LISBON — When Apples the cat didn’t come home for three days this summer, Lacey Cornell panicked. 

She was used to the 6-year-old gray cat coming and going, but he’d never been gone for so long. Even though Apples spent much of his time prowling his Lisbon neighborhood, he almost always came home for breakfast.

“We were all really scared,” Cornell said.

Then someone suggested she contact Maine Lost Cat Recovery, a volunteer group that helps people find their missing cats. Like dozens of cat owners each week, Cornell reached out to the group on its Facebook page.

Immediately, Maine Lost Cat Recovery created a lost-cat flier for Apples and offered advice for finding him: pepper the area with fliers, tell neighbors he’s missing, ask people in the area to check their garages, sheds and other places where he could have become inadvertently trapped.  

Two weeks after he went missing, Apples reappeared on Cornell’s steps, skinny, exhausted and happy to be home.

Cornell is certain that Apple spent those two weeks accidentally locked in somewhere. If Maine Lost Cat Recovery hadn’t urged her to ask people to check their buildings, she’s not sure Apples would have ever made it home.

“That cat has been with me since he was a kitten, so he’s my baby,” Cornell said. “I felt very lucky.”

Four years ago, a group of volunteers started Maine Lost Pet Recovery to help Mainers find their lost pets. Today, the effort is so large that it’s had to split into two groups, Maine Lost Cat Recovery and Maine Lost Dog Recovery. Between them, they help hundreds of pet owners throughout Maine each month. 

Some searches are successful, others are not. But the groups provide something many owners lose soon after their animals go missing — hope.

“We say never give up, because you just never know,” said Joanne Greenlaw, a volunteer for Maine Lost Cat Recovery.

The original Maine Lost Pet Recovery group started after a Chihuahua mix went missing in the Pownal area. Volunteer searchers didn’t really know what they were doing at first — although they had a lot of experience caring for dogs, they had little experience finding lost ones — but their efforts helped locate the Chihuahua mix after three weeks, nine miles from home.

They realized no other organized group was dedicated to helping Maine pet owners find their lost animals. So they started one.  

“Now that we have, we see that, oh my God, there are a lot of lost dogs out there — it’s unbelievable,” said Sandy Spezzano, one of the volunteers who was with Maine Lost Pet Recovery when it started. “People don’t realize how not to lose their dogs and they don’t know what to do if they lose their dogs.”

The group ran largely online, with frantic pet owners often reaching out through Facebook. A team of volunteers offered tips, created lost-pet fliers, publicized the missing pets online and sometimes helped search.

“As it grew it became overwhelming,” said Spezzano, who now volunteers with the dog group. “And even though the techniques are similar, the personalities and behaviors of dogs and cats are totally different.”

The two groups now have their own teams of volunteers and run their own Facebook pages. They offer the same free assistance, including creating fliers and posting lost pet information online, but their search advice is tailored to the animal.

Lost dogs, for example, tend to get scared, run and refuse to come when called, even if they’re well-trained and love the person calling them. So Maine Lost Dog Recovery strongly advises owners not to yell for their dogs or chase them.

“These are not our pets anymore; these dogs have gone wild after a day,” Spezzano said. “You need to not chase them, you need to not call them, you need to not send out search dogs. You need to not drive them farther. You need to just wait until you get a sighting. If they’re safe, set up a feeding station . . . and sometimes the dog can be coaxed in. Or a lot of times, we trap the dog (with a humane trap).”

Cats, unlike dogs, don’t tend to run far when scared, particularly if they’ve only lived indoors.

“Most indoor-only cats are found within one block of their home, usually right in their own yard, hiding in bushes, under porches, under a deck or in a garage or a shed,” Greenlaw said. “They get outside, they aren’t used to being outside, and they panic. They find a place to hide and they hunker down and they stay silent.”

Both groups recommend that pet owners call their local animal shelter and animal control officer, talk with neighbors and plaster the area with brightly colored fliers that show a large photo of the missing pet, a short description of the animal and the owner’s contact information. The flier should be large enough to be read by people driving by.

Both groups say owners often give up the search too soon.

“As soon as you give up, the chances of getting your cat back diminish to next to zero,” Greenlaw said. “You have to keep trying and you have to realize it involves work — both hard work and quick action.”

The cat group gets 150 to 300 new cases a month. Greenlaw estimates about 20 percent are found.

The dog group gets 80 to 100 cases a month. Spezzano estimates about 85 percent are found.

A few days after Apples went missing in Lisbon, Cornell was sure she’d never see him again. She credits Maine Lost Cat Recovery with helping to get her cat home.

“They sent me so much information to help calm my nerves and realize that him being dead was not the only possibility,” Cornell said. “It made me realize there was hope that I was going to find him.”

Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at [email protected].

“As soon as you give up, the chances of getting your cat back diminish to next to zero. You have to keep trying and you have to realize it involves work, both hard work and quick action.”

— Joanne Greenlaw, Maine Lost Cat Recovery

Tips for finding a lost pet:

* Post large, easy-to-read fliers throughout the area and at intersections. Include a large photo and short description of the animal, contact information and the date and location where the pet went missing. 
 
* Call the local animal shelter, animal control officer and police immediately. Regularly check in with the animal shelter to see if the animal has been taken there.
 
* Talk to neighbors. For missing cats, ask them to check their sheds, garages and other buildings in case the cat was inadvertently trapped inside. For missing dogs, ask them not to chase the dog but to call you.   
 
* Put out food where the animal has been spotted.
 
* Set up a humane trap. Hardware stores often rent or sell the traps. The lost dog and lost cat recovery groups will lend them. 
 

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