Dana Stibolt

I used a combination of Harry Potter and Tim Ferris to find my lost cat, who had been missing for 12 days.

I used a combination of Harry Potter and Tim Ferris to find my lost cat, who had been missing for 12 days.

First of all, if your cat is missing, my heart goes out to you. This is the worst feeling in the world.

My inside-only cat escaped when house guests stayed with me, and a door was accidentally left open.

So, my first piece of advice is that if you ever have guests staying over, you need a plan in advance to ensure your skittish cat is protected and safe. One item I’ve seen is a roller window shade thing that goes across your door so your cat can’t sneak out when you open the door for a delivery. I don’t think this would have helped me in my situation, but for a guy who does not see well, this will be in my back pocket if I ever have a kitty cat again. Another strategy is the “cat lock” (think airlock)! Use the garage to have your house guests come and go. This is not fail-safe, but having two doors makes it less likely that your cat can sneak out.

  1. Exit the house via the garage. Maybe having that cat trap slider thing on the door to the garage would be a good plan, too!
  2. Stay in the garage for a minute to ensure the cat did not sneak out with you.
  3. Exit the garage via the garage door or a side door.

So, how did Time Ferris play a part? In his book The 4-Hour Work Week, he detailed how to test Google ads. He suggested that you try different ads to test the waters to see which ad performed best. This “text tweaking” (my term) is a way to try different versions of an ad. I’ve used this technique many times, and I used it to find my lost cat.

I started with a template from Apple’s Pages for a lost pet. You’ve seen them before, and I rushed to get it done I did not have a great picture of my cat on the poster, but I wanted to get signs out ASAP. Over the next couple of days I revised the sign with new information about possible sighting locations and added better pictures as well. See more about photos and my advice below. I started posting the signs around my neighborhood, and I had a sign up at all of the exits to the neighborhood the very first day I knew she was really missing (see more about that below as well).

I was not going to sit back and see what the signs would do. I also posted to my community’s Facebook page. I printed out my first copy of the sign, and I put it on all of my neighbor’s mailboxes, starting with my street and also nearby. In the flyer I also apologized for cluttering up their mailbox. Nobody gave me a hard time about leaving a flyer on their mailbox.

I continued to post more signs and put flyers on mailboxes, which I kept updating with better photos and new information. Early on, I got a lead that she had been seen crossing the road near a school not too far from my home. I spent a lot of time checking the school area and posting new signs in that area, and I also added new flyers to the mailboxes of homes in that area. Plus, because I was in the area often checking, I was able to connect with some neighbors who also reported seeing her. I found her after getting a Facebook message from a person who lived within a block of where she had been spotted (my first lead) and also near the home of the neighbors, I met while walking the area with my flashlight. The funny thing was that even though I put a flyer in that person’s mailbox and I had many signs in the area, she had heard a rumor about a cat missing from another neighbor and recalled seeing a post on Facebook. So she went back to Facebook to find my post to contact me.

What about Harry Potter? Well, if you are a Harry Potter fan, you know that the pictures and paintings on the walls of Hogwarts “move.” Same with the photos in the Daily Prophet. So, I sort of stumbled into this, but please steal this idea, as I think it works! We’ve all seen the posters for a lost pet taped to a light pole or a signpost. You see them once and then don’t look at them again. Why? Because they don’t move. I used heavy-duty vinyl page protectors with a hole punched in the top center. I would put my sign in using backing tape to seal it in to make it watertight; then, I used a heavy-duty zip tie to attach it to all the stop signs and many No Parking signs. I heard from so many people who saw my signs as they “moved,” I also changed them with new info regularly and added new photos.

Things I learned when my cat went missing:

  1. You need to take mugshot photos of your pet. I have many pictures of my cat, but when a neighbor sent me an image from a grainy security camera, I was like, wow, that’s my cat. This is why you need left side, right side, back, and face photos. People who have cameras up are to watch for people, not pets, so that a cat will be 5-6 feet further away from the trading camera target zone. On most cameras, people will see your pet from the top. My cat was a multi-color cat, so it would be hard to ID a cat of a solid color.
  2. If you are having guests, ensure your cat has a safe space to get away and hide. I spent an entire day trying to figure out if my cat was hiding or if she had gotten out of the house. Maybe she would have felt safer if I had set up a place for her.
  3. If you have an inside cat, setting up cameras that watch all the doors would have saved me a tremendous amount of time, as I did not know if the cat had gotten away. I highly recommend the Amazon Blink cameras.
  4. Once you find your lost pet, be sure to take all of your signs down and delete your Facebook posts. Lots of neighbors had commented on my original post, so once my cat was found, I posted a message thanking the community for their help and assistance in finding my cat. I then deleted the post 24 hours later.
  5. I hired dog trackers and heard good things, but maybe I waited too long for them to visit. They were friendly, and nothing the dog did seemed to lead to any clues about my cat. The dog focused on some elements that were not in the direction that my cat went, and it was a waste for me. It cost about $200.
  6. I had put her litter box outside, as many people suggested. The dog tracking lady said this was a bad idea as it would attract other cats, making the dog’s job harder.
  7. I also had taken plastic storage bins set up on their side and put a towel and dirty clothes in them to try to give my cat a scent to find her way home.
  8. I set up two cat traps, caught the next-door neighbor’s cat twice, and caught a raccoon twice.
  9. I purchased three battery-powered trail cameras in the wooded area behind my house: no cat sightings but many foxes and raccoons.
  10. I added extra Blink cameras in the woods behind my house. These were at the edge of my WiFi range, but they did pick up a lot of wildlife, but no help finding my kitty cat.
  11. I noticed my neighbor’s cat taking a genuine interest in an 8” drainpipe in the area, so I set up a trail camera there to see if my cat might have been living in that pipe.
  12. Another neighbor has an old canoe covered with a trap in the woods behind their house. I kept an eye on that.
  13. I checked the sheds and the garages of all neighbors in the vicinity. I also knocked on the doors of folks who were further away to ask if I could check their property and covered grills and patio furniture.
  14. One neighbor had a POD moving and storage container; I checked that, too.
  15. The dog tracking lady told me that I should use marshmallows to keep raccoons and foxes away from my property. This worked! I threw marshmallows in the woods, and my trail cameras got a shot of a racoon heading away from my area with a marshmallow in its mouth.
  16. Someone told me to put food in her metal food bowl and shake it at dinner time outside and call for her. While this did not yield results, I was able to lure her out from under the porch she was hiding under. I was flat on my stomach, watching her while my girlfriend shook the food bowl. Every time she shook it, the cat came a little closer. Once she popped out from under the porch, my girlfriend was able to grab her.
  17. While she was missing, I would set my alarm for midnight, 2:00 AM, and 4:00 AM to scan the area with my flashlight. If you have a pet, invest in a good flashlight!
  18. Buy an AirTag for your pet. I got one for my cat after I found her.

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