By Mindi Rudan
What happened to us almost two years ago to the day, is still hard to relive. We are animal people and love our pets like children.
On a Friday morning, we woke like normal, and before we fed the “zoo” scooped up KEKE our pink-nosed former stray cat to go to a vet for a dental cleaning and tooth removal.
All was calm; all was bright …until it wasn’t.
The vet called after the surgery saying KEKE did well, was resting and we should be able to pick him up after 4 pm when MOST of the anesthesia wore off. Hank went there at 4 while I stayed home making a soft spot on our bed so I could keep KEKE comfortable, quiet, and close.
And at 4:35 the unimaginable happened.
Knowing they’d be home any minute, I unlocked the front door and just as I was getting back to the bedroom I heard a faint thud. Not really understanding what I heard, five minutes later my phone rang. It was Hank saying he was in the wetland behind our next-door neighbor’s house. The hard carrier CAME APART just as Hank was at our front door and KEKE still groggy, (who never was out of this house) had run down our driveway and tore off into the woods behind our neighbor.
“WHAT??” I think I screamed it. I ran out our door in my bathrobe and socks hoping against all hope I’d see him or he’d hear me. “Keke, momma here,” I half cried to dense woods. I walked until I was near eaten alive by mosquitoes and ripped by branches for 15 minutes. I didn’t even spot him or hear him respond–not once. I knew this was bad and as much as I didn’t want to leave the spot, I ran back to the house, both to get fully dressed in the right shoes and clothes, flashlight, and treats+. But mostly I quickly posted his picture and what had happened on my neighborhood WHATSAPP, on Next Door, and on my personal FB so that ANYONE out who wouldn’t ordinarily take notice, might. And begging my friends to share it.
I have a love/hate relationship with social media, but I know its power and the incredible community we are. Within MINUTES neighbors were out helping us look. I was so distraught you could feel my terror through the post. He still was wobbly from surgery AND HAD NEVER BEEN OUT OF OUR HOUSE.
What I learned on the SIX DAYS AND NIGHTS he was gone, before the MIRACLE of actually finding him, has helped mend our life—and helped so many others not waste precious time.
We searched until 3 am. I knew I needed some sleep so went home. But couldn’t sleep so we made flyers with BIG pictures of him. He is black and white like HUNDREDS of others but he has a pink nose. We made the photos and the words: “LOST CAT” LARGE so drivers could see them. We put the paper flyers inside a plastic sleeve thinking summer in Florida is DAILY RAIN and plain flyers would turn to mush otherwise. We went telephone pole to telephone pole up and down Holmberg and all streets near ours. Neighborhood kids took piles of flyers and went mailbox to mailbox, in our neighborhood and adjoining developments. Terrified pets can run far. A girlfriend called vets’ offices all over Coral Springs, Parkland and south BOCA in case the horrible happened, some good soul might take him to a vet. And we faxed and texted pictures of KEKE to all the vets who would let us.
My despair was contagious.
We heard cats that are terrified hide all day but venture out or respond in the wee morning hours when it’s quiet. I ran morning and night and slept sometimes at noon-3 when it was so hot he probably stayed hidden. On July 4th-I cried almost the whole night. I knew this already terrified cat would probably bolt with our neighborhood fireworks if he was even still near. As the fireworks burst into the air, I thought – I will never see my baby again.
By posting updates daily, more and more kind people shared his picture and story. And even “strangers” joined us LOOKING for our BABY.
People, who saw the flyers, called and asked how they could help. It was beyond any kindness you could imagine. Even MSD students volunteered to take shifts sitting out in the wee hours to just sit and watch if he appeared. We almost were giving up hope on day 6 when two MSD gals came to sit in the neighborhood behind our house. Hank told me to sleep, I had been up nearly 5 full days, but when they texted at 11 pm that they were there, I went to thank them and got a second wind. With them there, Hank and I got in our car for the 100th time with spotlights, and the bag we packed with food and water and drove 2 miles an hour shining the lights on both sides of the streets to see if we could spot him.
And at one corner, intending to go left, I asked him to go right?? No reason but to go behind the wetlands in the adjoining neighborhood near where he originally ran. And as we rolled toward the berm that separates the two developments my light shined into terrified eyes I knew, and I saw the pink nose for a split second. I jumped out of the moving car, crawled on my hands and knees, and for five terrifying hours TALKED to my boy who was responding in a terrifying voice I barely knew. When he finally came close enough to eat (he was starving) I let him eat a few bites, moved a little closer and a little closer— inside our home, this gentle cat was my shadow; lost six days he was terrified of me. I was able to get to my knees without spooking him and when I handed him more tuna fish and he started to relax a tiny bit I realized I would have one chance to grab him and threw myself almost on top of him crushing him to the ground but able to get up.
Hank had a carrier open and with him screaming, thrashing, AND BITING— we got him in the carrier and ran through the woods with him screaming in box until we burst into our back entrance. The second he smelled his house he stopped screaming! We all were bleeding. And I know this will horrify some people, he was biting me but I did not let go–it was awful but our eye was on the prize. We just experienced a miracle. We were one of the lucky ones who were reunited with a beloved pet. The wounds healed (with killer doses of antibiotics!) and our baby was home. What we learned we’ve sent to people going thru the anguish of losing a pet. So keep this. Hopefully, you or someone you know will never lose a pet and never need this. But if the unimaginable happens, knowing what to do without wasting time is priceless.
1. Especially on a holiday with fireworks, if you have pets and are having company, lock— yes lock your pet in a bedroom or safe place that visitors cannot accidentally enter and accidentally let your pet out. Post a sign on that door: PET INSIDE DO NOT OPEN.
2. Make sure you take a few good current shots of all your pets and store them on your phone and computer NOW. Face shots, side shots, and ANY UNUSUAL MARKINGS so they can be easily identified. When gone, it’s too late.
3. If they have a chip make sure your info is updated, especially if you’ve recently moved or have a new phone number. If they don’t have a chip, might be a good time to consider it. We had all the rest chipped after this incident. For dogs: Make sure they are wearing a collar with either a current tag with your phone number or you write your number on the back of the collar.
4. Leave a shopping bag or other large noisy object by doors so when you are coming in or going out you can use it as a block to herd them back in. Cats and even dogs are notorious for seeing an opportunity and just bolting–more so if loud fireworks or noises. And never come in or out and not SHUT the door immediately behind you. It takes a split second for an animal to exit, sometimes without you even knowing!
5. If you EVER have work people at the house, tell them you have pets and to go in or out with caution but during the work– if allowing workers to enter or leave without you— LOCK ALL PETS SAFELY IN ANOTHER ROOM. Better safe than sorry. A day or two in a small bathroom or laundry room is better than being out on their own lost. And you are up looking endlessly.
IF YOUR PET IS LOST:
1. Call the local police and report missing pets immediately. People still call the police when they find pets.
2. Call the local shelters and ask to fax in or text a picture and your contact info. Call DAILY to pester them to look at new intakes.
3. POST ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA immediately –pictures and your contact info & ask (beg) everyone to share it
4. Make flyers. Just a quick poster is all you need LOST DOG/CAT picture (big) your contact number (big) or REWARD black on white is best. White reflects at night.
5. If you are in a gated community go to the gate and ask to post a picture. Put a flyer in plastic report covers (at Office Depot) then Post the flyer on every pole, every place drivers and walkers can see it. Ask neighbors to help or pay kids to go door to door and post the flyers while you start looking.
6. Take a few (I took a dozen!) pieces of clothing, and cat bedding and scatter them outside. Pets can sometimes pick up their scent and familiar scents from 1/2 mile away.
7. Walk everywhere calling them. Even if they don’t respond as in the case of mine— he was only four houses away but he stayed there because he heard me.
8. Sleep midday but go out in the wee hours when they’re most likely to really hear you when the noise of the day is gone. Shine lights under trees and bushes. Low to the ground, the light will reflect in their eyes if you catch it.
9. Always have food, a leash, or a carrier with you in case your pet is spotted.
10. Have a friend help by calling vet offices and local rescues–and texting your pet’s picture and info just in case.
11. DON’T LOSE HOPE. But you do have to go out and look and keep looking. Animals don’t just instinctively know how to get home. They bolt, get turned around, and are confused. Go out and look for them.
12. And accept help. We had strangers driving our roads, walking our woods leaving treats. You can’t be everywhere –the more people helping the more likely your pet will be spotted.
And NOTE ABOUT CARRIERS: the hard ones– if they are taken apart to get your pet in & are not screwed back totally tight, THEY CAN COME APART. Always check those connections BEFORE YOU PUT ANY PET IN and NEVER EVER CARRY THE CARRIER by the handle. Carry it like a baby –if it does start to give you can feel it and keep it together until you are inside somewhere! Soft carriers are better.
The precautions you take BEFORE an event can save you and your pet from a terrifying ordeal!
Mindi Rudan is the founder and former Publisher of Parkland Life Magazine, Coconut Creek Life, and BOCA Delray Life Magazines and is now a semi-retired event planner and wreath maker.
Follow her on Instagram @MissPumpkinTaco or FB Mindi Siegel Rudan
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