Escape from Al-cat-raz

In October, a new cat started visiting our 3 while they were out in their netted ‘catio’ area. We lovingly named him Beastie, due to the fact that he is black, fluffy and absolutely huge. He also happens to be extremely cute, which meant that when Betty went missing (and he was the prime suspect) I found it almost impossible to be annoyed with him.

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Yes, this is another ‘crap we lost our cat’ blog post. Buckle up.

It was 9th December and we had been out doing Christmas shopping in the glorious surroundings of Lewisham Shopping Centre. I had bought a mini poinsettia (which would die 3 days later) and the other half got some new slippers. When we left the flat, the cats had been playing in the garden and we assumed they would come in when they felt like it (like they had done many times before). The catio had been taken down in early November as they seemed a lot more confident going out, and we wanted them to explore, so we had no reason to think anything would go wrong.

But, of course, it did.

By 8pm that night, Betty still hadn’t reappeared. George and Moo appeared unbothered by this so we fed them and tried calling their sister in, shaking biscuits, making ridiculous noises into the night. The whole lot. But she didn’t come in. We realised that she had probably encountered Beastie and fled somewhere.

Believing that she would fall for the same tricks as last time, I set up the humane trap again, put a blanket and a hot water bottle in it with a nice bowl of food and thought she’d be hungry and cold enough to come in immediately.

Instead, it snowed and Betty stayed away. As anyone who has ever had a missing cat will know, patience is key in these situations. Patience and Dreamies.

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So, for 11 days, we relied on our patience and bags of treats and the trap (which was being roundly ignored). By this point we had distributed leaflets to all the neighbours, the local vet, the CHAT shelter and the school which backs onto our house. The latter of these communications would be the most interesting as it turned out. More on that in a moment.

We also decided to invest in one of those infrared weatherproof camouflage-coated all singing, all dancing hunting cameras. Sidenote: best thing ever.

We had the idea that if we could at least spot Betty and figure out her routine, we might be able to find the best place to put the trap and hopefully get her back home before Christmas.

The first night resulted in footage of a fox and not a lot else. We also got a phone call from a neighbour offering to help us look for Betty as she had access to the area around the back by the school. Of course we leapt at the offer and agreed to meet her the next night.

We turned up at 8.30pm, Dreamies in hand, ready to do some cat hunting. Our friendly (if slightly eccentric) neighbour came out and directed us to where we would start the search. And so, for an hour and a half, we circled the area, calling into trees, bushes, underground parking spaces, alleyways, nooks, crannies, drainpipes… basically anything that a small, black panther could fit into. It became apparent over that 90 minute session that our neighbour was even more fond of cats than we are. This was demonstrated when at one point she got on the floor in front of someone’s house and tried to coax what was quite obviously an owned cat over for some treats to ‘check if it was a stray’. Still, having her on our side was better than not.

We parted ways with much better knowledge of the area, and went home to figure out a plan.

A few more days passed; Christmas came and went; the stockings I had bought for the cats remained over the fireplace, untouched for when Betty came home. We continued the routine of refreshing the food, moving the trap, calling out to her.

And then, on Boxing Day afternoon, there she was! Sitting on top of the 15ft high wall at the end of our garden having a sunbathe as if nothing was wrong. We quickly grabbed a leftover turkey leg and a feather toy and ran up the garden to try to coax her down. But, in typical cat fashion, she flatly ignored us. So I started hurling bits of meat up at her so at least she would eat something. This proved quite effective. So effective that we started getting regular sightings of her on our Bettycam.

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Except it wasn’t always Betty… as well as the fox(es) and a dog or 2 that were staying upstairs over Christmas, we also discovered that aside from Betty and Beastie, there are 2 other cats frequenting our garden every night. So, 4 black cats and a pack of canines. Gardens are mad after dark.

We eventually abandoned the idea of the trap, and instead started leaving bowls of food out on the patio table. Which we really should have tried first because as it turned out, Betty took very well to this and started coming down for regular meals.

This continued into January, and then it happened. One morning we let George and Moo out to have a play and stretch their legs. The rain and cold that we had had over Christmas and New Year finally lifted and it was nice and sunny. I was in the front room, with a clear view through to the back door, playing Mario Galaxy and swearing at the TV. Suddenly, there was a loud hissing from Moo. I turned to see what the fuss was and there in the kitchen was a small, black cat. Betty had returned…

But in my eagerness I managed to scare her off back through the catflap. Annoyed with myself, I moved out of sight and hoped she would come back in. About 10 minutes passed. George ventured back out, having come down to see what Moo was hissing about, and I was just about to give up and make some tea when George came barrelling back through the catflap pursued by Betty. The camera footage would later reveal that he had actually gone out and chirruped at her to come back in. Extra Dreamies for George!

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With Betty in the building, timing was everything. I waited for her to come far enough in before standing up. Predictably, she bolted to the nearest exit – which happened to be the door into our bedroom. WIN!

We had her in. I ran to the back door and bolted every lock on the catflap, the deadbolts, nailed some boards over the windows… ok not quite, but close enough. We had her home. A month and a day later, but home she was and that was that.

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As before, we kept her isolated for 24 hours to administer worming tablets, flea treatment and just ensure that she was eating and drinking ok. Despite being very annoyed and really quite skinny, she was fine and after a few hours even allowed me to stroke her. She slept under the bed that night, and the next day we let her see her siblings.

George, the sweet little ball of love that he is, immediately ran to her and gave her nose a lick. Moo growled at her from the corner, but that was all. Betty didn’t smell right, you see, and Moo is a cat that likes things to smell right. She’s also just a bit weird, so we had to allow her a while to calm down and accept her sister again.

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It’s taken 2 weeks, but finally there is peace and harmony in the flat once again. Betty is fattening up, George is snuggly and Moo is weird as hell. And we love them all.

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