Lost Pet Behavior
The following information is excerpted from the article "Lost Pet Behavior: How to Provide Recovery Tips that Save Lives", published in the Summer 2005 issue of PAWS TO THINK. Permission to reprint this article was given by the author, Kathy "Kat" Albrecht.
Missing Pet Partnership provides the following tips for successfully locating a missing pet. The methods that should be used to search for a lost dog, an outdoor-access cat that has vanished from its territory, and an indoor-only cat that has escaped outside are entirely different. Dogs travel and are picked up by rescuers who determine their fate. Understanding human and animal behaviors will increase the likelihood that lost pets will be found. Here's what we know so far:
Lost Cat Behavior
Cats are territorial. When an outdoor cat suddenly vanishes, it means that something has happened to the cat to interrupt its normal behavior of returning home. The cat could be injured, trapped, chased from its territory, or transported by a human. When this happens, the temperament of the cat will influence how it behaves.
The territory for an indoor-only cat is the inside of the home. When an indoor-only cat escapes outdoors, it is "displaced" into unfamiliar territory. Usually they will look for the first place to hide in silence as protection from predators. Using baited humane traps is highly effective for recovering displaced, panicked cats that are hiding.
Temperaments that Influence Distance Traveled:
- Curious / gregarious cats get into trouble easily, run to greet strangers, and are not easily frightened. When displaced, they may initially hide but then will likely TRAVEL. Strategy for recovery should be florescent posters within at least a 5 block radius and a thorough search if possible hiding places near the escape point. Do not assume the cat will come when you call.
- Care-less or aloof cats don't seem to care much about people. When displaced they will likely initially hide, but will eventually come back to the door, meow, or possibly travel. Strategy for recovery should include thorough search of possible hiding places and baited humane traps.
- Cautions cats are generally shy and hide from strangers. When displaced, they will hide in fear. If not frightened from their hiding place they will typically return to the escape point or will meow when the owner comes to look for them. This behavior is typical within the first 2 days or not until 7 - 10 days when they are hungry or thirsty. Strategy would be to conduct a tightly focused search in neighbors' yards and baited humane traps.
- Fearful or xenophobic cats are afraid of everything that is unfamiliar. When displaced, they bolt and hide in silence becoming almost immobilized with fear. If found by someone other than the owner, they may be mistaken for a feral cat. Strategy would be baited humane traps.
The primary technique to recover a missing cat should be to obtain permission from all neighbors to enter their yards and conduct an aggressive search for the missing cat and to set humane traps when necessary. Simply asking a neighbor to look for the lost cat is not sufficient! Neighbors are not going to crawl around on their bellies under their decks or houses to search for someone else's cat.
Lost Dog Behavior
Dogs are more difficult to recover than lost cats because they travel farther and are picked up by rescuers who determine their fate. There are six major factors that influence the distances that lost dogs travel: Temperament, Circumstances, Weather, Terrain, Appearance, and Population Density.
Temperament of the dog
- Gregarious dogs are friendly with everyone and more inclined to go directly up to the first person who calls them. They will generally be found fairly close to home or will be picked up by someone close to the escape point. They are often "adopted" by individuals who find them.
- Aloof dogs are wary of strangers and will initially avoid human contact until they overcome their fear or become hungry enough. While these dogs can travel a great distance, aloof dogs eventually can be enticed with food and patience. They are often recovered by an experienced rescue group volunteers and their wariness can be misinterpreted as "abused."
- Fearful / Xenophobic dogs are afraid of anything unfamiliar and are more inclined to travel farther and are at higher risk of being hit by cars. It may be necessary to use other dogs or baited humane traps to capture these dogs.
Circumstances surrounding the disappearance
- Weather: A dog that escapes on a beautiful day will travel farther than one that escapes in a snow storm.
- Terrain: A dog that escapes in a residential area will not travel as far as a dog that escapes in a rural area.
- Appearance: Small dogs and breeds known to be friendly are much more likely to be picked up quickly by a rescuer.
- Population Density: When dogs escape into areas with high numbers of people, their chances of being found close to the escape point are increased.
Guardians often behave in ways that inhibit their chances of recovering their lost pets. Some develop a "wait and see" attitude and by the time they start looking, the first vital hours to locate their pet or a witness who saw their pet are gone. Others focus on wrong theories or quickly give up the search because they believe they will never see their pet again.
People who find stray dogs with skittish temperaments often misinterpret the dog's behavior as a sign of abuse. Dogs found in rural areas are often assumed to be "dumped" and dogs found without collars are assumed to be "homeless." Therefore the rescuer works to place the dog instead of looking for its owner. In addition, the first place where the owner of a lost dog will search for their dog - the local shelter - is typically the last place that someone who finds a loose dog will take it (due to the fear of euthanasia)!
A Final Word
Missing Pet Partnership's website (www.lostapet.org) lists lost pet recovery tips based on the analysis of lost pet behavior.
Kathy "Kat" Albrecht is a former police detective-turned-pet detective and author of "THE LOST PET CHRONICLES: ADVENTURES OF A K-9 COP TURNED PET DETECTIVE." Kat is the founder of Missing Pet Partnership and is the CEO of Pet Hunters International (www.pethunters.com) the first ever pet detective academy that trains and certifies technicians and search dogs to track lost pets.