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Thewright

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My 9 year old sweet indoor kitty Fae got out of the house on Sat. It's now Friday and she's still not home. Hoping for some expert advice on getting her home! First couple of days I tried the normal recommended things. Litterbox, food, and clothing outside, flyers up, posts on Facebook, walking around with food calling to her in the middle of the night, leaving the door open at all hours.. I set out motion cameras and she just wasn't coming around at all. Eventually a neighbor who feeds strays called and told me she's been feeding her! We finally got sight of her when the neighbor called and said she was in their yard. But as soon as she saw me she ran. We discovered she has been hiding in the crawlspace of an abandoned house 3 blocks from my house and going back and forth between there and the neighbor who is 2 blocks away. So she's not anywhere near our house. My husband and I have spent the last 3 days following her around the neighborhood. She won't come anywhere near us. I've been reading a lot about cat behavior and I've been lead to believe that an indoor cat will be terrified, hunker down, and run from everyone including her owners. She is running from everyone, BUT! She's not hunkered down and scared. I'll drive by and she'll be lounging on the sidewalk or sauntering into the cat-feeding neighbor's yard or sunning in the entrance of the crawlspace. She isn't "running" running, she just makes sure to stay about 10 feet away from anyone. She sits there and stares at me calling out shaking food at her and walks off when I get closer or she gets bored of watching me. What is she doing???? Last night we went to the abandoned house and sealed off all entrances except the one she goes in. I've been putting food inside the crawlspace and she's been eating it (good because we've been inadvertently disrupting her feedings with the neighbor). This morning she was sitting in the neighbors yard so I sat across the street with some smelly wet food playing with a cat toy. Every cat on the block came running except her. She watched me for a few minutes then wandered back to the crawlspace. As soon as she got in she started eating the food I had left her, but as I got closer she ran deeper into the crawlspace. So I went in and closed the entrance behind me. I crawled all over the place (yuck) and could not find her. I dont know where she could have gone but she was either very well hidden (run-of-the-mill crawlspace, not many places to hide) or she found a way out (not likely as we sealed all exits!) So I gave up and closed it back up in case she is still in there. I'm going to check in a few hours to see if she's eaten any more food, as that will be a sign that she is in fact still in there. If not I'll open it back up so she can get back in (will she come back in if she came around when it was closed?). A humane trap would be the best bet for catching her I think, especially since she's eating her food. But I literally cannot afford one right now 😞 she happened to run away in between paychecks.
So I bought some calming chews and put them in her food. I'm hoping that will help somehow. But what else do I do? And why is she acting full-on feral??
Thanks for any help
 

ArtNJ

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I dunno about the psychology, but it has always been my experience that trying to catch your cat outside when they dont want to come back is the wrong approach. Cats, even the chubby ones, are too fast and too warry. They will break your ankles and just flat out humiliate you if you end up going for a grab and chasing. Instead, you act nonchalant, happy and carefree. If the cat has a favorite brand of treats, bring some and offer them in your usual way. Make whatever noise and whatever signals you use that you want to pet the cat. Do so. Only when the cat is in trust mode do you go for the grab. Of course, it does sound like you more or less used this approach already -- I'd just keep at it, be patient.

FYI, some shelters will let you borrow a trap. Just in case.

She is spayed I assume?
 
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FeebysOwner

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If the neighbor is willing, perhaps she can try to 'befriend' your cat and help with an eventual catch? Also, ask around the neighborhood to see if anyone already has a trap you could borrow. If you have a Next Door Neighbor web site, you could ask about borrowing a trap on there as well.

There is no way to know for sure why she ran away and doesn't want to come back. However, it is most likely some sort of change that has occurred in your home - even something that you consider of no consequence, but she does. Has she always been one to try to get out of the house?

Are there any family/friends that she has always loved that could help attract her back home?
 
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Thewright

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I dunno about the psychology, but it has always been my experience that trying to catch your cat outside when they dont want to come back is the wrong approach. Cats, even the chubby ones, are too fast and too warry. They will break your ankles and just flat out humiliate you if you end up going for a grab and chasing. Instead, you act nonchalant, happy and carefree. If the cat has a favorite brand of treats, bring some and offer them in your usual way. Make whatever noise and whatever signals you use that you want to pet the cat. Do so. Only when the cat is in trust mode do you go for the grab. Of course, it does sound like you more or less used this approach already -- I'd just keep at it, be patient.

FYI, some shelters will let you borrow a trap. Just in case.
Thanks, I'll call around shelters and see if I can get my hands on one.
My very biggest problem with this cat-catching business is that I have 2 kids and very little access to babysitters. Today I believe part of the reason she ran off instead of coming to check out the food and toy I was playing with was because my toddler was in the car next to me screaming. 2 days ago he loudly walked up to her and scared the crap out of her. My toddler just won't give me enough time to build up that trust with her 😞
Cat trap seems like a great approach if I can get my hands on one. Thanks
 
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Thewright

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If the neighbor is willing, perhaps she can try to 'befriend' your cat and help with an eventual catch? Also, ask around the neighborhood to see if anyone already has a trap you could borrow. If you have a Next Door Neighbor web site, you could ask about borrowing a trap on there as well.

There is no way to know for sure why she ran away and doesn't want to come back. However, it is most likely some sort of change that has occurred in your home - even something that you consider of no consequence, but she does. Has she always been one to try to get out of the house?

Are there any family/friends that she has always loved that could help attract her back home?

No she's never been one to run away! At our old house we had a screened in porch that we left open and even then she would only peek her head out once every couple of months. The first week we moved in she got out and then immediately screamed at the door til we let her back in.. I'm getting my Next Door app confirmation postcard in the mail today so I'll be able to use that soon.
She likes my husband more than me which is a shame because she is my cat and I rescued her and nursed her back to health 🤷‍♀️ but she's not responding to him either...
 
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Thewright

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Got a babysitter for half an hour, sitting in front of the crawlspace now armed with treats and toys, I see her walking around in there and hopefully she'll come out soon. She hasn't eaten any more food though (meaning she hasn't had a calming chew yet either)
 

moxiewild

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The “rules” about lost pet behavior are merely guidelines and general predictions to help searching owners understand both what to expect and how to react, and help them cope with a companion suddenly treating them like a scary stranger.

Don’t get hung up on it. The only truly predictable thing about lost pet behavior is that you can’t predict it. Cats can often adopt a variety of more feral behaviors like fear/weariness of humans when they suddenly find themselves in an unfamiliar environment, while not adopting totally feral behavior. This is completely normal.

It’s such a relief that you’ve already found her! And also that she’s found a relatively safe shelter, that you were able to locate and confirm where exactly that shelter is, and that she’s had access to food and water this whole time because of your kind neighbor!

I know things probably feel very grim right now and you are very frustrated and worried, but try to focus on the positives, because there are a lot to consider right now! You’ve already won the toughest 98%+ of the battle to recovering a lost pet!

Your inclination is correct. A humane trap - and coordinating with the neighbor to withhold food from her prior to trapping - is your best bet by far.

As far as accessing a trap, or otherwise trapping her, you actually have a lot of options -

- Contact your local city and county Animal Control Services. Most will lend you a trap for a refundable deposit or free of charge. They may even trap for you or otherwise help.

- Contact your vet and any vet in town. Most clinics have traps or access to one, and will lend them out for free or for a refundable deposit.

- Contact every rescue, shelter, and sanctuary in your area, including any wildlife rescues, sanctuaries, or individual/private rehabilitators. I would try any feral or TNR specific organization, any rescues that at least emphasize a participation in TNR, colony management, or barn/working/garden cat programs, and low cost spay/neuter clinics first, as those will be your very best bet. My local low cost spay/neuter clinic does not have traps, but they have at least a dozen people they could and will refer me to or otherwise connect me with who do.

- Go to the Alley Cat Allies website and do a search through their Feral Friends Network to see if anyone might be in your area. While not a feral situation, I have had people with lost pet cats contact me through there before and I have been more than happy to help them out. I believe that’s very likely the case for most other registered Feral Friends.

- Post on Facebook and Nextdoor with an ISO (in search of) post or simply make a post with an explicit subject/title/first line asking if anyone has a humane trap you can borrow. The very first and most prominent thing you say should be VERY concise about that, and once that’s out if the way you can then explain why you need it and the necessity of borrowing vs buying. Don’t forget to post on other near by city/county Facebook groups as well. Online garage sale plages are a good place to start - even if it’s not entirely relevant or is technically against the rules, most admins will make an exception for something like this and you’ll either find someone with a trap, someone who knows someone with a trap, or someone who knows of another, more relevant Facebook group or organization that you can post to/contact.

- if you have $30-40 to spare, you can purchase a raccoon trap from Tractor Supply or similar cheaper traps at other feed or hunting supply stores. The cheaper traps tend to have a stiffer mechanism, meaning there’s a fair chance a cat could step on the trigger plate without setting it off - HOWEVER, there are multiple ways you can modify this.

Google and search TCS for ways to modify a regular trap to trip for a kitten. You can also use the “water bottle” trick. There's plenty of info about that online, but you essentially rig the trap for manual use - rather than set as normal, you would use a water bottle to keep the trap open. You tie a long string to the bottle, find a hiding spot, and pull the string when kitty is all the way in.

- Another thing you can do is a variation of the water bottle trick that may very well cost you nothing and that you could try out immediately. If you have a regular pet carrier or a small-medium wire dog crate, you can set it up like a manual trap. Tie a string to the door, hide, and wait. Practice a few times first because depending on where the carrier/crate is relative to your hiding spot, some angles require looping the string through the carrier and out a back opening, while some don’t. It also helps you get a feel for how fast you need to pull and how hard you need to hold, and potentially other various things or issues you won’t really think of until you’re in the moment if you don’t practice first. Despite owning 5 traps and a drop trap, I almost exclusively use this method to trap timid strays and semi-ferals, who I often don’t even need to hide for but simply keep a distance from. It tends to be less traumatic (for us both!) and many cats are far more willing to go into a carrier or crate rather than a trap, so it has become a preferred method of mine.

- If you have the time and money, there are some very cheap ideas for how to make a drop trap on here and online.

- There are also free options for creating a drop trap, but you’ll likely need to get creative with making it or with your Google-fu in searching for plans and ideas. People have used all sorts of things from plastic totes to laundry baskets when there were no other alternatives. Just reasearch how a regular drop works and apply and same basic principles to whatever you make, and modify those principles as needed. For instance, the person I watched use a plastic tote didn’t include the “transfer” mechanism, but modified the process by very, very carefully sliding the lid under while the cat was still under the tote (don’t forget air holes for something like this!). The more people you can get to help you with any sort of drop trap, the better. And make sure to properly weigh down whatever you use!

Few more things, I don’t believe you mentioned this, but sorry if I missed it. Can the neighbor get close to her at all? And I assume you already asked her if she has a trap?

Also, can you coordinate with your husband so that one of you can watch your kids while the other works with the cat?

ArtNJ had a really great suggestion, although I’d add attempting this as well - go out there, gently greet her, and then just sit with your back to her and completely ignore her for a while. This is a technique often used to tame and socialize ferals, and gain the trust of socialized cats with a traumatic background or history of abuse, or who are simply timid for whatever reason.

In cat language, ignoring other cats/animals/humans and keeping your back to them is a significant indication of trust. It is actually a very important part of communication across the entire Felidae family, all the way up to lions. For instance, you will never see a true feral turn it’s back to someone unless it is running away at the same time.

I make huge strides in progress with the types of cats I mentioned earlier by actually just sleeping/napping in front of them, for the simple reason that I’m essentially just ignoring them for a prolonged period of time while I sleep!

Ignoring them allows them the time they need to process that you are not a threat. It also displays that you don’t see them as a threat either. Both work to translate that the situation as a whole is nonthreatening, which in turn allows them to put their guard down a bit.

You’re almost to the finish line here. I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t despair - you’ll get her :)
 
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moxiewild

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Also, I would nix the calming chews immediately.

You don’t want to unnecessarily risk her or another cat having a reaction to them (unless she’s had them before and you already know she tolerates them well, but other cats might still be of concern), and you definitely do not want to risk altering her (or other cats’) mood or state of alertness!

It is imperative for any cat outdoors to keep their wits about them at all times, any sort of sedation is not recommended. While this sort of “sedation” would very likely be extremely mild, if it even impacted her at all, I still would not take the risk on an animal outdoors. I won’t even offer my ferals catnip for this reason.

That fear, or “feral behavior,” is coming from an important instinct that helps them to survive. It is essential to them. You may not be a threat to her (whether she’s knows it or not), but plenty of other things outside are.

I fully understand your thought process here, but please do not risk impairing her ability to deal with those potential dangers.
 
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CatLover49

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My 9 year old sweet indoor kitty Fae got out of the house on Sat. It's now Friday and she's still not home. Hoping for some expert advice on getting her home! First couple of days I tried the normal recommended things. Litterbox, food, and clothing outside, flyers up, posts on Facebook, walking around with food calling to her in the middle of the night, leaving the door open at all hours.. I set out motion cameras and she just wasn't coming around at all. Eventually a neighbor who feeds strays called and told me she's been feeding her! We finally got sight of her when the neighbor called and said she was in their yard. But as soon as she saw me she ran. We discovered she has been hiding in the crawlspace of an abandoned house 3 blocks from my house and going back and forth between there and the neighbor who is 2 blocks away. So she's not anywhere near our house. My husband and I have spent the last 3 days following her around the neighborhood. She won't come anywhere near us. I've been reading a lot about cat behavior and I've been lead to believe that an indoor cat will be terrified, hunker down, and run from everyone including her owners. She is running from everyone, BUT! She's not hunkered down and scared. I'll drive by and she'll be lounging on the sidewalk or sauntering into the cat-feeding neighbor's yard or sunning in the entrance of the crawlspace. She isn't "running" running, she just makes sure to stay about 10 feet away from anyone. She sits there and stares at me calling out shaking food at her and walks off when I get closer or she gets bored of watching me. What is she doing???? Last night we went to the abandoned house and sealed off all entrances except the one she goes in. I've been putting food inside the crawlspace and she's been eating it (good because we've been inadvertently disrupting her feedings with the neighbor). This morning she was sitting in the neighbors yard so I sat across the street with some smelly wet food playing with a cat toy. Every cat on the block came running except her. She watched me for a few minutes then wandered back to the crawlspace. As soon as she got in she started eating the food I had left her, but as I got closer she ran deeper into the crawlspace. So I went in and closed the entrance behind me. I crawled all over the place (yuck) and could not find her. I dont know where she could have gone but she was either very well hidden (run-of-the-mill crawlspace, not many places to hide) or she found a way out (not likely as we sealed all exits!) So I gave up and closed it back up in case she is still in there. I'm going to check in a few hours to see if she's eaten any more food, as that will be a sign that she is in fact still in there. If not I'll open it back up so she can get back in (will she come back in if she came around when it was closed?). A humane trap would be the best bet for catching her I think, especially since she's eating her food. But I literally cannot afford one right now 😞 she happened to run away in between paychecks.
So I bought some calming chews and put them in her food. I'm hoping that will help somehow. But what else do I do? And why is she acting full-on feral??
Thanks for any help
:welcomesign: to you n ure kitty or kitties...Hope ure kitty comes home safe n sound:crossfingers::catlove:
 
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Thewright

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The “rules” about lost pet behavior are merely guidelines and general predictions to help searching owners understand both what to expect and how to react, and help them cope with a companion suddenly treating them like a scary stranger.

Don’t get hung up on it. The only truly predictable thing about lost pet behavior is that you can’t predict it. Cats can often adopt a variety of more feral behaviors like fear/weariness of humans when they suddenly find themselves in an unfamiliar environment, while not adopting totally feral behavior. This is completely normal.

It’s such a relief that you’ve already found her! And also that she’s found a relatively safe shelter, that you were able to locate and confirm where exactly that shelter is, and that she’s had access to food and water this whole time because of your kind neighbor!

I know things probably feel very grim right now and you are very frustrated and worried, but try to focus on the positives, because there are a lot to consider right now! You’ve already won the toughest 98%+ of the battle to recovering a lost pet!

Your inclination is correct. A humane trap - and coordinating with the neighbor to withhold food from her prior to trapping - is your best bet by far.

As far as accessing a trap, or otherwise trapping her, you actually have a lot of options -

- Contact your local city and county Animal Control Services. Most will lend you a trap for a refundable deposit or free of charge. They may even trap for you or otherwise help.

- Contact your vet and any vet in town. Most clinics have traps or access to one, and will lend them out for free or for a refundable deposit.

- Contact every rescue, shelter, and sanctuary in your area, including any wildlife rescues, sanctuaries, or individual/private rehabilitators. I would try any feral or TNR specific organization, any rescues that at least emphasize a participation in TNR, colony management, or barn/working/garden cat programs, and low cost spay/neuter clinics first, as those will be your very best bet. My local low cost spay/neuter clinic does not have traps, but they have at least a dozen people they could and will refer me to or otherwise connect me with who do.

- Go to the Alley Cat Allies website and do a search through their Feral Friends Network to see if anyone might be in your area. While not a feral situation, I have had people with lost pet cats contact me through there before and I have been more than happy to help them out. I believe that’s very likely the case for most other registered Feral Friends.

- Post on Facebook and Nextdoor with an ISO (in search of) post or simply make a post with an explicit subject/title/first line asking if anyone has a humane trap you can borrow. The very first and most prominent thing you say should be VERY concise about that, and once that’s out if the way you can then explain why you need it and the necessity of borrowing vs buying. Don’t forget to post on other near by city/county Facebook groups as well. Online garage sale plages are a good place to start - even if it’s not entirely relevant or is technically against the rules, most admins will make an exception for something like this and you’ll either find someone with a trap, someone who knows someone with a trap, or someone who knows of another, more relevant Facebook group or organization that you can post to/contact.

- if you have $30-40 to spare, you can purchase a raccoon trap from Tractor Supply or similar cheaper traps at other feed or hunting supply stores. The cheaper traps tend to have a stiffer mechanism, meaning there’s a fair chance a cat could step on the trigger plate without setting it off - HOWEVER, there are multiple ways you can modify this.

Google and search TCS for ways to modify a regular trap to trip for a kitten. You can also use the “water bottle” trick. There's plenty of info about that online, but you essentially rig the trap for manual use - rather than set as normal, you would use a water bottle to keep the trap open. You tie a long string to the bottle, find a hiding spot, and pull the string when kitty is all the way in.

- Another thing you can do is a variation of the water bottle trick that may very well cost you nothing and that you could try out immediately. If you have a regular pet carrier or a small-medium wire dog crate, you can set it up like a manual trap. Tie a string to the door, hide, and wait. Practice a few times first because depending on where the carrier/crate is relative to your hiding spot, some angles require looping the string through the carrier and out a back opening, while some don’t. It also helps you get a feel for how fast you need to pull and how hard you need to hold, and potentially other various things or issues you won’t really think of until you’re in the moment if you don’t practice first. Despite owning 5 traps and a drop trap, I almost exclusively use this method to trap timid strays and semi-ferals, who I often don’t even need to hide for but simply keep a distance from. It tends to be less traumatic (for us both!) and many cats are far more willing to go into a carrier or crate rather than a trap, so it has become a preferred method of mine.

- If you have the time and money, there are some very cheap ideas for how to make a drop trap on here and online.

- There are also free options for creating a drop trap, but you’ll likely need to get creative with making it or with your Google-fu in searching for plans and ideas. People have used all sorts of things from plastic totes to laundry baskets when there were no other alternatives. Just reasearch how a regular drop works and apply and same basic principles to whatever you make, and modify those principles as needed. For instance, the person I watched use a plastic tote didn’t include the “transfer” mechanism, but modified the process by very, very carefully sliding the lid under while the cat was still under the tote (don’t forget air holes for something like this!). The more people you can get to help you with any sort of drop trap, the better. And make sure to properly weigh down whatever you use!

Few more things, I don’t believe you mentioned this, but sorry if I missed it. Can the neighbor get close to her at all? And I assume you already asked her if she has a trap?

Also, can you coordinate with your husband so that one of you can watch your kids while the other works with the cat?

ArtNJ had a really great suggestion, although I’d add attempting this as well - go out there, gently greet her, and then just sit with your back to her and completely ignore her for a while. This is a technique often used to tame and socialize ferals, and gain the trust of socialized cats with a traumatic background or history of abuse, or who are simply timid for whatever reason.

In cat language, ignoring other cats/animals/humans and keeping your back to them is a significant indication of trust. It is actually a very important part of communication across the entire Felidae family, all the way up to lions. For instance, you will never see a true feral turn it’s back to someone unless it is running away at the same time.

I make huge strides in progress with the types of cats I mentioned earlier by actually just sleeping/napping in front of them, for the simple reason that I’m essentially just ignoring them for a prolonged period of time while I sleep!

Ignoring them allows them the time they need to process that you are not a threat. It also displays that you don’t see them as a threat either. Both work to translate that the situation as a whole is nonthreatening, which in turn allows them to put their guard down a bit.

You’re almost to the finish line here. I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t despair - you’ll get her :)
Thanks for all the tips! I'll swing by and pick the calming chew out of her food. Just went by and the food had been nibbled on but the chew was still in there. Sitting in front of the crawlspace for half an hour did nothing, other than seeing her when I first got there I had no sign that she was there or interested at all 😞 but I did find a trap! Turns out a friend got one for raccoons, she's going to bring it by later today. I'm fairly confident this will work. I know I have zero chance of catching her, and it seems that she's not even giving me a chance to gain her trust anymore (in hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have invaded her safe space by crawling around in the crawlspace). I haven't seen her out in the open since this morning.
 
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Thewright

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Are you certain the cat you're chasing is your cat?
Like 90% sure. I'm chasing a cat that the cat feeding neighbor had never seen until after mine ran away. Same color, same size. There are several black cats in my neighborhood but they either have collars and/or are skinny strays.
The thought crossed my mind... the only especially unique feature she has is a freckle in front of her ear, and I obv havent gotten close enough to look for it. But I have gotten to know every human and cat in the neighborhood so I know where the black cats stay, whose they are, etc. And this one is new to the neighborhood.
 

moxiewild

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Like 90% sure. I'm chasing a cat that the cat feeding neighbor had never seen until after mine ran away. Same color, same size. There are several black cats in my neighborhood but they either have collars and/or are skinny strays.
The thought crossed my mind... the only especially unique feature she has is a freckle in front of her ear, and I obv havent gotten close enough to look for it. But I have gotten to know every human and cat in the neighborhood so I know where the black cats stay, whose they are, etc. And this one is new to the neighborhood.
Hm. I sure hope it’s your kitty, but man, black cats make it tough.

For the longest time we thought we had just one black feral in our colony who visited often. He was the newest member, and we had an influx of ultra-sociable strays happily walking into our traps when we were trying to TNR him, so it took us a while to finally get him.

Once we did, we looked at our cameras a few weeks later and realized sometimes he had an ear tip, and other times he did not. Two black cats......

Okay, TNR the other one, now we’re good.

.......but then we’re still seeing a black cat with no ear tip.

Three black cats!!! We thought it was only one the entire time! They all weigh within 1lb of each other too, so it is virtually impossible to tell them apart.

Now I have two black foster kittens and I’m having similar issues. Wasn’t too bad at first because one weighed twice as much as the other one, although the difference was only perceptible if they were standing right next to each other.

However, in the past week or so the little one has been rapidly catching up to the big one and they’re nearly the same size. Luckily, they have VERY different personalities, so at this point I can confirm who is who by trying to pet them - if I get purrs, it’s Binx, if I get swipes and bites, it’s Salem. We gave them Halloween themed names and now it’s like they’re perpetually playing “trick or treat” with us 😂

It sounds like this is probably your cat given the timeline, but it can just be so hard to tell with black cats.

I can pretty much guarantee her standoffishness is from the crawl space attempts. Once a cat ends up being put off like that, it takes lying low for a bit to get them to come around again. This can take days and sometimes weeks. I’m actually going through something similar with the Momma of these foster kittens. I’ve been forced to take a break from trying to trap her due to a pretty traumatic episode I had to put her through in order to lure her last kitten.

Since you have a trap now, things should go relatively smoothly!

Can you coordinate with the neighbor to have her make sure your kitty is forced to skip a meal or two so that she’ll be hungry?

And do you have a plan of action in case you catch a stray instead? I assume this neighbor is just feeding them and not getting them spayed/neutered from the sounds of it?
 

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Our black one disappeared and we chased one around that acted just like you're saying.. for three days. Came home after work the 4th day and she was on the back porch wanting food...but acting her normal self. Saw her twinkie about an hour later. Ugh....we decided were idiots :lol:
 
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