/feral cat population, which is what happens to so many lost cats that are never found. Some end up living in feral cat colonies, many others end up in animal shelters long after their owners have stopped searching for them. The help that I offered to Georgina is the same type of help that I now train volunteer and professional pet detectives to do. Catching a cat is not rocket science, but it does require training. For more information on how you can be trained to be a volunteer or professional pet detective, visit Missing Pet Partnership’s training page.
Kat Albrecht is a police detective-turned-pet detective and the founder of Missing Pet Partnership, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to reuniting lost pets with their families. Since 1997, Kat has worked search dogs trained to find lost pets. In 2005, Kat launched the first-ever pet detective academy. She is widely known as the leading authority on pet detective services. Kat and her search dogs have appeared on Animal Planet and articles about her work have appeared in People, Reader’s Digest, and Parade. Kat is the author of two books: The Lost Pet Chronicles andDog Detectives. You can learn more about Kat’s training programs at www.katalbrecht.com.