Finding Home: When Cats Go Missing

When cats go missing, some return home while others find their family even if they have moved away.

How do cats find home? By: HelloTurkeyToe
How do cats find home? By: HelloTurkeyToe

Houdini, my first Flamepoint Siamese, liked sneaking rides in cars, but we always found him. Every time but the last, that is.

I searched the field behind the house, put up a notice in the grocery store and pored over the lost-and-found ads for weeks. No luck.

Many years later, I wrote a young adult novel about my old friend. I tried to give his story the ending I wished it had had in real life. After many misadventures, the fictional Houdini comes home to his girl.

No Closure

That’s the problem when a cat or kitten disappears for good. There never can be any closure. Having a pet die on you is heartbreaking, but it’s a clean wound.

Yes, it aches in bad weather, as wounds do. In time, however, another cat finds you, and you find yourself able to love again.

With the lost scenario, it’s different. There are all those awful questions that never get answered. In Houdini’s case, I hoped somebody had found my friendly, handsome guy with the morning-glory-blue eyes and red-gold points and gave him a good home. But I don’t know.

The Stories Behind the Posters

Dr. Nancy Davidson lost her red tabby, Zak. She put up posters and lucked out; she found him trapped in a neighbor’s house and rescued him (cats, by the way, are frequently found trapped in nearby sheds and garages, and sometimes inside cars).

The experience left Davidson, who is a psychotherapist, acutely aware of “lost cat” posters after that. She began collecting them and trying to learn more not just about the missing cats but also about their people.

The result was a highly unusual book called The Secrets of Lost Cats: One Woman, Twenty Posters, and a New Understanding of Love (2013).

“A lost-cat poster tells the beginning of a story,” writes Davidson. “But only the beginning. Most of us — at least those who love animals and mysteries — want to know more. We have a desire to fill in the blanks, a need to understand a story that is, to us, unknown.” And, like children, we always want to know if the story ends with a “happily ever after.”

Some of the stories in Davidson’s book do. Some don’t. But they all show us how animal lovers deal with love lost and love found again.

The Cat Came Back

There are countless stories of cats who have somehow managed to find their way back home after having been lost, stolen or given away. This is called Type I homing.

Scent or pheromone markers probably play a big part in these incredible journeys — and affection.

“A pet cat treats the family with whom it stays as a substitute for a group of cats, and it will tend to return to them as well as to its familiar surroundings,” said Dr. Roger Tabor, a biologist.

“I know of many well-authenticated cases of cats returning home…which shows that they have navigational ability.”

Type II homing involves cats finding their people after the people have moved, and it’s a lot harder to explain. Dr. Joseph Rhine of Duke University coined the term “psi trailing” to explain this phenomenon.

Basically, psi is shorthand for psychic ability.

Psi would seem to be involved in much greater magnitude and consistency than it is even in the spontaneous experiences of humans,” Rhine observed. Of the documented cases studied by Rhine, he found 54 to be credible.

What You Can Do

Show compassion. Support your fellow cat lover as much as possible. Searching for a lost cat can, as Davidson says, “be likened to an odyssey…hope matters.”

One bitter-cold November about 7 years ago, posters started popping up around town for a missing Korat. The story stayed with me. Sometime later, a woman showed up at one of my book signings. She was the Korat’s person. Baby had been found, and the woman happily showed me picture after picture of her recovered darling.

So, the next time you see an old “lost cat” poster lying on the ground, put it back up. You never know.

T.J. Banks

View posts by T.J. Banks
T.J. Banks is the author of several books, including Catsong, which received a Merial Human–Animal Bond Award. A contributing editor to laJoie, T.J. has also received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association, ByLine and The Writing Self. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul and A Cup of Comfort for Women in Love, and T.J. has worked as a stringer for the Associated Press, as an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School and as a columnist.

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