It’s a Miracle!
Okay, maybe I am overstating it a bit, but the other day, an event at the shelter had staff and volunteers out front, exclaiming in joy and surprise. Was it a check for ten million bucks? Sadly, no. It was a gentleman and his son claiming their missing cat!
I’m guessing you’re surprised this is such a big deal for us. Truthfully, for all of the staff here at WCHS, this feels close to a miracle. When this older male cat showed up as a stray and had a microchip, Heidi, our vet tech, was thrilled. When the chip was actually registered to a person with a current phone number, I thought she might just explode before my very eyes.
Five to seven million cats and dogs enter shelters each year. Sadly, less than 5 percent of stray cats that make it into shelters nationwide are claimed by their owners. Or, to put it another way, 95 percent of the cats that come into shelters? No one ever comes looking for them. Here at the WCHS, our claim rate is higher – a whopping 8 percent. Yay? I’m glad we beat the national average, but here are our numbers from 2014: We took in 297 stray cats and of those, 24 were claimed. 24. No one showed up for 273 cats. We’ve even had cats who clearly had recently had expensive surgery and no one claims them.
But let’s not forget that most lost cats never even make it to a shelter. Cats are more often reunited with their owners without ever having been picked up as a “stray”. The ASPCA did a study of lost animals that made it home, and that number is much more reassuring – 85 percent of lost animals were reunited with their owners. Cats still get the short end of that stick – 74 percent made it home, while 93 percent of dogs made it home. Interestingly enough, owner demographics did not affect that return rate. Rich or poor, most animals make it home.
The most interesting factoid, in my opinion, is that cat owners tend to wait about three days before they start looking for their missing cat, while owners search for dogs right away. To quote Dr. Emily Weiss of the ASPCA, “Cats come home, dogs are sought”. This speaks loudly to how differently we view these two domesticated pets. Even leash laws and state licensing reflect just how differently we treat dogs and cats.
What would you do if you saw an unknown dog in your yard? You’d probably find that unusual, you might call your animal control officer, even in some of our most rural towns. But you see a cat and you might not even think twice. You probably don’t call your animal control officer. If you do, they may tell you to leave the cat, it will most likely make its way home, and they would be right – three quarters of them do make it home. And of those, most of them make it home on their own (59 percent), while 30 percent are found during neighborhood searches. Some of them are already living the life of Riley in a neighbor’s home, caviar at night and a new bed. So you begin to see why we are so surprised when someone actually comes to claim a cat. Which brings us back to Willow.
When his family came to get him, they told us they were from Keene, NH. Really?? Did this 14-year-old cat hitch a ride? Probably an unwitting one. Willow lives on a main street in Keene, and this is the second time he has gone AWOL. The first time, a neighbor assumed he was a stray and took him in. Our assumption is that Willow’s second grand adventure happened in a similar way – someone saw him on his street in Keene, assumed he was a stray, or maybe just thought he was cute, picked him up and brought him home to Brattleboro, where our local Animal Control Officer, Cathy Barrows, brought him to us. Was he happy living in Brattleboro or did he escape his captors in an attempt to get home? Either way, it really is something of a miracle that Willow made it home not once, but twice. This cat should buy a lottery ticket, he is really beating the odds.
Not surprisingly, the claim rate for dogs is higher, both nationally (10-30 percent) and in our experience, but still not as high as one might expect. But that is a story for another day.
To see what Dr. Weiss had to say on the subject, and for a link to her research, visit the ASPCA Pro website