LOS ANGELES — If a scared dog bolts from home, it's likely to run as fast and far as it can. But if a house cat panics, it's more likely to slink away and stop at the first good hiding place it finds.
Because the getaway is so different, the search has to be, too, said Nancy Peterson, cat programs manager for the Humane Society of the United States and a registered veterinarian technician.
Don't run to a shelter or post signs right away, she said. Immediately after you notice your pet is missing, search your yard, contact neighbors and show a photo to mail carriers, delivery drivers and paperboys.
"Most cats that escape or leave home won't go more than five houses away, so you should go to neighbor homes and ask if you can check their backyards," she said. "If the cat does get further, it's because a dog or another cat chased it. Unfortunately, the farther away it gets, the harder it is for it to get home."
The search for your feline friend tends to be tougher going than if you had lost a dog, experts say. Good Samaritans often come to the rescue of dog owners, picking up pooches and making a call to the owner or taking them to a shelter. But there is no cavalry for cats, and domestic ones are not easily caught — you can't just open a car door and coax it to hop in. But you can protect against the loss of your cat by microchipping it and strapping on an ID collar.
Even long-lost cats can be found, a joy that Mickey and June Wilson experienced. When an 8,700-acre wildfire came close to their Santa Barbara, Calif., home in May 2009, the couple grabbed their cat Morris and evacuated.
For one night, they stayed in a motel in Buellton, about 45 miles northwest of Santa Barbara.
When Mickey Wilson went to get luggage from the car, Morris, rambling freely in the second-story room, escaped. Wilson searched everywhere, following several tips, but came up empty-handed.
Heartbroken, Wilson and his wife returned home the next day without Morris. Relatives went up a few times after that to look but could not find the cat.