The Adventure of the Walkabout Cat

One of the challenges of owning indoor-only cats is that they don’t always get with the program. They dart out of open doors, find ways to squirm through gates and partly-opened windows, and so forth. We humans have yet to find the means to explain to them why they must stay on one side of the door when there are so many intoxicating smells and things to chase on the other side.

In our neighborhood, there are all the usual reasons for keeping cats indoors, plus a few local ones. Predators (mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, plus critters who can take on a cat and come out on top, like raccoons), diseases, ticks, fleas, cars. Things that cats are predators for: songbirds and helpful garden reptiles, to mention a few.

In our household, the situation is complicated by having a retired seeing eye dog who has been trained to open doors. She can’t managed round knobs, but latches are no problem, nor are sliding screens.

Shakir and GayatriHere are our two cats, Shakir and Gayatri. Despite having one eye, Gayatri is a fearsome hunter. If we acceded to her wishes, she would present us with a snake or lizard every single day. Since this would mean disaster for our garden ecology, we keep her in jail. She gets out occasionally, which is why we use flea/tick/heartworm prevention on her, and she always comes back a few hours later, irate that we have not let her in right now.

Shakir, on the other hand, would sniff at a screen door and then slink away to a cozy basket. We always believed that of the two cats, he was the stay-at-home. Until one day, we discovered that Tajji, our afore-mentioned door artiste, had managed to open the sliding screen door. We did not realize this until some hours after the fact.

“Where’s Gayatri? Oh, thank goodness, she’s here, napping.”

And we did not think to look for Shakir until the next morning, when he failed to demand his breakfast. Panic ensued, followed by a search of the property, unprintable words about all the hiding places, visits to the neighbors, calls to the vet, postings on Nextdoor, and putting up flyers and posters within a several block radius.

All of this was to no avail, however, and I watched my emotional state go from I WANT HIM BACK NOW to noticing all the absences in our lives and the beginnings of grief. Then, 2 days later, while walking past that same screen door, I heard a meow. I dashed outside, just in time to see him scurrying into the hedge maze. I tracked him to the back fence, where he freaked out at the sight of me trying to soothe and entice him.

Sightings over the next few days confirmed that he was still in the yard, which is enclosed by 6 foot high chain link, mostly to protect the garden from the deer (AKA rats on stilts) but also to ensure a safe enclosure for the dog. Apparently, the combination of the difficulty of scaling or digging under the fence, plus the food that we began leaving out every night, persuaded Shakir to stay close.

But how to really get him back? After research and consultation, and in view of how quickly he had gone feral, we resigned ourselves to having to trap him. Dave borrowed a raccoon-sized HaveAHeart trap from a neighbor and set up it near where we had left food. The trap worked. But it didn’t catch Shakir… it caught a raccoon.

A very, very unhappy raccoon. Which had bloodied its paws trying to escape and torn up a corner of the house in the process.

We’re not allowed by law to relocate wildlife; it’s kill it or release it. Dave took the trap to the other side of the property and opened it. The raccoon took off at maximum turbo-charged speed. We very much doubt it will be back anytime soon.

Back to leaving food out every night, then slowly introducing the pressure-spray-cleaned trap at a distance, then moving the two closer and closer. Because Shakir has gotten so skittish and runs whenever he sees a person through the windows, we have not tried to spot him. So we’re not entirely sure that whatever is chowing down on that can of Fancy Feast every night is indeed our cat. Could be the raccoon, although the dog would have let us know. Could be a skunk. Could be another neighbor’s cat. We’ll find out soon.

We are now at the stage where the food has been eaten when left just inside the door of the trap, which has been locked open. Tonight, we’ll leave food at the back of the trap. If that’s eaten, then the trap gets set.

We’ve done a little thinking about what to do if we do catch Shakir. We have to assume he’ll be feral and we’ll have to tame him all over again. We don’t really have a room to lock him in, other than my office. And he may be crawling with fleas because it’s been warm, a raccoon has been in the yard, and he didn’t have flea/tick/heartworm prevention.

Tajji and Shakir

Tajji and Shakir

But one thing at a time, as they say.


And here is the last photo of Shakir, cuddled up to his jailbreak buddy, Tajji.

Stay tuned…




The Adventure of the Walkabout Cat — 9 Comments

  1. I’m hoping for you it’s him, and he’ll be caught soon; and that once back inside he’ll readjust quickly. Maybe he’s freaked out by suddenly having been ‘stargated’ into a whole new and threatening world, and will be so happy to be back in his safe and comfortable environment.

  2. Poor little fella. It sounds as if he was badly scared by something out there, probably the raccoon, and is now so freaked out he doesn’t really know his people. I hope when you bring him back into his indoor world, he’ll feel safe and be back to his old self. Sending hugs and scritches.

  3. Thank you, all. He/somecritter is still out there. We set the trap last night but this morning it was empty and the food untouched. Going on 2 1/2 weeks now.

  4. Oh no! That’s the worst feeling. Cats have such an odd brain; it really does seem to wipe itself when stressed. I hope he comes back soon and re-acclimates quickly.

  5. We had a very similar thing happen with our Eugene a few years ago. He was still a young cat, who had begun his life in the great outdoors, and wasn’t quite inured to indoor living. One evening he scooted out the front door as we brought in the groceries. Unfortunately our first reaction was to try to grab him. And then it became a game of keep-away in the dark. Try finding a black cat in the shadows. He took off down the street and all our efforts to locate him failed.

    We thought he was gone for good. Until one evening we saw him sneaking up our front step. Of course, he ran off when he saw us. The next night, we found him creeping around the the three-inch brick decorative ledge that circled our house underneath the windows, and then onto the fence. But he always ran away when we came near.

    Someone suggested that we put a container of his litter outside the door, as, I suppose a sort of reminder to him that this was his territory. We did that, as well as the requisite dish of the yummiest-smelling food we could entice him with. Slowly he started to come closer to the back door, as we moved the food closer.

    And then it rained. That’s when we put the food far enough inside the door that he’d have to come completely in to eat it and stood in shadows of the curtain waiting. As soon as he brought that last foot inside and started his meal, we quickly slid the door closed. He was startled at first, but it was as if a switch had been tripped: suddenly he knew who he was again, and ran around the house sniffing and purring and rubbing up against us, like he was wondering where we’d got to all that time.

    The same thing happened about a year later, when he was enticed by the neighbourhood calico and managed to pull the screen off the kitchen window, promptly had a set-to with another lurking tom and ended up streaking over the row of backyard fences like a rabid (and not so very graceful) hurdler. But we were prepared and he was only gone for a night this time. He hasn’t attempted an escape since…

    And that’s my long-winded way of saying keep at it and be patient. And once you have him back inside, he’ll probably revert to his old self again.

    Cats are inscrutable.

    • Thanks so much for that story! We are trying to take the long view here. Of course, it’s better for him to be in house, but the yard is safer than the hills (recent mountain lion sightings, and they have huge territories). He has food and water. Maybe tonight….

  6. Deborah,

    One thing you guys might also do is go farther out in the neighborhood and call for him. A friend’s cat was lost for two weeks, and what we think happened is that her boy got into a fight with an outdoor cat defending territory–and could not get back across that cat’s territory toward home.