Voices of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals
by Evon Handras, Director of Administrative Services
“Boo Boo got out last night at about 1:30. I looked for him and couldn’t find him.”
I awoke the morning after Memorial Day to the note from a family member placed strategically in front of the coffee maker. It was scrawled in faded black marker and my blood ran colder and colder as I read each word. I searched my mind for some kind of consolation to ease the panic that was rapidly engulfing me.
Boo Boo had slipped out once before and I had found him cowering right by the side of the house; surely he must be there once again! I flew out the door full of hope but found nothing but the stark brick and shrubbery staring back at me. The previous time he escaped, my dear cat had been sitting there, completely immobilized out of fear, gazing at me with unblinking eyes that appeared to be as large as quarters. I had scooped him up into the safety of my arms and brought him back inside.
But not this time. I raced back up the stairs to confront the family member who left me the note. The furious litany began: “How could you have been so careless with the door?! Why didn’t you wake me as soon as this happened?! Six hours have passed since he escaped. He could be anywhere by now!” Anywhere and nowhere. As of this writing, Boo Boo is still missing and I am still searching for him. As one of my closest friends pointed out, “He’s a small creature and it’s a big world out there.” Indeed.
My Boo Boo was always gazing out the front door for hours on end. Sometimes I’d leave the house and return half a day later to find him still planted firmly by the door staring longingly outside. Once I calmed down enough to listen to the story, I accepted that it wasn’t so much a case of human carelessness but of my cat’s will. The door was open for just two seconds when Boo Boo, who was hiding behind the nearby desk, found his opportunity to run out. It was as if he had carefully planned his escape, waiting for precisely the right moment to make a break for it. That was the last time anyone saw him.
Be prepared for the unthinkable, because if this happens to your pet, you’ll be blindsided and might feel a twinge of guilt for not having done everything possible to give your pet a fighting chance at being found and returned to you. One never expects that this will happen to them but, when it does, it’s devastating. Not knowing where your pet is or what has happened to him or her is anguishing. You want answers and there are none. Are they hurt? Afraid? Cold? Hungry? Thirsty? Alive? Do they know their way back home? The unanswered questions haunt you day and night.
Summertime seems to be the season when most pets go missing. In addition to your pet running off of his or her own volition, disasters and emergencies can arise to cause your pet to bolt out of fear. So every pet parent needs to be prepared for that possibility as well! There are a few things you can do quickly, easily, and inexpensively to give your beloved lost pet a better chance of being reunited with you.
- Be sure your cat or dog is wearing a collar with an ID tag that includes an emergency telephone number! (In New York City you are required to purchase a license for your dog. This provides you with a tag for your dog’s collar that instructs anyone who finds your dog to call 311 and report him or her as found.) If you are concerned about your pet’s collar getting caught while playing and climbing, be aware that breakaway or snag-free collars are readily available in all pet supply stores. You might consider buying a collar that is also reflective, which could save your pet’s life if he or she ends up running through the streets at night. Don’t believe for a moment that you do not need a collar for a strictly indoor cat. You do! If Boo Boo had been wearing one, he would have been much easier to identify. Even if a person can’t get close enough to read it, it seriously narrows down the prospects when you get a call regarding a possible sighting.
- Microchip your pet! Please be sure to give your pet this added form of identification and protection. Although it doesn’t work like some kind of “GPS” system as some people mistakenly believe, if your pet ends up at a shelter or veterinarian’s office, they are customarily scanned for a chip. Sometimes animals travel much farther than you would expect and are picked up by a good Samaritan who lives in a distant part of the city or even in another state. Since one of the first things most people do when they rescue a cat or dog is bring them to the vet, if your pet is microchipped, you have a much greater chance of being reunited with them. Please remember to register the microchip with the issuer immediately. Microchipping is not expensive. The Mayor’s Alliance offers low-cost microchipping clinics throughout the warm-weather months where you can have your dog or cat microchipped for $25.
- Spay or neuter your pets! They are much less likely to feel the urge to roam, thus greatly reducing the chance that they will run away. Free or very low-cost spay/neuter for all cats and dogs of NYC residents is available whether or not one receives public assistance.
- Have photos of your pet readily available! Granted, most pet parents snap hundreds of photos of their pets being adorable, but it’s extremely important that you have clear photos of your pet, both close up and full body. You will need these to create a flyer for your lost pet should you ever need to!
- It’s important to remember that pets can be unpredictable. We can’t always know what will trigger them to flee. Please keep dogs on a leash unless they are in a completely secure area and do not leave them unattended tied to a post when you step into a store. It only takes a second for your beloved dog to be stolen. It does happen, so don’t risk it!
- Be sure that your windows have secure screens! Bear in mind that a screen alone is not always one hundred percent effective in keeping a pet that wants to go outside from doing so! It’s much safer to lower the top window (screen in place) so your pet will not be able to reach the screen should the urge to chase the birds becomes all-encompassing!
Now, imagine for a moment that the unthinkable has occurred: your pet has gone missing! Now what?! Once you’ve regained your composure it’s time to spring into action. Here’s what you need to do:
- React immediately! Every minute that passes could find your pet farther and farther away from you and the likelihood of your finding him or her quickly diminishes. If possible, conduct an aggressive door-to-door dragnet enlisting the help of family, friends, and neighbors. Create eye-catching flyers and post them in high-traffic locations. It’s illegal in NYC to post them on government-owned property, so be sure to avoid posting them on light posts, mailboxes, etc. Most businesses are willing to allow you to place a flyer in their windows. Talk to everyone in your neighborhood to let them know that you lost your pet, and hand them a flyer. Visit area vets and ask them to post in their waiting rooms. For tips on creating an eye-catching flyer, visit the Missing Pet Partnership website.
- Consider enlisting the services of pet recovery companies such as PetAmberAlert and Findtoto.com. Designed very much like the Amber Alert for missing children, once you submit the information on your lost pet, they issue a same day alert via phone and fax to neighboring homes and businesses, veterinarians, animal shelters, and pet-related businesses. There are various fees depending on the scope of the alert.
- Visit Animal Care & Control of NYC (AC&C). There is no longer a Lost and Found program at AC&C, so it’s very important that you visit all three shelter locations to check if your pet is there. Your pet may have been picked up and brought to any one of them, so be sure to visit each one every few days. The shelters are located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.
- Place a “Lost Pet” ad on Craigslist under the Community pages and be sure to repost it every seven days until your pet is found. Be sure to search through the Found Pet section as well. It’s best to search both the “Pets” and “Lost and Found” categories. Also, check these websites that are designed to help reunite lost pets with their people: PetHarbor.com, FindFido.com, MissingPets.com, Petfinder.com Classifieds, Lost and Pound, and America’s National Lost & Found Pet Database. You can find more Pet Lost & Found Resources on the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals website.
Sadly, every year in the U.S., thousands of pets are reported lost or missing. The percentage of recovered missing pets is staggeringly low, so prevention is key. Your lost pet may end up in an already overcrowded shelter. According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP), fewer than two percent of cats and only 15 to 20 percent of dogs are returned to their owners once they reach the shelter system. Most of these were identified with tags, tattoos, or microchips. Others that are fearful of strangers may end up making the streets their home. The estimated number of stray dogs and cats that live in the United States is impossible to pinpoint, but the estimates for cats alone range up to 70 million! If the missing pet was never spayed or neutered and remains at large, they will wind up reproducing, and contributing to the cat and dog overpopulation crisis.
My loss inspired me to write this article. I knew very little about losing a pet and how to respond before I had to deal with this crisis. I never thought it would happen to me, but it did. It’s been two months since I last saw my dear Boo Boo, a cat I rescued from a feral cat colony who turned out to be a very friendly and sweet cat who acted feral out of fear. He was probably someone’s abandoned or lost pet. We had a long history together — braving icy winters year after year where I would arrive at the place he called home (a materials lot for a marble company) to find him patiently waiting for his meal every night, always greeting me with some hissing to let me know he was there and that he was the boss; finally trusting me enough to reveal the friendly cat that he was and willing to come live inside where, I thought, I could keep him safe and content for the rest of his days. My heart aches for him but he is gone, fading away from my life like the marker that delivered the message that he had vanished.
Have I given up hope? No way. When I leave the office this evening I will go out searching for him. Despite the depressing statistics that point to the probability that I’ll never find him, I am hoping my former colony cat is surviving like he did before our paths crossed many years ago and that our paths will cross once again. In the meanwhile, he visits me in my dreams every few weeks, almost as if he knows that our brief time together in this alternate consciousness is filling the void his disappearance has created. I am happy for those few moments in my sleep, but then I awake to the reality that he is, in fact, gone and that the search for Boo Boo, my peripatetic cat, continues.
About the Author
Evon Handras, a former music business professional, joined the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals as Director of Administrative Services in 2007. She currently manages the Maddie’s Spay/Neuter Project in NYC and acts as liaison to the NYC Feral Cat Initiative. Evon is also active in Trap-Neuter-Return of the community cats in her home borough of Queens, which is how she acquired Boo Boo and her other cat, Mr. Peepers. In addition to her work on behalf of the animals, she still engages her passion for music by occasionally moonlighting as a DJ specializing in classic soul music.