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  • Dealing with Sadness

    Running Bear: Missing since 8/31/06

    Running Bear: Missing since 8/31/06

     

    The emotions we feel when our beloved cat goes missing include fear, guilt, regret, isolation, and grief, among others. If the cat is not found right away, these feelings can intensify. Sometimes well-meaning friends, neighbors, and family members say things that make us feel even worse, such as “It’s just a cat”, or “Just get another cat” or “You’re STILL looking for that cat?”

    No, your cat is not JUST a cat, he or she is not replaceable, and yes, of course you are STILL looking for your lost cat. What else would you be doing? It can take a really long time to find a lost cat! And a lot of work.

    Part of dealing with the grief is understanding it and realizing that whatever you are feeling, it is normal, appropriate, and expected.

    Fear

    Most of us immediately assume that our missing cat has been eaten by predators. This does happen, of course, but not nearly as often as people believe. Cats are not the first choice of food for any predator; not as long as there are wild turkeys, groundhogs, mice, voles, birds, and deer, none of whom fight back the way a cat does. Fishers are often believed to be hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting cat to come along. But fishers have been studied by NH scientists, and after examining the stomach contents of 1,000 NH fishers, they found evidence of cat hair in only one fisher out of the thousand. And since fishers eat carrion (roadkill) it is possible that even that one fisher did not kill a cat. Of course, it may happen sometimes that a fisher eats or harms a cat, but it is not the usual thing. Sadly, people driving cars are more to be feared than wildlife, when it comes to cat safety. I am not saying that there are no predators of cats in NH–there are owls and coyotes for example, who will sometimes take a cat. But it doesn’t happen as often as we fear. Or else how could we have such an overpopulation of stray and feral cats?

    Fear is a normal response to a missing cat–but the good news is that many, many cats who were assumed to be eaten by predators or hit by cars  have actually been found alive and well. We ALL think something awful has happened to our cats, but remember that nearly every single person whose lost cat came home once feared that their cat had been killed. And they were wrong.

    The Emotional Roller Coaster

    Every time you get a phone call or an email that someone has seen a cat that might be your lost one, your mood soars. You are so relieved, hopeful, and excited. Then the finder emails a photo to you, or you go see the cat, and it turns out not to be your cat. Your mood plummets. You feel miserable. You might even think it is hopeless, that your cat must be deceased. You’ll NEVER find her. It’s a terrible feeling to have your hopes dashed. But just because THAT cat was not your cat, it doesn’t mean your cat isn’t safe somewhere else. She just wasn’t THERE. That’s all it means. As difficult as it is to ride the emotional roller coaster, try following up on every single lead you get, because any one of them may be your cat. But prepare yourself by acknowledging that there will be many false alarms. If you expect some false alarms, they will be easier to handle.

    Guilt

    Most people deal with some degree of guilt when a cat goes missing. Maybe they blame a family member, or feel the guilt themselves. Why did I let her out? Why wasn’t I watching him? How could I have left her with a pet sitter? Why did I get that new kitten (dog, puppy, etc.) so that my cat felt unwanted?

    No matter what the circumstances, no matter if you are THE BEST cat mom or dad that ever lived, you will probably second guess yourself and have regrets. This is part of the grief process. These guilty thoughts are not usually accurate though. For instance, if you’ve let your cat out into the yard every day for 10 years, then he suddenly goes missing, how could you have known that something unusual would happen that day, when you were merely going through your everyday routine? How could you have known that the cat carrier would break right outside the vet’s office? You couldn’t. Most of us can’t predict the future.

    RB by food plate web

    Regret

    Regret is slightly different from guilt because you can feel regret without really feeling that your actions caused your cat to become lost. Regret is when we think “If only I had done this or not done that” it MIGHT have kept our cat from becoming lost. You may regret that you came home late the day your cat went missing, but you know it isn’t your fault–your boss made you stay late. If only you hadn’t stopped at the supermarket on the way home, (as you do every day without incident) if only you’d realized the window screen was worn before your cat managed to make a hole in it and escape (but you didn’t realize). There are hundreds of things that go through your head at a time like this, though you know it wasn’t really your fault that your cat went missing, and maybe none of the “If only” scenarios would have made a bit of difference.

    Isolation

    If you are lucky, the people in your life,  family, friends, neighbors, etc. are supportive of your search for your cat. They physically help you search, and not only do they understand the difficult emotions you are experiencing, but they make it clear that they are on your side.

    Not all of us are so fortunate. Sometimes people around us do not understand our feelings, and do not understand what the big deal is. They may discourage us from searching for our cat, they may be unsympathetic to our fears and our need to spend time and money searching for our cats. This makes things harder, but remember that you are not alone. At any one time, there are many other people in NH searching for a lost cat and each of those people understands EXACTLY what you are going through, because they are going through it too.

    A cat is part of your inner circle, your family. Often the love we feel for our pets can be more intense and all-encompassing than the love we feel for our humans. Not that we love our animals MORE, exactly,  just in a different and very personal and wonderful way.

    If a human in your family were missing, you would have the support of police, search teams, friends, family, etc. and perhaps the whole community would be out searching for your lost family member. People would bring you casseroles, hug you, and pray for you. You wouldn’t have to do much of the actual searching yourself.

    But when it is a CAT who is lost, you might be on your own.  If you are in New Hampshire, and are feeling isolated and alone in your search, please join our Facebook group at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CatFinders/ We have a pretty supportive group there, and no blaming/shaming/mean comments allowed! It is not a support forum per se, but sometimes just connecting with others who understand can make you feel less isolated.

    Grief

    The feelings described on this page are all part of the grief process. Why are you grieving when you don’t even know if your cat will be found or not? Because grief doesn’t happen only when there is a death. It’s the not-knowing, the worry, the scary possibilities that can cause this sort of grief. The sadness can be overwhelming, and may get worse the longer your cat is missing. And the worry is crippling: is your cat all right? Is someone helping her? Is she hungry? What if she doesn’t get her medicine in time?

    Let yourself cry as much as you need to, as often as you need to. It’s normal to feel sad under these circumstances. For some of us, it might be the worst, or one of the worst, experiences that we will ever go through. It can be excruciating. So crying is completely appropriate, whether you are male or female, child or adult.

    But meanwhile, do whatever you can to find your cat. Search every possible place that your cat may be hiding or trapped on your property, and ask neighbors to search (or allow you to search) their outbuildings, garages, bushes, drainpipes, trees, and basements.

    Springing into action will make it more likely that you will be reunited with your cat–setting humane traps, visiting shelters, putting up posters, making flyers, calling the police, posting on Facebook and other websites. If you are unable to do those things and have nobody to help you, you can still set out food and water for your cat, and leave a way for him to get back inside, should he come home on his own. Diligent searching is not only the best way to increase the odds that your cat will return home, but for some of us, it is the only thing that can help us get through the sadness and fear we are feeling–we are keeping busy, while also ruling out the scariest possibilities. Even if your diligent search does not produce your cat, at  least you will have the comfort of knowing that you did everything you possibly could.

    When searching for your cat, try to keep your fear and sadness at home. Cats seem able to understand our moods; if your cat senses that you, the big human, are afraid, then he or she may feel that it must be pretty scary out there. Better to stay hidden. Instead, try to call your cat in a welcoming manner, as if you are merely calling him to a meal, as usual. And shake some treats or dry food.

    RB asleep on his feetsmall

     

    Remember that cats get lost all the time. It is really very common. It is nothing to be ashamed of. The more you do to try and find your cat, the better are the chances that some of the measures you’ve taken will help bring your cat home, either directly or indirectly.

    Please read the other pages on this website as they have information that may help in your search. If you would like to receive Cat Finders’ (free) search strategy handouts, please send an email to Jessica at cat.finders@comcast.net and let me know if your cat is an outdoor-access cat who didn’t come home as usual, or an indoor-only cat who got outside, or if your cat is lost in an unfamiliar area, such as a cat who escaped his carrier outside the vet’s office, or a cat who escaped at a highway rest area. These handouts are more helpful immediately after your cat has gone missing, but even if it has been a while, there may still be a few things you haven’t tried yet.

    Closure

    Closure is an important part of getting through your grief. If you do not ever find your cat despite a diligent search, you will always wonder, and part of you may always ache because you don’t know the end of your cat’s story. Is he safe and living with another family? Or not?

    As difficult as it sounds, it is recommended that one of the first things you do once you discover that your cat is missing is to check the roadsides on your street and nearby streets, to rule out the possibility that your cat has been hit by a car. (He or she might still be alive). Search your yard and woods for any sign of foul play, i.e. blood or fur. You should also call the sanitation dept. in your town and find out if they may have picked up a deceased cat in your area that meets your cat’s description. As difficult as it is to make this sort of search and that sort of phone call, it is better to know the sad truth than to continue to hope and search for an un-findable cat for weeks or months or years.

    Unfortunately, some of us will never be able to get closure. What if your cat is never found, alive or otherwise? This is a very hard thing to go through. It will be harder for some of us than others, and depends on the depth of your bond with your cat. The more bonded you are, the greater the grief. If people tell you that you are getting too upset, it only means that you and your cat had a very loving relationship, deeper than many people can understand. You are lucky to have had this incredible connection with your cat, and people who have never felt it are missing out on one the best parts of life.

    Running Bear

    Running Bear

     

    It may help you to imagine that your cat is happy somewhere, since you don’t know otherwise. If your sadness lasts a long time, interferes with your ability to work or care for your family or yourself, or becomes unbearable, it might be a good time to seek out a grief counselor. Grief counselors have special training to help and support people who are going through these intense feelings, and believe it or not, they work with people grieving over lost or deceased pets all the time. The loss of a beloved cat is a terrible thing to go through. Get help if you need it. Most grief counseling is short-term and therefore not very expensive. Remember that working through your grief does not mean you stop loving your cat, or that you stop looking for your cat, or that you forget about your cat! It means you are getting help and support to get through this awful time in your life.

    Friends, Neighbors, and Family Members

    If you know of a friend or neighbor who is searching for a lost cat on their own, why not offer to help them put up posters or see what other support they might need? Maybe they don’t have a computer or know how to use the internet, and perhaps you could offer to post their lost cat ads online for them. Just letting them know that you understand may help take away the isolation they feel, and thereby make this process a lot easier for them.

    If the person who is searching for a lost cat is not you, but your spouse, friend, or other person in your life, you may wish to spare them the pain they are going through, and you might feel it is wrong to encourage the false hope that they will ever find their cat. Should you try to get the person to accept that the cat is gone, and encourage them to move on with their lives? Sometimes this might be the best solution, but for most of us, it isn’t. It is not a matter of false hope to explore the many possibilities of where the cat might be, rather than jumping to the worst possible conclusion and believing it. Instead of trying to protect your loved one, help search for the cat. Help your friend, spouse, or child follow up on every lead, exhaust every strategy, and do whatever possible to find their lost cat. Only then will the person truly be able to “move on”.

    If you feel that the person looking for the cat has been looking for too long, or if you find it difficult that they are not doing their share of the housework or taking care of the things they usually take care of, then you are not alone. However, the reality is that it can take a very long time to find a lost cat. Days, weeks, months, even years.

    You might not think it is worth all the trouble. And if you feel that way, then you likely do not have as close a bond or as deep a love for the cat as does your friend or family member. Please try to understand that a missing cat is an EMERGENCY situation, no matter how long it lasts. Action is necessary. One way to support the person might be to take on some of the tasks that person normally does, so that he or she can have the time needed to search online or in the neighborhood.

    Your friend, husband, wife, or child is going through maybe the worst time of their life. If you doubt that, imagine that one of your children is suddenly gone–what wouldn’t you do to get your child back, and how worried, sad, and scared would you be? How many awful scenarios would be running through your mind? Believe me, nobody would tell you to stop searching after a day or two. Nobody would tell you you’re being silly or wasting time. True, a cat is not a human child, and is usually able to take care of him or herself better than a child might. But love is love, and the bond between a human and an animal often feels like a parent-child relationship. Even if you don’t agree with that, understand this:  your friend or family member is going though the SAME GRIEF PROCESS that the parent of a missing child goes through. And their feelings are just as real, possibly just as deep, and just as important.

    With this in mind, any help and support you can give the person who is grieving over a lost cat will be long remembered. One of the ways our human relationships deepen and grow stronger is by helping our loved ones when they need us the most. Having lost a beloved cat is one of those times.

     

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    cat.finders@comcast.net
    www.catfinders.org
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/CatFinders/

     

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