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stumvb, Cat Veterinarian
Category: Cat Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 153
Experience:  Small animal vet since 2001, with a postgraduate qualification in feline internal medicine.
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Recently, I took 3 cats I had been looking after years

Customer Question

Recently, I took 3 cats I had been looking after for 2 years off (their whole life) the street and to a temporary foster home. After only 5 days they escaped from an unsecured window. That was Sunday early morning. I have combed the neighbourhood day and
night and there has been no sign of them. I have put out more than 1000 flyers and posters and there has been no response. They previously lived in an industrial area 15 miles away. They don't know this new area. How likely is it that they will try to head
for home?
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Cat Veterinary
Expert:  stumvb replied 2 years ago.
Hi Dr. Stuart here, I'm a cat veterinarian in Ireland. It appears that none of my colleagues have been active online over the last few hours, so my apologies for the delay in responding. Thanks for your question, I'm really sorry about the three escapees, there is nothing so distressing as not knowing where a pet is or how they are coping without their usual source of food.
Were the cats accustomed to close human contact? Had you been able to pet them when you were looking after them? Were they willing to be handled when moving to the new home or was the experience very distressing for them?
I would say that if they were reasonably confident around people then there is every chance they will return to the foster home. Although they were only there 5 days, it was probably still enough time for their new territory to imprint on them. As long as there was no undue stress in the home (for example excitable dogs or children) I would expect them to have remained somewhere in the vicinity. Having been street cats, they will naturally want to establish new territorial boundaries in their new neighborhood. They may therefore spend a few days wandering, but having grown used to being fed by humans, they will likely return to the foster home or at least venture into a neighbor that offers them food.
There are many stories of cats travelling great distances to their previous area of residence, and this is a possibility, but I think it more likely they will remain in their new neighborhood, especially given that there are three of them to establish themselves there.
Keep combing! If there are a few neighbours that are willing to leave food out for them it makes it all the more likely they will resurface before too long.
On a personal note, our beloved but highly-strung cat disappeared for 3 weeks within a week of us moving home about 10 years ago. We had gone through the whole grieving process when he arrived on our bed one morning bawling for food. In my half-awake state I honestly thought he must have risen from the dead! Wherever he came from, he's still with us all these years later.
I hope this is of some use to you, please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thanks for your response. To answer your questions - yes they were very friendly to me. Let me pick them up, give them belly rubs. A little suspicious of some others sometimes though. They hid under a dresser when they went to the new home, but when I visited them 2 of the 3 would come out and although seemingly a little spooked would purr and enjoy the attention. But they weren't necessarily confident with the lady of the home. And the weekend they took off was also a weekend when she brought in a dog unbeknownst to me. Although the cats were in a different room, I wonder if that didn't spook them even more. I can't help but think it did. What is the furthest a cat might travel? And would they be able to find their old home? It is a long ways at 15 miles a way. Not to mention all the busy streets they would have to cross. I pretty much searched every backyard of the neighbours on the street which is about 60 homes and didn't see any sign of them. Would you encourage some of them to leave out food for the cats or just in the yard of foster home?
Expert:  stumvb replied 2 years ago.
Your description of their behavior after only a few days in their new home is extremely positive and it does sound as though they must have been settling very well. However, introducing a dog was a mistake as I'm sure you might imagine. This would probably have been enough to immediately convince them that this was not a safe environment as they were still finding their feet. There are many famous stories of cats travelling huge distances to travel back to their previous homes, including cases covering hundreds of miles. It seems that cats must be equipped with some as yet unknown navigation ability such as in migratory species.
Of course, there are also more regular accounts of cats that go missing in this situation and do not turn up again, but I certainly wouldn't feel hopeless after just a few days. I would definitely ask some of the neighbors to leave out food, as if they are still in the new area they may be avoiding their foster carer's home after meeting the dog.
Good luck, I do hope they turn up, you've obviously put a lot of effort into looking after them.