Several years ago, when I first began to consider the concept of lost cat behaviors, I decided to perform a little experiment. I had seen enough cases where lost cats exhibited very different behaviors. Some cats travel far, and others hide very close to home. Some cats meow, and other cats are completely silent.
I began to wonder what factors influence how a cat will behave when it becomes lost. I was smart enough to realize that I have no training or talents in scientific research, and that anything that I called "research" was simply an exploration for information that might eventually be used to conduct an actual scientific study. So, what better way to understand how displaced cats behave then to actually displace some cats and watch how they behave.
So here's what I decided to do—I had three housecats at the time: Yogi, Myron, and Tiffany. These three cats all had very different temperaments. This begged the question: Would they all behave differently when displaced into unfamiliar territory? Then, I decided that the question I would attempt to answer would be: How far would each of my cats travel if they were to escape outdoors?
I didn't just dump them outside as an experiment. I took each of my cats and put them into a harness attached to a long lead. I set a timer for 10 minutes, set them on my front porch, and watched their behavior while I held onto the end of the 30-foot leash. Here's what I logged and learned about each cat:
Yogi has a "careless cat" temperament. Sometimes she's friendly, and sometimes she's afraid. Most often, she's aloof. She won't approach a stranger in the house. She's a former outdoor access cat with 9 years experience of being allowed outdoors.
Immediately after setting her on the step, Yogi began meowing and moved down one step onto the sidewalk where she sat down. She looked around for three minutes. She then turned and walked into the dirt area by a bush and laid down. She appeared relaxed, back leg stretched out, tail lightly wagging with mild agitation, and eyes often half-closed. She remained in the same spot for the remainder of the evaluation. Once inside, Yogi darted behind a box in the den and stayed there for 45 minutes. She eventually came out and resumed normal behavior.
As a previous outdoor cat, Yogi's pattern was to establish a territory of a one-house radius of her home. If she was to escape outdoors, I will focus my search within a 3-house radius of my home using a cat-detection dog and a listening device.
Myron has a "curious clown" temperament. He is fearless around dogs and will go up to strangers and jump in their lap. He has plenty of personality and absolutely no fear. He is strictly an indoor-only cat but is taken outside on a regular basis in a harness/on leash.
Immediately after setting him on the step, Myron walked east off the step, stood, and looked around. He turned north and sauntered around the bushes, and then, turned around and investigated my entire front yard. He ate grass and smelled bushes. He was curious, not afraid. At the end of the ten minutes, he was in my next door neighbor's front yard. Once inside, Myron ran up to the front window and meowed in protest—he wanted out again.
Thank God that Myron is microchipped and always wears a collar with an ID tag because if he ever escapes outdoors, he will travel. I would need use a scent discrimination trailing dog to track him down. More than likely, he'd be inclined to approach a stranger.
Tiffany is a "catatonic cat." She is afraid of dogs, people, and her own shadow. She lives primarily inside one of our bedrooms. She feels the safest under a king bed. Tiffany will hide if she hears a stranger's voice. Because of her skittish, fearful behavior, she could easily be mistaken as being a "feral" cat. She is strictly an indoor-only cat, but she has escaped outside on three occasions. Each time she had gotten out, she turned around and immediately ran back into the house through the open door.
Immediately after setting her on the step, Tiffany froze in place. Her breathing was rapid and her pupils were constricted. She continually either looked back at the front door or at least kept one ear positioned facing the door. She did not move until I made a loud noise. This caused her to bolt and dart towards the dirt area behind the bush. She stayed frozen there for another two minutes. I made the mistake of making another loud noise, which caused her to bolt from the bushes like a streak of lighting and dash around the corner. When I got around the corner, I found the harness caught on a sago palm. Before I could reach her, Tiffany backed out of the harness and was loose! Thankfully, she behaved as she has done in the past and darted back to the front door (which was closed). I let her inside and she ran under my mother's bed to her safety zone. We did not see Tiffany until the following day.
If Tiffany escapes outdoors, I would leave a window or door open for her. But if she did not immediately return, I would obtain permission from my neighbors to use a humane trap to capture her.