Never Give Up: Former Feral Amy, Lost, Found, Recovered and Home After Eight Months
Marsha emailed me at the beginning of December 2017 to tell me that her beloved Amy had escaped out the front door two weeks before and had not been seen since. She was concerned something awful had happened to Amy because, despite physical searches all over the neighborhood, not a trace of her was found.
Amy’s family and I have known each other for years. The husband and wife were one of my first portrait customers in 1992, and I’ve painted six portraits of their cats in the intervening years. We also meet socially and she regularly purchases merchandise from me.
I’ve also watched them learn to TNR the stray cats who showed up at the back door and who they feed, caring for this feral colony for about 15 years along with their little family of one or two rescued cats indoors. Not all cats were feral and they found homes for friendly kittens and cats, and any cat who became friendly enough to be adopted. A few others who were older come indoors to the basement for the winter, and two came indoors when they were ill and were cared for in the basement and humanely euthanized when they were ready to let go.
Amy showed up with kittens in 2010 at the same time as Julia, who was decidedly feral, also with a litter of kittens. It wasn’t clear if they were together, possibly sisters, both tabbies, about the same age. Both were well suited to living outdoors, and all were spayed and neutered. Most of the kittens found homes while the mothers stayed.
As time passed it seemed Amy might have had some socialization. She had been more comfortable with people from the beginning and was relaxed and a little friendlier. In time she began boldly stepping into the house when the sliding glass door was open, inspecting the kitchen, taking a bit of the indoor cats’ food, then leaving. It seemed she might become an indoor cat pretty readily but still preferred the outdoors and continued her habit of visiting until 2015 after the loss of Christie, one of their indoor rescue cats, when Amy finally began spending more time indoors and over a winter came indoors full time. She got along well with Scruffy, the other rescue cat in the house.
Who knows why cats decide to run out the door? Amy never showed any interest in going back outdoors, especially in winter, but she was discovered missing from the house, though she was always with her people, and the front door had been open, though no other doors at all. Marsha went outside to call for her, but because Amy had recently been an outdoor cat and obviously knew the territory they felt she’d go to the feeding station that was still in the same place, with some of the same cats there as well. But she never showed up there. Marsha’s husband was content to wait for Amy to return, but Marsha was frantic that she was totally gone without a trace. She was sure something had happened to Amy because she didn’t return to her old territory outside. Amy was also older now, at least eight years old, and the winter had already been harsh.
At that point she contacted me and asked if I had any advice. Most of the advice I hand out is for indoor-only cats, but Amy had spent far more time outdoors than indoors and that put a twist on the possibilities. And even I thought it odd that she wasn’t seen around the house, but I still had the feeling she was around and possibly confused about what her new role was.
I recommended the first few things on the list, including making a flyer, taking it to neighbors and posting it on all the streets and roads around the house. Marsha is not on social networks so I shared it on Nextdoor and Facebook. She began checking the shelters, and walked around her large yard and the neighbors’ and into the woods with a flashlight, day and night.
No Amy, not a trace. I told her we’d had some luck with both lost cats and monitoring feral cats with a trail cam. She purchased one and placed it where she’d seen cats in the woods at a distance, and they thought they saw Amy but it was black and white and low resolution, so they bought a higher-quality camera. And yes, a cat who looked very much like Amy was in the woods behind the houses. Marsha set a trap and watched with binoculars, but caught only a few of her regulars and a raccoon. She added a few blankets with scent Amy might recognize. The other camera trained on the feeding station showed that Amy never came to the feeding station. They still saw her in the woods, but she was not coming closer, in fact she seemed to be moving farther away. It could be the other outdoor cats, who had formerly been friends, were now intimidating and possibly driving her away. It was never clear, but just after Christmas she disappeared from the trail cam in that area.
Last winter was horrible, and deadly for many animals living outdoors. With the excessively low temperatures, ice storms and frigid winds no animal could keep itself warm enough to survive without adequate shelter. In February they were still seeing Amy in the woods, then she disappeared completely. Amy was nowhere to be seen and Marsha wasn’t sure what to do next. I really wasn’t sure what to say. I felt Amy was still too outdoor-savvy not to protect herself and find food because she hadn’t been indoors very long. The best I could do was tell Marsha to widen her search and not give up hope. She went around to the houses on the other side of the woods from her back yard, and I shared Amy’s photo on social networks once again.
A neighbor across the woods was feeding stray and feral cats, but hadn’t seen a cat who looked like Amy. Marsha visited when he fed them, but Amy was not among those cats. Still, there were other cats in the area who didn’t come when the humans were outside feeding and Amy might be among them. Marsha visited regularly to check, but still no Amy.
All I could do in all that time was to support her search and keep telling her what I honestly felt: Amy had run pretty far when she got outside and was just far enough from any territory she recognized that she was totally displaced and just holding on in limbo, not sure what to do. But she was out there.
In June Marsha and I met for breakfast to talk more about Amy because she wasn’t giving up hope, and neither was I. She had donated to my TNR project at the abandoned house, and she had a gift for me for supporting her: a brand new in the box Havahart trap. Had she heard me say I wanted a trap of my very own? I was so grateful to this longtime friend and supporter. She had continued to visit other places where cats might be fed, handing out her flyer, mostly in the neighborhood on the other side of the woods, and we decided she should follow where she felt it was right to continue looking. She also told me she had begun wearing one of my “Back to Front” pendants she’d bought about the time Amy disappeared, and she was going to continue wearing it until she found Amy. I was very honored by that, and she even bought a couple of extras just in case something happened to the one she had.
Last week she emailed to say she had found Amy, but catching her would be a real trick. I was thrilled she’d found her! Marsha had decided to go through the woods again calling her name and carrying a dish of anchovies. After she’d nearly exhausted her search she thought she saw white feet running away from her far up ahead. She said she wasn’t sure and certainly couldn’t tell if it was a cat, but she noted where it seemed to go, in the direction of the people who live behind her, kind of over the hill.
Amy had been coming to eat at one of the houses where Marsha had visited with her missing notice and the feeder didn’t recognize her, but Amy wasn’t eating with the rest of the cats. The feeder was there with family when Marsha stopped with Amy’s flyer. The man who fed the cats said he didn’t recognize Amy at all, but there were a few really frightened cats who stayed under the porch and never came out when people where there, and there was Amy, who ran away when they came around the house and looked at her. He wasn’t sure how long she had been feeding there since he usually didn’t see those cats.
Marsha went back the next morning when they were fed to see if she could coax Amy to her. No luck, she did not respond to Marsha. She wasn’t sure about trapping since the man said he’d already tried to trap her (he did TNR all the cats who showed up if he could trap them). He mentioned trying to use a drop trap.
So Marsha went back the next day with food and treats and continued trying to regain Amy’s trust, and she did get closer, not close enough to touch her, but Amy ate the food and did not run away until Marsha got a little too close. She told me she planned to go back the next day with a carrier and do her best.
I gave her some tips on grabbing a cat and stuffing it into a carrier if that was what she had to do, without too much injury and trauma. First, get a larger carrier and one that either has a top-loading door or turn it on its end so the opening is facing upward because it’s far easier to get a fighting cat into a carrier from that direction and close the door before they can jump back out. Second, don’t try to pick up the cat under the belly and hug the cat close unless the cat is acting very friendly, and even if it is acting friendly at being petted, being handled is something else entirely. Any frightened cat will fight their way out of that and both human and cat can be hurt badly. Instead practice a scruff with a really good grip on the loose skin over her neck and shoulder blades to pick her up quickly, knowing she can still flail her legs and scratch, and drop her into the opened carrier, slamming the door as quickly as possible before she can leap out, and that’s the reason for the larger carrier so they end up farther from the opening. It all had to happen very fast. Don’t worry about upsetting Amy or frightening her if she’s already frightened and upset, just get a grip on her and get her into the carrier. You can sort things out when you get home.
I got an email the next morning, “Got her. More later.”
Whew! I could hardly wait to hear!
There was a bit of a scuffle, no one was hurt, Marsha said she had to use a tackle and grab and got a few insignificant scratches, her husband held the carrier open, and they got her in there and went home.
To look at Marsha you would not think of her tackling a cat in the dirt, nor even wandering the woods in all weather. What we don’t do for our cats, no matter who we are…
I was about to send her a message later that day that Amy might need some time to decompress, to get over any stress and trauma and recognize her territory again, and seeing how Amy had reacted to being outdoors I fully expected her to need that. But I got an email with a photo of Amy on Marsha’s lap looking pretty relaxed, you can see by her front paws she is air-kneading, her tail is happily curled on her hip, and I can almost hear her purring.
She sent more photos later and apologized for sending so many photos. I told her to send as many photos as she wanted, I couldn’t see too many.
Amy and Marsha were never too far from my mind in all this time. With other things happening I never had the time to go and help Marsha search, and I really didn’t think my presence would make it any more likely Amy would show up. My role in all this was to offer ideas and support Marsha when she felt hopeless, as we do when one of our precious companions is missing. All that time I had the feeling Amy was not far, that she was okay, and that Marsha would eventually find her and bring her back home.
Just never give up.
Here is the trap Marsha gave me. It’s quite different from most other traps I’ve used, but much easier to use. I assembled it and shared this on Instagram and Facebook on Tuesday.
“Mimi models a brand new Havahart trap given to me by a friend whose cat I helped to find and return home after 7 months. This trap makes its debut tonight to help a family who has been feeding 3 adult cats and 8 kittens who will all be trapped over the next two weeks, neutered, sorted, returned or socialized depending on what we can do. Happy kitten season.”
Thank you, for many things. Amy is home. I have a trap. Stray and feral cats get the help they need.
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Commissioned Portrait: Christie
A Great Rescue and a Commissioned Portrait: Felix, Big Kitty Love
What’s On My Easel: Marsha and Scruffy Draft
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5 thoughts on “Never Give Up: Former Feral Amy, Lost, Found, Recovered and Home After Eight Months”
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amy; ewe due knot noe uz but we iz buzzed happee ya found yur way bak home N it iz veree nice oh yur mom ta give mom B de havahart ♥♥