Catching a skittish, displaced cat is usually a straightforward operation. After several days, an indoor-only cat that has escaped outside will typically be hungry enough to enter a humane trap baited with yummy cat food. But once in a while, a cat comes along who simply will not show interest in food. When this happens, volunteer “pet detectives” trained by Missing Pet Partnership (MPP) must become creative in their recovery methods. This is the story of one such creative recovery method and one very stubborn cat!
On August 23, 2013 MPP volunteer Chris Duvall learned that a cat named Gracie was displaced from her apartment in Federal Way, WA. Gracie’s owner, an elderly woman, had passed away inside of her apartment but her body was not discovered for two weeks. When emergency personnel responded, a door was apparently left open and Gracie bolted outside.
A week later, family members (who had no interest in adopting their Mom’s cat) had not seen Gracie and speculated that the skittish cat was now “gone.” When Chris learned that Gracie had a xenophobic (skittish) temperament, she knew (from her MPP training) that cats like Gracie don’t just “runaway” and that Gracie was likely still nearby. Chris responded and set up a baited humane trap and a digital wildlife camera on the back porch of Gracie’s apartment. On August 25th, Gracie was captured on camera on the back porch of her apartment, confirming that she was still in the immediate area. However, Gracie did not show any interest in the food left inside of the trap. It was presumed that she simply was not hungry enough yet and that it was only a matter of time before she was captured.
Gracie Wants In Back Door of Her Apartment
On August 27th 6:15 a.m., Gracie showed up on the back porch again (on camera). She still did not eat food. Instead, this time she stood at the back sliding glass door of her apartment (which was now under renovation) as if she wanted to go inside. Under normal circumstances, MPP volunteers would’ve coached the owner in how to use the “House as Trap” method. House as Trap is a technique where cat (and sometimes skittish dog) owners use bait to lure a scared animal into a house (or garage) when a door is propped open and once the animal is detected (using a baby monitor or driveway alarm) upon entry, the door is closed, thus capturing the animal without having to use a humane trap. However, when we asked the management for permission for our volunteers to sit inside of the vacant apartment to conduct a stakeout, they denied permission. It became apparent that we needed to use another method to trap this wary cat.
On August 31st when it became obvious that Gracie was just not going to enter a humane trap, Chris set up a drop trap and propped up under buckets, placing food under the trap to hopefully entice Gracie to start going underneath the trap for food. A drop trap is often used for cats that refuse to enter a standard metal humane trap. In addition to placing plenty of food under the drop trap, Chris spread cat nip on a rug that she placed in front of the trap. That first night, our camera showed that plenty of raccoons helped themselves to the pile of food and one very happy white cat enjoyed rolling around on the cat nip rug!
Happy White Cat Rolls in Cat Nip!
Although raccoons and the white cat ate well that week, Gracie did not show up on camera for three days. When she finally returned to the back porch, she did not go under the drop trap and she did not eat any food (that was left near the side of the drop trap). Gracie only went up to the back sliding glass door of the apartment, still wanting to go inside. Over the next several weeks, our efforts continued. Chris noticed a pattern of behavior in the hours that Gracie was showing up, usually around 6:00 a.m. To avoid feeding raccoons, Chris began responding to the apartment at 5:00 a.m. to put food out for Gracie. By September 14th, it was clear that Gracie was just not going to respond to food. Chris and her small group of volunteers (Jody, Debbie, Joannie, Shirley and Teresa) had tried every cat-bait under the sun—wet cat food, dry cat food, cat nip, Feliway (cat pheromone), fried chicken, you name it. The only thing that Gracie wanted was to enter that apartment, but because the apartment complex management would not give us access, we set up a new plan. If the new tenant who moved in (on October 1st) was cat friendly, we’d find a way to get their permission to let us into their apartment in the middle of the night and use the House as Trap method. And if that didn’t work (which knew it likely wouldn’t), we’d somehow convince one of the nearby cat loving neighbor’s to help us entice Gracie inside their apartment. We were truly grasping for straws!
By September 17th, Chris came up with a new idea. She used an unlocked storage closet on the back patio of Gracie’s apartment to set up a second humane trap. But instead of baiting this trap with food, Chris created a “comfort trap.” This was a humane trap placed inside the dark closet and tucked under a table (then covered with an American flag towel). Gracie’s bedding was placed at the base of the trap so that Gracie’s own sent would be inside the room and soft bedding was placed inside the set trap. Then the bedding was sprayed with Feliway. The door to this closet was left propped open. Chris hoped that Gracie would enter the trap not for food, but in search of a warm place to curl up. I personally didn’t hold out much hope for this method, but it was worth a try.
Closet with Table (Covered in Towel) Where Trap Was Placed
Initially, Gracie showed zero interest in the closet. To her credit, Chris did not give up hope. Day after day, Chris or her volunteers showed up before dawn to put out food, to check the trap(s), to pull the SD card from the camera, and to record the results of what they’d captured on camera from the day before. Chris had learned to persevere in tough cat recovery cases, especially since she was the same MPP volunteer who persistently worked to capture Bebe, a displaced cat that took 4 months to capture.
On September 28th, Chris tried something new. She placed a Sentry “Good Behavior” lavender chamomile calming cat collar in the back of the comfort trap on the soft towels. Chris had seen remarkable results in using these collars on stressed cats and hoped that by placing it inside of the comfort trap, it might help to calm Gracie down and attract her into the trap. Because of stormy weather, Gracie didn’t show up on the 28th. However, the next day she showed up (at 11:53 p.m.), and went through the open closet door into the room with the comfort trap! This was the first time she entered the room with the comfort trap. Although she didn’t enter the trap, it was a step in the right direction!
Gracie Enters Storage Room Where Comfort Trap is Set
On September 30th, at 6:21 a.m., Gracie walked by the food baited humane trap on the patio, entered the closet door, and entered the comfort trap where she was finally captured! The Sentry collar, it seems, is what made the difference in this case. Having gone nearly 2 months with limited food, Gracie lost weight. Chris rushed her to the vet where they discovered that she was jaundiced, emaciated, dehydrated, was down to 7.1 pounds, and had no desire to eat. While the vet was concerned about her liver and kidneys, Gracie slowly recovered. After several weeks of care by Chris, Gracie is now ready to find a new “forever” home!
Gracie at Vet (immediately after her capture)
The Gracie case is a prime example that while some lost cats can be recovered with a physical search of a neighbor’s yard or a properly placed neon lost cat poster, other cases are more complicated and require the time and dedication of trained resources. Lost cats not found are a major contributing factor to the extremely high euthanasia rates at animal shelters. Training resources (like Chris) in how to strategically recover displaced cats like Gracie is the mission of Missing Pet Partnership. The next on-line 8-week “pet detective” training course offered by MPP starts on November 15th. If you’d like more info on how you can be trained by MPP to do what Chris did and help capture elusive cats (and skittish dogs) in your community, visit this page here.
“Excuse me Ma’am, we have a toilet paper problem.”
Um...Houston, We Have a Problem!
I turned to look at the Burger King employee standing beside me who’d just tapped me on the shoulder. I looked at her with a blank face, not sure what she was talking about. Problems? Did she know anything about problems? I was in the midst of several major problems in my life. They say it comes in threes and I was walking through my third loss in a matter of three months. It all started in May when my best friend and fishing buddy Hardin Weaver passed away from lung cancer.
My Friend Hardin
I praise God that I had had the opportunity to fly back to Clovis, California to see Hardin in the hospital the day before he died. He was concious and was able to smile as I laughed and cried and prayed with him. Hardin was one of our first Missing Pet Partnership volunteers in the early stages of our development. He became a close friend and a father figure to me. The plan I had for my upcoming wedding was to have Hardin walk me down the isle and give me away. Sometimes our plans just don’t work out. Losing Hardin cut like a knife.
MPP Volunteers Capture Stray Hard-to-Catch Dog
A few months later, the primary program of Missing Pet Partnership came to a sudden and unexpected end. After helping hundreds of pet owners over the past three years, MPP was forced to suspend our services that involved responding (in the Seattle area) on physical searches with search dogs and equipment to help families search for their lost pets. Until we get the funding to hire a staff to oversee this program it will likely remain in limbo.
I had not quite worked through my grief of losing the MPP program when I was forced to euthanize Sadie, my elderly cat detection dog. In fact, I had just put Sadie down on Monday and was traveling through Ellensburg, Washington on Wednesday (after being consoled by family in Idaho) when I stopped at Burger King. I had used the restroom first and then walked out to place my order when the employee tapped me on my shoulder.
“What?” I asked the woman. She repeated her words again. “We have a toilet paper problem” only this time she was smiling.
I was thinking to myself that this woman knew nothing about “problems” based on what I was going through. And besides, there was no “toilet paper problem.” I had just been in the women’s restroom and there had been plenty of toilet paper. But as the smile appeared on her face, I realized that the “we” of this problem meant that I was some how involved in this. And then the lightbulb came on and my worst nightmare came true.
“No!” I said as I looked down at my feet to see if I was trailing a stream of toilet paper, only there was nothing clinging to my shoe. “Where?” I asked.
She pointed to my butt. I reached back behind me and sure enough, I’d been trailing a 4 foot long piece of toilet paper that was tucked neatly into the back of my pants. I turned red and excused myself as I scurried to the women’s restroom.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. I realized that I was faced with a choice. The easiest thing to do would’ve been to wash my hands and then slip outside without even going back for my burger, avoiding more embarrassment. But as I washed my hands, I noticed they had the best kind of hand drying apparatus around. Instead of one of those cheap blowy machines that leaves you with wet hands, Burger King had installed one of those brown paper towel dispensers with the Pavlov-like-lever that enables you to make one single, giant paper towel. I pushed that lever at least 15 times and created a 7 foot long paper towel train and stuck it in the back of my pants. And like a bride trailing a beautiful train from her lavish wedding gown (which I’ll need one for this December, just in case anyone has one laying around that they want to donate!) I proudly walked out of that bathroom with my head held high.
You should’ve seen the look on faces of the customers in line! I walked right up to that Burger King employee who was still standing at the counter. I laid a hand on her shoulder to make sure she looked at me, thanked her for telling me about the toilet paper problem, and then proudly walked away so she could observe my paper train. She, and everyone else standing there, broke out in laughter. It’s times like these that I thank God for His lovingkindness. He knew exactly how to bless me with a good belly laugh during my season of grief! I have a quirky hobby of collecting “most embarrassing moment” stories and so far, my own most embarrassing moment had only involved driving off from a fuel pump with the gas nozzel still attached to my police car gas tank. Now I have a coveted toilet paper story of my own to share around the campfire.
Life is too short to be embarrassed and to run out of Burger Kings in shame. As depressing as things can get, we all need to hang paper trains from our butts and bring a little laughter into this world!
Last weekend, I faced a dilemma. I was scheduled to be in two places at one time. Location #1 was the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association’s Conference in Redmond, WA where I planned to shop my next book idea. Location #2 was the 2012 PAWS Community Hero Pet Awards ceremony on Bainbridge Island where my cat, Cheeto, was to be honored for his work as a “target cat”. Cheeto has a “job” and is used to train cat detection dogs to find lost cats. Recently featured on three different TV shows, Cheeto won this award because he helped to train a search dog named Harley who found and saved the life a lost cat named Norm.
Award Winning Cat....WHO KNEW!
At first, I planned to send a volunteer in my place to accept Cheeto’s award. But as the day grew closer, I felt an ache in my heart. I wanted to be there, too. When I voiced my dilemma on Facebook and asked for advice, one friend piped up and said, “Writer’s Conferences come and go-when have you ever heard of a cat winning an award?”
So I compromised. I attended the writer’s conference in the morning and in the afternoon, I left Redmond, drove to Seattle, picked up a friend (who had Cheeto), and boarded the ferry heading to Bainbridge Island.
This was a red carpet event held at the beautiful Wing Point Golf & Country Club. There were six categories with six winners. Cheeto won in the Companion Animal category, but there was a seventh award up for grabs that had captured my attention. It was the People’s Choice Award where everyone who attended the event would be asked to vote for their favorite of the six nominees. All of the other nominees besides Cheeto were dogs. The event planners had created a poster for each of the nominees that described their work and why they had won their award. These posters were what the attendees looked at and used to help them decide who they wanted to vote for. As I stood in front of Cheeto’s poster taking a picture of it, I overheard a conversation taking place behind my back that went something like this:
Woman #1: “Who did you vote for?”
Woman #2: “I voted for Tucker.” (Tucker is a black Labrador trained as a whale poop detection dog. I am serious. I bet my dog Kody-the-poop-eater would gladly apply for that job.)
Woman #1: “I voted for the cat.”
Woman #2: “Yeah, but he doesn’t really do anything.”
People's Choice Poster (where I eavesdropped)
At that point, I realized we were in trouble. So I began to act like one of those sideline parent-turned-football coach, determined that my kid would win! I figured I’d probably bagged the votes of all of the cat lovers, so I devised a plan to capture as many dog lover votes as possible. I took Cheeto to the entrance of the event to greet all arriving guests. I handed out Cheeto’s trading card to anyone who stopped to pet him. I even pulled out freeze dried salmon treats and tried to get him to sit up and wave (like he did in this video here). I figured if dog people could see that a cat had a brain and could even be trained to do a trick, maybe they’d cross over to the dark side and vote for one. But Cheeto refused to wave. He just laid there like a fat cat, allowing votes to slip away. Ultimately, the time for the awards ceremony arrived and I was asked to bring Cheeto inside. I snapped a shot while he lay on the red carpet.
Cheeto Resting on the Red Carpet (waiting his turn)
When they called Cheeto’s name, I picked him up and he relaxed in my arms like a sack of potatoes. When he becomes limp like this, his back legs splay apart, his head hangs back, and he looks hysterical–similar to how he looks in this photo here:
I hammed it up on the red carpet by twirling (like a model) in a circle as I held limp-Cheeto. The audience laughed and I even stopped for a few people to take his photo. *** UPDATED FOOTAGE!! *** Click here to see YouTube footage of Cheeto’s presentation! Before the presentation the event planner had asked all nominees, “If your pet were to come back as a famous person, who would he be?” and I answered “Because he is big and keeps me laughing all of the time, Cheeto would be Jackie Gleason.” At the podium, Cheeto received his plaque and an Olympic-style medal attached to a red, white, and blue ribbon that they draped around his neck (actually, its a cheap engraved pet tag, not a medal, but please don’t tell Cheeto). Afterwards, we waited another five minutes and they announced the overall winner of the People’s Choice Award. It wasn’t Cheeto. And it wasn’t even Tucker-the-poop-sniffer. No, it was a therapy dog named “Kitty Kitty,” given this name because she was born on April Fool’s Day.
We packed up and made the ferry just on time. Once on board, I had the brilliant idea to ask the ferry supervisor if I could brag about my cat who’d just won a Pet Hero Award. After showing him the award and letting him meet Cheeto, I was shocked that he actually handed me the microphone and said I could make the announcement myself. Seeing a YouTube moment, I asked my friend (she’d prefer to remain nameless, and you’ll see why when you watch the video) to videotape our next fun way to market Cheeto’s achievement. So I handed my cell phone to my friend to videotape me, grabbed that microphone, and told those passengers just how blessed they were to be traveling with a famous, award winning cat and how they could meet Cheeto (which some of them did). And here’s what my friend captured on film:
Nice. The only thing she captured was a 3 second clip of my back, my butt, and then her feet. And, yes, Cheeto didn’t get the People’s Choice Award. But at least I have a hero cat to sleep on my bed at night and a pretty new plaque for my wall. Life is too short to not brag about your famous cat!