Last week, we lost our kitten. Because I cannot bear causing you worry, gentle reader, I am going to break a key storytelling rule - one that Nabokov broke, so I am in good company - and tell you right at the beginning that Clara Bow was found the next day and that she is safe and sound and back to waging an endlessly-amusing-to-her battle against our other cat’s tail. From when we noticed that she wasn’t around at approximately 9:00 Wednesday night until 12:30 Thursday afternoon when I received the breathlessly relieved message from my husband, though, I had every dark thought my apparently twisted mind could conjure about what could have happened to our five-month-old kitten: she was in a couch that we’d thoughtlessly flopped on; she was drowned at the bottom of a sink where that night’s dishes were soaking; she was trapped in a wall or a pipe and she wasn’t able to get out. And territorial rats were chasing her, though I am pretty sure that we don’t have any, but they were after her. Or, if Clara had gotten out of the house, my worries were even more catastrophic because that is a vast realm and it is outside of my control: she was in the dark outdoors, darting between cars, chased by sadistic kids; she was being attacked by a rabid opossum; she was carried off by a hawk. Every couch cushion I overturned, every parked car I peered under, I did with great trepidation, terrified of what I might find but unable to not check. There is a quote from the late Dr. Wayne Dyer that I kept returning to as I grew ever more frantic: “When you squeeze an orange, you'll always get orange juice to come out. What comes out is what's inside. The same logic applies to you: when someone squeezes you, puts pressure on you, or says something unflattering or critical, and out of you comes anger, hatred, bitterness, tension, depression, or anxiety, that is what's inside.” Apparently when my orange is being squeezed, I turn into the reincarnation of Edward Gorey.
At about 1:30 in the morning when she was missing, after hours of fruitlessly shaking her treats and calling her name in our back yard – and watching my husband’s flashlight wobble around outside like a feverish Fox Mulder – I posted about Clara being missing on Facebook. I was desperately looking for comfort, for reassurance, and support. I got that, heaps of it, from people who really should have been asleep. What I didn’t expect, though, was the profusion of excellent guidance for locating a missing kitty. I should have expected it, though, as most of my friends are “animal people” who have a great deal more experience with tracking down vanished felines than I do. A couple of things that I learned from all this: never underestimate how many strange and creative places there are for a cat (and especially a small kitten) to disappear into. Oh, and that cats really, really like box springs, apparently. Between tears, I read stories of long separations and reunions that gave me goose bumps, of improbable “hidey-holes” and cats who have seemingly found portals to disappear into in two-bedroom apartments (Look in the box springs, my cat detective coaches would advise). I also heard stories of heartbreaking loss.
After sleeping two hours that night, I woke up bleary-eyed and desperate and sobbing from a fragment of dream; Clara still hadn’t materialized. I found myself regretting every time I didn’t kiss her when I could have, when I was annoyed by her picture frames off our shelves, when I reprimanded her for attacking Skylar’s tail yet again. (She really has a thing about that.) What kind of monster was I? Still, there were more messages, texts, comments, prayers, words of reassurance and wisdom. Later that morning, I had a commitment I nearly cancelled but I had unintentionally missed the week before and I didn’t want to do it again. I was reluctant about leaving the house but something told me that she wouldn’t be found when I was home and that I would be getting a text from my husband when I was out. Even though my gut told me this, I thought that maybe I was misleading myself out of desperate hope. I reluctantly left, making sure to check under the car first, of course.
About 1½ hours later, I got a text from my husband: Found her!!! She’s happy and safe and crawling all over me! He’d tried to call but I didn’t hear the phone. I re-read the message five times to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me, burst into grateful tears and called him as soon as I could. It turned out that John was trying to get some work done but he just couldn’t get his mind off Clara Bow. Something made him look back over the thread on my Facebook page to see if there was a tip that he’d missed when he saw this, posted by my friend Linda*, “One of our indoor cats got out once, and we looked in the yard, the woods, the neighbors' yards, etc. only to find him smashed up against the front of the house.” John realized that there was one part of the outside of the house he hadn’t explored and he went to look. He moved some discarded wood trim from our porch renovation that are piled against our house and peered inside. He saw a small dark mass inside that he thought was dirt but, shining his flashlight at it (even in the middle of a sunny day, it was dark), suddenly the mass blinked at him: those were eyes. It was Clara Bow, huddled in a ball. She must have darted out the night before when he was taking the dog out on a walk. He moved the pieces of wood and she came out toward him, tentative and stiff at first after a night in the cold, and then he picked her up. She nestled against him and kissed his hand. By the time I got home a short time later, she was running around the house like there had been no interruption. Holding her warm little purring body, the one I was so desperate to see just an hour before, I was deliriously, wildly happy and relieved, my grateful tears on her soft fur.
My community is like family to me, family that – in many cases – I’ve not met and may never meet but I still love. People who I’ve never met were praying for us, kept awake worrying about Clara, searching their minds for more helpful words of advice, texting me support and so on. That is real family to me. I am so grateful to everyone who cared and helped. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve compiled the various and assorted bits of advice and helpful quotes that I was given for finding Clara Bow. Any number of these could have been the magic ticket to finding her. If you have found this while you are in your most frightened state in trying to find a lost kitty, I hope that this list helps you as it did me. Please know that I am sending my best to you and reach out: may you get the guidance that you need to be reunited.
These recommendations range from the obvious to the outright bizarre. What can I say? Cats are mysterious creatures.
Tips for finding a missing cat or kitten
* Shake a cat treat container while calling her name.
* Run an electric can opener or open a can your usual way. Just do whatever your cat associates with food. Do it in several different rooms to increase the likelihood of the kitty hearing.
* Look inside couches, underneath chairs, couches, inside mattress linings, under and inside pillows. With even a tiny tear, cats can wedge their way into these spaces. If your kitty is missing, especially if he’s very small, be mindful to check box springs before sitting down.
* Put wet food in multiple areas inside the house.
* Look in clothes hampers or laundry baskets. If it has a lid and it’s shut, look inside, too.
* Look in all cabinets, cupboards, drawers, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms. One cat was found hiding behind a partially open drawer. Check the top of cabinets as well.
* Check under or behind a stove: You may have to pull the stove out to look. Also, look in and around the dishwasher.
* Look inside the washer and dryer – and the hose – as well as underneath and behind.
“I've been through this more times than I can remember and know very well the awful, helpless feeling. I think it's highly likely that she is in the house. The only thing I know to do is to grab a flashlight and search the house square foot by square foot, leaving not one inch uncovered. It means removing every item from the linen closet, looking on top of curtain rods, at the back of top shelves in closets, inside every boot, shoe and dresser drawer, inside the back of the clothes dryer. Little cats find their ways into the strangest places!” Ginny M. "Also, if an indoor cat gets out, make it very easy for her to get back in via her escape route. It is usually the only entry she will know. When my cat Piper (same age as Clara but semi feral) escaped through a window we put a tall stool outside the window. Sure enough she climbed back in 8 hours later."
* Look behind the refrigerator. If you have a kitten or a petite cat, look inside the refrigerator and drawers. It wouldn’t hurt to check the freezer as well.
* Do you have a hole under a sink that leads to the outside? Check that (and then seal it!).
* Look on the beams of the basement.
“We left our cats with a friend once while we left town with the dogs (while having the floors in our house refinished). Our friend called and said she couldn't find one of our cats. We left the beach a day early. Long story short, he was in the basement, hiding under the bathtub (there was a cat-sized hidey-hole there that one of our friend's cats showed him). They were hanging out together there. Harold just wasn't coming out for meals. Once he heard my husband’s voice, he poked his head out.” – Lisa B.
* Check behind and above books on a bookshelf.
* Make sure that all air vents are properly covered. (If your cat got outside via this route, it is obviously too late for now but a protective measure to be mindful of for the future.)
* Check the drywall and under the sink for holes or gaps, especially around pipes. If you suspect that your cat is in the wall, shining a flashlight up it can help a frightened or disoriented kitty find his way back down. Put stinky food at the hole. If you know that your cat is trapped in the walls and she is not coming out, firefighters may be able to help cut a hole in the wall and release her.
“Our cat Pippin found a way into the ceiling of the basement!! He was gone for hours then I went downstairs and realized he was above my head in the ceiling. You must channel your inner kitty when looking for her.” – Adrienne H
* One friend reported finding a missing kitty hanging out in a tear in a soft shell suitcase.
* You’d be surprised how many people frantically searched their homes for hours only to find the cat napping contentedly in a closet. Linen closets are especially popular for missing cats.
“I've had to crawl on my hands and knees to see the perspective of a kitten. She may have tucked in underneath a sofa or chair. Or behind a seat cushion. Is there room by your refrigerator? She may have been able to go forward but not backwards. I'd go room by room with both you and John taking each room apart.” Molly D.
* Put the litter box outside right away and it is especially helpful if it is not scooped: the scent can help to guide them back home. If the box is scooped but the garbage with waste hadn’t been thrown out yet, empty some back into the box. Waiting by the litter box can also help.
* Email her picture and description to all the local shelters and veterinarians. Also, visit the shelters: don’t just look online.
* Post your missing cat information on Craigslist and local and national lost cat registries.
“In the event she did get outside, cats are very territorial and rarely venture farther than a few houses in any direction. Leaving a food dish on the porch might help draw her out in the morning.” Laurie S.
* Put out a humane trap – check with friends or they can be borrowed from animal shelters – with an article of clothing from home and stinky wet cat food.
* Talk to your neighbors, print lost flyers and put them in all the neighbor’s mailboxes, ask them to look in their garages, sheds, under porches and under their cars. Look under the cars that might be parked on your street as well.
“If she slipped out, indoor only cats are terrified and will find the nearest safe place. Their safety is paramount and so they usually don't respond. If this happened she will be close by and the best thing is to look in the wee hours of the morning but I hope that she is safely hiding indoors.” – Melanie B.
* Make big lost signs on colorful poster board with a clear picture and as much detail as possible.
* Use a flashlight day or night.
* Check out this helpful advice.
*If you feel inspired by Linda’s words of guidance that helped us to find our Clara Bow, please consider donating to the wonderful animal sanctuary she works with, Triangle Chance for All. Thank you to Linda and her beloved house-clinger, Aky.