(Sorry. I was a slacker and didn’t blog on Day 9)
Tuesday September 7, 2010 – 2:45 p.m. – Only one piece of Mugsy news to report. The look-alike cat that was spotted (twice) about a 1/4 mile west of the crash site was humanely trapped and it was not Mugsy–it was a short-haired Tortie.
Since many cat lovers and feral cat caretakers are following the Mugsy story and since I likely won’t have anything newsworthy until Friday to report, I thought I’d blog about lost cat behaviors. Something that seems to be overlooked in the animal welfare system is the fact that displaced, panicked cats (like Mugsy) are a major contributing factor to the stray/feral cat problem in our country. Most funding from animal foundations (for cats at least) focus on spay/neuter and TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs yet very little money is made available for lost cat (or lost dog) recovery efforts.
There are an unbelievably high under of cats killed in animal shelters every year. The national average RTO (return to owner) rate for stray cats that enter shelters is 2%. That means that 98% of the stray cats that enter shelters never have someone show up to claim them. In some cases when cats become lost, they either return home or their owner is able to locate them. However, when the cat is panicked and hiding (like Mugsy is doing right now) the probability of a recovery is dramatically reduced. One primary reason for this is the lack of education.
Most cat owners just don’t realize that their “lost” cat could actually be hiding in fear, often nearby, and that the cat could be recovered using humane traps, drop traps, and/or wildlife cameras. The typical cat owner will do the following:
(1) They will check the shelter where the displaced cat will not be for weeks because it is hiding under a neighbor’s house and not even coming out for food during the initial days of displacement (Cat owners should still check the shelter immediately, in case the missing cat was trapped and taken there! The problem is that cat owners often only search the shelter during the first few days or first week when a panicked cat is less likely to be visible or humanely trapped. Many of these cats end up in the shelter many weeks, even months after they were lost, long after the owner has given up and moved on with life).
(2) They will post fliers through out the neighborhood – which sometimes works, but if the cat is extremely skittish / xenophobic (xenophobia is “the fear of what is foreign or new”) then no one will even see the cat.
(3) They ask their neighbor to call if they “see” the missing cat, yet the neighbor is not about to crawl on their belly to look under their deck or their house, and yet that is where a missing cat is most likely to be.
Days pass. Weeks pass. Many cat owners give up within just a week, assuming that their cat “went off to die” or “was killed by a coyote” or “someone took him into their home.” It is human nature for us to want to solve the mystery, so we plug in what we think happened to the cat. It is also common for people to stop searching for a lost pet because of “grief avoidance” – we want closure because it is just too painful and much easier to let go.
Sadly, the lost cats that have the highest risk of being killed are not the cats that become lost in coyote territory! It is the skittish (xenophobic) cats who people see and believe, based simply on their behavior (cowering, darting and hiding from humans, hissing or lunging when humanely trapped). People assume that these cats are wild, feral, untamed cats. Did you catch the statement in my previous blog from Meghan’s owner about how Meghan behaved while in the trap? Virginia said, “We were very worried that we would have to re-tame her because she was so upset and snarly in the trap–to the point where we wondered if it was our Meghan.” Snarling, hissing, and spitting is NOT necessarily a sign that a cat is “feral” — it is a sign that a cat is TERRIFIED for its life!
If you’re still not a believer, then check out the extremely sad (warning) stories /YouTube videos of Buddy and Rusty, two different cats in two different cities. These were normal, tame domesticated pet cats that were mistakenly euthanized by two different animal shelters because both cats hissed and lunged in their traps and were assumed (by shelter workers) to be “feral”.
And if you think I’m exaggerating that too many cats are killed in our animal shelters, then pay close attention to the end of the Rusty video where they show the statistics for the number of “stray” cats for that shelter the previous year: 1,869 cats brought into the shelter; 32 cats reclaimed by an owner; 287 cats adopted; 1,550 cats euthanized (4 cats killed per day). Many of those cats were likely strays/ferals/born-on-the-wild cats in the community due to a lack of spay/neutering, however, many were lost cats that were never recovered because cat owners were not educated about xenophobic cat behaviors. Here’s what I crafted about xenophobic cat behavior for Missing Pet Partnership’s THINK LOST, NOT STRAY page:
One of the most tragic misinterpretations of feline behavior occurs when rescuers observe a cat with a xenophobic temperament and assume, based on the fearful behavior, that the cat is an untamed “feral.” Xenophobic cats are afraid of EVERYTHING that is new or unfamiliar. Their fearful behavior is hardwired into their character; it is caused by genetics and/or kitten-hood experiences (nature or nurture). These cats will hide when a stranger comes into their home, and they typically will not come out until well after the company has left. They do not do well with human contact (being held, petted, etc.) and they are easily disturbed by any change in their environment. When displaced, they bolt and then HIDE IN SILENCE. They tend to remain in the same hiding place and become almost catatonic, immobilized with fear.
If they are found by someone other than their owners, they are typically mistaken as being an untamed or “feral” cat. While it is true that feral, untamed cats who are unaccustomed to human contact will hiss, spit, twirl, lunge, and urinate when humanely trapped, this “wild animal” behavior is also common in cats who have xenophobic temperaments! We know this because we’ve talked to owners of lost, xenophobic cats that had to be humanely trapped in order to be recovered. The owners verified that their cats exhibited wild behavior while in the humane trap. These “wild” and “aggressive” behaviors are a reflection of a cat with a fearful TEMPERAMENT, not a lack of TAMENESS.
BTW, the same skittish, fearful (xenophobic) behavior is present in dogs and the reaction from people is slightly different. When people see extreme fear in cats (darting and hiding) they assume the cat is “feral” but when they see the exact same extreme fear in dogs (cowering, shaking in fear) they assume the dog has been physically abused. In both cases, the fear could be caused due to genetics and puppy or kitten-hood experiences and may have nothing to do with whether or not the cat is tame or how the dog was treated by its former owner.
I encourage you to read the THINK LOST, NOT STRAY message so that you can keep an open mind the next time that you encounter a skittish animal. It might very well be a Mugsy-like situation with a desperate owner, or even an army of followers, who are searching and praying for a successful recovery.