The Great Socks Scare, and Finding Your Cat

Hello, everyone. Penny back in the driver’s seat. Fatty can type faster than I can but wow, he sweats like a bottle of chilled Chablis in the noonday sun. Dignity please.

The announcement of Socks’ disappearance and later recovery earned the views of tens of thousands of people, a couple news outlets contacting the house, and hundreds of comments and letters wishing well in finding him again. Naturally some people thought this was a cynical public relations stunt, but excuse me; do you not think I’d have had t-shirts ready to go before this fiasco/misunderstanding occurred, so I’d finally get my dream of an automatic litterbox? This was an honest losing of the dope, and it took several days to really get back into the swing of being himself.

So out of the well-wishing, a handful of folks who were in the professional capacity of animal rescue wrote in with what I thought were excellent overviews of finding a missing cat both in your house and in the surrounding neighborhood, and so as a reference material, I’m putting them here. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lost someday, and it’d be nice to know people were using the very best techniques to find me.

Socks Army Member Becky wrote in with this set of suggestions:

Saw your tweet – a cat owner’s worst nghtmare! A couple suggestions:

  • did you pull out couch cushions & thoroughly look through there?
  • do you have a recliner? Open it up & inspect thoroughly
  • do you buy clumping kitty litter in those large plastic tubs? I was recently sent an email from a rescueperson whose cat fell in, the other cat jumped on top, closing the lid and the cat inside suffocated. Totally freak accident but worth sharing to help others avoid it.
  • did you check the dryer?
  • do you have a basement – check drop ceiling, walls, anywhere you can fit you hand is a possible hiding spot
  • does he have access to your garage? Check under hood of car, etc
  • open cans of tuna, sardines – something smelly – to lure him out in case he’s scared, hurt, sick (cats are notorious for hiding & suffering in silence)
  • have you checked all doors & windows for small openings or tears in the screens? Maybe he got out on his own (not abducted). If he did, I’ve heard that a good trick to help him find his way home is to sprinkle used (not new) litter from his box around your yard – he’ll recognize his own scent.

There are tons of lost/found pet sites online (petfinder is a good place to start, not to mention the classifieds of your local paper, as well as Craig’s List). Post lost ads on these sites and check found ads. Post flyers ALL OVER your neighborhood (he could be just a couple blocks away being cared for by a well-meaning neighbor!). Check with animal control, contact local rescue groups and visit every vet’s office and pet store within 15 miles… The most important thing is to start right away. The sooner you do the more likely you’ll find him!!

Susanna of MARK-9 Search and Rescue in Dallas suggested the use of a dog in finding a cat (or child):

I saw your tweet this morning and read your post on the website, and though I have no information about anyone possibly involved, I do recommend quickly getting the help of a handler with a search canine specifically trained to find pets.  I partner a search-and-rescue dog (we find missing people) and know there are dogs on the East Coast that are pet-specific search canines.  Because they work best when scent is very fresh, sooner is always better.  If Socks is somehow in the house, jammed in some impossible place, they can help. If he slipped out the door because someone opened it and he is in the area, a search canine can trail him — again if the scent is fresh.  Would Socks have run from a stranger in the house, or is he extremely social?  Where does he normally choose to sleep overnight?  Does he try to bolt for the open door, if opportunity presents itself?  Is there a chance he might be in a neighbor’s garage (relevant to the car backing out that you mentioned). These are the kinds of things a search handler would ask, attempting to establish the place last seen and any escape attempts or previous directions of travel, if Socks went out on his own during a break-in attempt.

Boy, I’d have loved to have seen Socks’ face when the dog found him. But excellent advice.

Many other pieces of advice were posted in the comments of the “Socks is Missing” announcement, some of which include:

  • “check your basement, one of our two indoor cats used to go missing for hours at a time and just this year we discovered a large hole in the wall behind the oil tank where even a large cat could fit…we’ve stuffed two 2-liter soda bottles full of water in the hole so nothing more can get out or in.”
  • “This happened to me with my cat once, it was like 4 hours and we were making posters and you couldnt hear her whatsoever. Turned out she was napping in a rainjacket pocket, a jacket hanging in the hall entrance closet. So check your jacket pockets, I know it’s weird that a cat would fit in there/choose to nap there but it happened to me.”
  • “Please check every cupboard and closet – particularly ones with doors that could easily close again if pulled open. It may be a long shot, but am fervently hoping he has fallen asleep somewhere odd rather than something sinister; cats do love a nice cosy cupboard to hide away in for a nap, & I had a cat that could open my closet doors. Hope he turns up soon, my thoughts are with you.”
  • “Have you checked your ductwork? We were babysitting a friend’s cat once and she managed to pry open the corner of one of our air return vents and got into our duct work. It took us one full day to realize what happened. Then when we realized where she was, we left food and water near the opening. She eventually came out, we grabbed her and blocked all the vents after that.”
  • “We had a cat disappear for a few days and could hear his meows. We searched the whole house and even went up on the roof to look. Then by sheer luck while on the roof, he meowed and we turned toward the sound. He was at a window at the church next door (all windows were up high and not visible from below). He must have gone in on Sunday during church and fell asleep and found he couldn’t get back out. He was sure hungry when we got him back home. I even heard of someone buying a couch at a yard sale and a kitty was found in it when they got it home. Cats can accidentally get themselves into something they can’t get out of.”
  • “I once found my cat INSIDE the box spring. He had clawed the “fabric” on the bottom open and crawled inside.”
  • “My 12-wk old kitten disappeared for 3 days. Later discovered she’d perched on a neighbor’s spare tire under the car. Had been riding around under that car for 3 days. Miraculously, she didn’t jump off in traffic…just clung to that tire. The car wash did her in. When she jumped out the neighbor recognized her from my fliers, caught her and brought her home. I still can’t believe she didn’t jump off on the other side of town. My little miracle.”
  • “Neighbors called me at work once because my fire alarm was going off. Arrived home to find firefighters already inside – no fire, but doors standing wide open. One cat, Moxie, was making friend w/them but Indy was NOWHERE to be found. I was terrified, bordering on hysteria, and like you, finally resorted to looking in places he couldn’t possibly fit, which is where I found him: Under the dresser which had only about a 3″ clearance from the floor, and he weighed 13 pounds. The alarm scared him so badly he got himself under there. So I know the fear and the relief and joy of finding him alright, just shaken up.”
  • “I once had a cat disappear in my room for two days after failing a jump from the back of my chair to a tall shelf (she did this while alone – normally she’d jump from the chair while i was in it, giving it weight, when she jumped while I was gone, the chair moved, she missed, fell straight down on her ass and injured her rear leg) it was pretty scary, eventually found her under the bed. She did have a habit of staying out for a day or two at a time, so I wasn’t too worried at first, then I heard pathetic mewling from under my bed finally, found her curled up inside a synth case.”
  • Something like this happened with my baby, who is now laying on my legs, using them for her personal bed. When it was the 4th of July, every neighbor on the block was popping fireworks. This scared her out of her mind. We couldn’t find her. Didn’t know where she went. Looked everywhere. Hours later, we found her. She was under a chair, but she had literally climbed up into the mechanism of the chair (it was a recliner). She was scared to death. For hours after, she walked hunched to the ground and nary made a peep. She’s perfect now. As curious and crazy as ever. Socks will get better. Once he realizes he’s safe once again and that everyone loves him.”

So there you have it. Words and wisdom from the Socks Army. If you ever misplace a cat, or hear of someone who does, send them this way and maybe they’ll get some good ideas, and the cats who aren’t lucky enough to have an army behind them will be found.


#1 KevinNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 1:11 pm

Had my cats go in the duct work too. turns out none of my floor vents were actually screwed down. Only took an hour for me to figure out. After I made sure they hadn’t fallen down the big air return duct I just waited. They popped up, first one then the other. And they were DIRTY.

on the plus side, didn’t need a duct cleaning for a bit.

Also had one cat go under the cabinets (not in them, there was a hole in the kick plate) when she was a kitten. She loved it under there but finally couldn’t get out. Took me an hour to get her out, then i put a brick (it fit perfect) in the hole. She still sits in the kitchen and stares at the brick like it’s going to go away.

#2 itskasNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 1:13 pm

You’re a good pal, Penny (despite yourself).

#3 DianeNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 1:20 pm

My indoor-only cat got outside during a remodel project when there were some power tools being used in my house. After days of searching, I called a “pet psychic”. She was kind enough to give me some free advice in a long phone conversation… the part I thought was the best advice was to go outside, sit down somewhere and read aloud. The theory is that when you are calling for your cat there is stress in your voice and your cat hears that. Reading aloud is your calm, normal voice and sometimes a stressed cat will come to that when they won’t come to you calling them.

My cat was spotted at the neighboring grade school by someone who saw one of my fliers. He disappeared again and wasn’t found until a couple of days later, hiding in a storm drainage pipe. A happy ending but a very stressful few days for both of us!

#4 OllieNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 1:20 pm

I say, Penny. I’m beginning to have considerable respect for you. :)

#5 marieNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 1:20 pm

I have 28 cats. I always start with catnip if I want everykitty to come running to me. Under the deck and under the house is where I start for the outside kitties and for the inside I trace MY STEPS , doors I opened Like closets, drawers or cabinets. Insider cats will rarely hightail it out of the house, but outsides will run in the cat door if spooked. Under the Shed is another favorite hiding place. I wanna know why fatty did not get up and ck out the bump in the night.

#6 FrenchTwistDCNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 1:31 pm

Oh yes… the box spring! And drawers… If I can’t locate my kitty I will crack open a can of can food. That always has her come running. If that doesn’t do the trick, then yes, I search everywhere… drawers, closets, cabinets… cats have a way of getting in ANYTHING!

#7 starkillerNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 1:31 pm

I look in the hamper first.

#8 BugPasteNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 1:34 pm

When I was a kind we put a new bathtub in, and our cat got shut up inside the bathroom wall not just once, but twice. One day she crawled inside the open walls, and when the workers closed up the walls (to keep cats out overnight) she got stuck. Next day? She did the same thing. Used up a few of her lives that week…

#9 AnitaaNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 1:41 pm

Also have neigbors check their outside buildings. Summer gardening season had my cat inspecting the neighbor’s gardening shed. She got locked inside but zoomed out the next day – as soon as the door was opened!

#10 Chroma LabNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 1:49 pm

Great collection of tips! We are just so glad to hear that everyone is safe.

#11 Jay CuthrellNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 1:51 pm

I’ve had multiple cats make their way into the warm and dark area behind a refrigerator (slim gaps on either side) starting with kittens (most common) and adults (thin) and aging (amazing tubby and determined).



#12 CygnifierNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 2:05 pm

And, oddly enough, check the refrigerator. We did a last minute “cat check” as we were leaving on vacation one year –the cat sitter would come the next day, but we always like to count noses. We could not find one of the cats–we searched everywhere. Finally we heard this faint little merow in the kitchen. A search again thru every cupboard, washer/dryer, a hidy hole under a cabinet, behind every appliance — nothing! Then a friend opened the refrigerator to get a drink — and lo and behold there was the kitty, all curled up on an empty shelf, and purring away! Whew! To this day, if the fridge door opens, he is right there trying to climb in. The dope.

#13 EasterNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 2:20 pm

Easter cat can make herself invisible. Did you think of THAT?

#14 The Boyz MomNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 2:37 pm

Once had a cat that had kittens that went missing. She was around when she needed food but she had the kittens stashed under a kitchen cabinet drawer. We had figured she hid the kittens somewhere but we did not know where. When the kittens were getting older and ready to explore we saw one come out. We pulled the drawer out and sure enough there they all were, happy and healthy. The poor mom did not know what to do next…lol.

#15 bronwynNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 2:45 pm

Always check those heater vents…i left the door open to where our inlet duct is (for all of 2 seconds!) and turned around to watch teddy disappear down the big hole…silly cat.

#16 jan's funny farmNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 2:47 pm

We never heard of Sockington until today, so we googled him.

And we were relieved to read he’d been found — post before this one — before we read the post he’d been lost. What a scare!

#17 Toebee84No Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 2:48 pm

When checking a recliner for a kitty, please be VERY careful and recline slowly. You don’t want to hurt the kitty.

#18 SavvyNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 3:31 pm

I think as a cat owner, at one point in our “onwnership”, we’ve ALL lost out lovelies. I had one hide under a dresser/side table thing in my grandma’s house. There was literally like a 3 inch opening and it was up against a wall, so we never even considered her being under there. Thank gooodness we decided that day to move ALL the furniture just in case. I had to pry her out, as she was pretty much stuck! haha

#19 Whippy Curly TailsNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 3:36 pm

I found a way to climb behind the kitchen cabinets … Mom tore the baseboard out with her hands & plucked me out. Pfft. I keep trying to get back in there … Hope!

Daisy Jiji


#20 WongoWomanNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 3:47 pm

Once my cat Ginger managed to sneak into a closet just as I was closing it without my seeing her. An hour later my other cat, Piccola, came to me and made me follow her to the closet door by meowing, pointing her head and running back and forth to make sure I was following. If only it were always like that!

#21 JaneNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 3:58 pm

Many years ago, our cat Catherine, then 16, went missing for FOUR WEEKS while we were away and my parents were house-sitting. We thought we’d never see her again. Then one day a neighbor told my husband he’d seen a black cat in his very large garage. My husband went in there, but it was another cat. He stayed a few minutes talking to the neighbor, and began hearing a very faint mewing noise. They traced it to a cupboard… there was Catherine. Going back over the evidence, they figured out that she’d gotten into the neighbor’s basement via the window well, and lived there for some time. Probably when they came back from vacation, she gotten into the garage, and someone accidentally shut her in the cupboard. She was as thin as a rail but overjoyed to be home, and didn’t suffer any ill effects. She lived to the ripe old age of 20. I wish she could have told us the story of those four weeks.

#22 KyleNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 4:05 pm

The recliner/pull-out couch advise is excellent: I have a cat who has taken to hiding inside the liner underneath my recliner. Completely inconspicuous unless one gets on hands and knees and looks underneath

I’ve also had a cat go missing for eight days. He slipped out the front door unnoticed one night, and found himself trapped outdoors by the time he wanted back in. We ultimately found him just a few doors away, hiding in some bushes. So, if you lose a cat outdoors, it’s very possible that he (or she, of course) hasn’t strayed far from the house. Look in every possible hiding place close to the house, and radiate your search outward from there. Posters help as well, of course.

#23 JodyNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 5:05 pm

If you don’t mind it being used, I have one of those automatic litter boxes I’d be happy to send you. They’re really not as great as they sound.

Happy Sockington is safe, though.

#24 AndreaNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 6:46 pm

Thank you so much for sharing all the tips and ideas and to everyone who contributed the tips and ideas. Having a loved one go missing is absolutely terrifying, and it’s so comforting to know we have this knowledge now if we need it.

Seriously. Thank you.

#25 Angie JoyNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 6:53 pm

Glad you’re home safe and sound Socks. Great home, great friends, great fans…what more could a cat want!

#26 LeighNo Gravatar on 07.17.09 at 7:24 pm

My cat, Tigger, got stuck underneath an overturned kiddie pool in the backyard (he was allowed limited access to the outdoors back then, but not anymore). He was “missing” for 4 days – it was a horrible time.
As for automatic litter boxes: the Litter Robot is the way to go. The ones from the store are not very good.

#27 Alison OesterholtNo Gravatar on 07.18.09 at 4:11 am

Penny, you mean this wasn’t a paid abduction/ransom attempt by yourself?

#28 MickeyNo Gravatar on 07.18.09 at 6:46 am

I never thought about having a dog find a lost pet! I guess they could be trained to use the scent. I don’t have cats, I have a dog, but it’s comforting to know there are many steps that can be taken if she is lost. Thank you so much!

#29 ElenaNo Gravatar on 07.18.09 at 7:48 am

If you think, or you know, that your cat got out, put a humane trap near the place where it escaped. Escaped cats rarely go far, and frequently come back. Drape a towel or something over the trap, and put something yummy inside. Check the trap frequently, and release any racoons or strays that you inadvertently trapped. Don’t worry about retrapping those babies- cats trapped once rarely make that mistake twice.

#30 shrinkrap2No Gravatar on 07.19.09 at 10:24 am

once when I was very young and more frivolous than I am now, I was out partying w/ my friends and got pretty drunk. I came home to get a jacket or something and noticed that my cat was sleeping in an open drawer full of t-shirts. without thinking (because I was drunk) I closed the drawer and went back out to meet my friends. when I came home I was even more drunk and just fell into bed asleep. the next day I couldn’t find my cat. Looked high and low and began to panic. i lived in a very small apartment so there weren’t many places for her to get lost. then suddenly in a flash I remembered seeing my cat in the drawer. Sure enough when I opened the drawer the cat was still there, and still asleep! so, be very careful with your animals when you are drunk and do not shut them in a drawer or closet!

#31 MaureenNo Gravatar on 07.19.09 at 1:58 pm

I’m glad Sockinton was found safe. I was worried about him when he was gone. I have four cats: Snow, spot, squeakers, and brad. None of them ever went missing. well, spot kind of did when she was a baby. She actually just fell in the toilet and couldn’t get out. didn’t noticed she was gone, but got a surprise when I went to use the restroom. I was scared, I thought she drowned but she just looked up at me and meowed. she was all wet and cold, but fine. I know she is going to hate me for mentioning it but thiught to mention it so if there is someone out there that has a baby cat that for them to be careful of the toilet. I and my Spot were lucky that nothing else happened than her getting all wet.

#32 yosofineNo Gravatar on 07.22.09 at 11:37 am

We have 4 cats. When our oldest ones were tiny kittens, they always found places we never thought possible. One day we were missing our sweet Megan. Finally I heard and followed the sounds of tiny kitten cries. Our family room couch is old leatherette and the bottom liner cloth was ripped off ages ago. She had crawled up into the wood-work of the inner frame of the couch arm and gone to sleep. When she woke up she was disoriented, in the dark, and didn’t realize enough to back out. We had to use a knife to slice across the outside of the couch arm to get to her out. Luckily, there is matching duct tape (gaffer tape) to close the cut couch and now Megan is way too big now to fit in there.

#33 AyeletNo Gravatar on 07.25.09 at 8:14 am

My study abroad host mom once unknowingly closed her cat in the oven (it was turned off thankfully!). He jumped in when she had turned around to set the dish on the counter. We couldn’t find him for 8 hours although we heard the meowing every once in a while. Finally I tried the oven and out he came, sauntering like nothing happened.

#34 AlisonNo Gravatar on 07.29.09 at 2:59 am

Always check neighbour’s garages and sheds. Most cats in the UK are outdoor animals and love to find a spot to sleep. If neighbours are away that’s an even better reason to look.

Years ago our neighbours lost their cat, Eric (still happy and alive – just to let you know before you worry). They could hear him crying in the house but couldn’t work out where the sound was coming from. It was one of those noises which seems to be coming from everywhere. They ripped out the bath panelling, lifted floorboards and emptied their airing cupboard. Then they asked us if we could find him. We went all round the house just as they had, looking in drawers and under chairs. Nothing.

Then when we were standing in the kitchen I commented that he sounded very close by. They’d assumed he was in the ceiling under the floorboards which was why they’d ripped them up. But he sounded even closer than that. I suddenly realised that the meows seemed to be coming from behind the kitchen units and the wife, in horror, remembered that she’d had all the drawers out to clean the units properly that morning. Just when Eric had disappeared.

He had snuck into one of the drawer openings and behind the units before the drawers were replaced, shutting him in. She quickly pulled one out and cautiously Eric crept out. What a relief!

Moral: Cats get in EVERYWHERE!