interview with cat detective Kim Freeman
I live in the centre of London and missing cat posters adorn most lampposts in my area on a weekly basis. Some offer rewards, some appeal to people’s conscience by stating their children are missing their cat so much and need them home, (the assumption being that the cat has been deliberately taken). Some just give a basic contact number under a photo of two large eyes peering out. Often the pictures of a very poor quality and it’s hard to make out the colour of the puss in question let alone any distinct markings.
We are a nation on the verge of a nervous breakdown every time we see our cat’s back legs leave the cat flap door to slam shut. The silence deafens us as we watch the clock’s hands slowly creak round and round. When will they be home? What are they doing? Are they safe?
It was whilst reading the wonderful book ‘Lost Cat’ by Caroline Paul, that I became intrigued by cat-cams and cat-navs. Researching gadgets on the internet, I came across various pet detectives and the one that caught my attention was renowned US cat-only pet finder, Kim Freeman.
Kim’s work involves tracking down missing cats. Being on call night and day to find our pesky critters, she certainly has her work well and truly pawed out for her.
I asked Kim whether she would be up for an interview to give us all a glimpse into the kooky yet marvellous job of finding our little tykes.
Thank you so much for participating in this interview. The idea of being a cat detective is fascinating to me. Can you tell me a little about your background and how you came about being a 21st century Columbo for our furry fiends?
Yes, cat behaviour and finding felines is fascinating to me too! Some background: I was working on a horse ranch in 2008 when I lost my cat, Mister Purr. It was shocking the difference between the tips friends and even cat experts gave me vs. the advice I got from a professional who’d tracked missing persons and pets. I took her intensive training and learned about the old myths of cat recovery and the new methods based on cat behaviour: how to search, plus the new tools and technology that can be utilised. And yes, I found my cat!
Studies show that various cat personalities behave differently when displaced from their known territory. We also know that indoor cats require different techniques to outdoor-access cats. All of these observations help us recover cats based on the situation, the cat’s personality and the terrain.
You tell cat owners to think like a cat. It’s a motto many cat behaviourists use, including myself. Would you say understanding the natural behaviours of a cat is at the forefront of being a cat detective?
Yes, absolutely. Most people approach a lost cat search from a linear, human perspective. They need to understand and factor in how a cat’s instincts are key to proper search methods and a successful recovery.
I googled “pet detective agencies” and was quite surprised to see how many there were. There has definitely been an explosion in this area of work. Do pet detectives need any formal training in any particular areas?
Yes, I firmly believe they do. Sadly, there are several of them offering services who do not have proper or extensive training. This is a shame because when their oddball techniques do not work, the owner gives up.
Many people would want me to ask what training is involved, as it is a fascinating job steeped in mystery. Could you please expand on the training aspect?
The basics of the training come from the world of ‘missing persons’ procedurals and investigative questioning. This means profiling the subject, learning their habits, personality and preferences, then assessing the location based on probability theory and using tracking and clues to find the direction of travel. I’ve also had additional training in mammal tracking and bird language (which helps determine the location and movement of cats). Another key element is learning to use a variety of high-tech equipment, such as sound-amplification devices, night vision cameras, thermal scopes, borescopes and humane trapping techniques.
So, what are 5 traits that make a good pet detective?
Proper training, good observation skills, strong health, a love of animals (as well as diplomacy and compassion for people) and, of course, understanding cat behaviour: for both cats in general and lost cats.
Regarding the latter mention of behaviour in cats generally and lost cats. Do the two act very differently in terms of natural behaviours? For instance: if a lost cat’s personality or typical behaviour changes, can you rely on the fact that they will remain consistent and therefore are you still able to use information about their normal character/personality to find them?
Yes—it does change when they are lost or displaced into new territory. For example, even cats who always meow or reply to the owner’s calls at home will go silent when in a new place. It’s cat instinct; they stay silent in order to be invisible to potential predators. Owners who go out calling them thinking they’ll come bounding out of hiding then assume the cat is not there, when actually they may hear the call but not respond. This is one reason I tell people not to call their cat unless in a closed environment such as a neighbour’s garage. There is also the chance that calls outdoors all around the neighbourhood will draw the cat away from home. This is another example of the importance of knowing how cats think in order to get them recovered.
What has been your most bizarre case?
Not sure what qualifies as bizarre in this work as each is interesting in a different way! For example, a few nights ago, I was out having a late dinner when a man in a bike helmet came in looking for me. He’d seen the sign on my truck and wanted my help. His indoor-only cat had run away after he carried her across town on his bicycle to “play” with the feral cats. I found her quickly. Got her into a carrier and he rode off with her into the night.
Last week, a couple who took their cat to a vacation cabin in the woods contacted me. Their cat had spotted a bear on the front porch and broke through a back window screen to escape! I worked with them via remote profiling and coaching. We got the cat back within 24 hours.
Another unusual case of a lost cat found was the adventure kitty who hitched a ride on top of a ladder van. He was transported far from home, but we found him days later, still near where the van had parked. There was also Ruby, the ginger kitty who escaped her home and rode the underside of her owner’s SUV to the gym. The orange hair caught on the undercarriage of the vehicle was the clue I found to trace and find her.
What’s the longest a cat has been missing and then found?
Many cats are reunited years later, thanks to microchips. But in terms of my cases where I have gone out to search, it was a cat who’d been missing for four months.
Wow! Where was the cat found after 4 months?
I’ve found a few cats missing about that much time, which is why I always tell owners who are ready to give up after a week to try everything possible. Winston was nearly two miles from home, about three quarters of the way back to his old home. He may have made it to his beloved old territory on Ewing Circle, but there was a highway and heavily wooded greenbelt that probably prevented him from making the last part of the trek (see photo).
Is your detective work exclusively on cats or are you called in to work with other types of pets? If so, does the general advice remain the same?
I only do cat cases and no, the advice is different for each species!
How do people react when they hear what you do for a living, as it’s probably the last thing people expect to hear?
I used to tell them I am a pet detective, but I always got laughs and comments about Ace Ventura, so now I say I am a lost cat finder.
Does the tax-man take a second look at this job title on your tax returns?
On my tax returns, my work falls into the category of “Animal Services” but when asked what I do at social events and networking parties, people are always surprised. I’ve never had so many people ask for my business card!
What does your success rate depend on?
A lot depends on the owner’s willingness to follow my advice and whether the cat is indoor-only or has outdoor- access. In terms of an indoor only who has managed to get out, many owners would suddenly think their cat would just die being left to fend for itself.
Is it true most in-door cats can easily revert back to being semi-feral in order to survive? Also, please explain how you change your work tactics when dealing with indoor vs outdoor cats?
When an indoor cat escapes, the question to ask is, “Where is the cat hiding?” When an outdoor-access cat does not return home as usual, the investigative mystery to solve is “What happened to the cat?”
Even the most pampered indoor cat will have decent survival skills if displaced outdoors. People worry that their indolent, indoor-only kitty will starve or wander into the road, but cats have strong instincts that keep them alive.
Are you ever told of any cat behaviourial issues after a cat has been missing for a long time and then found?
Yes, especially in multi-cat households! There is often hissing and scuffles between cats when a long lost cat returns home. It’s almost as though you are bringing a new cat into the home. This might be a situation where I should refer them to you! Recently recovered cats can also tend to either hide or become very clingy and be prone to food gorging. Owners need to be aware of re-feeding syndrome if a cat has been in starvation mode.
People want to give them all they can eat, but that’s actually a bad idea. After starvation, cats need to be fed small amounts frequently and have their liver and kidney values checked with a veterinarian.
After reading the book “Lost Cat” by Caroline Paul I picked up on various things. For instance, people tend not to speak to their neighbours enough, people assume their cat will not know how to survive and they panic. Sometimes camera GPS systems on a cat do not give the desired results. What are your thoughts on the above scenarios?
Yes, people DO assume the cat is not going to be able to survive and give them up for dead often within a week. Cats are amazing survivors! And yes, talking to neighbours is key not only to persuade them to allow a search but also to know what their cat’s territory was prior to going missing. Most GPS cameras are only useful if they’ve been used to track a cat’s daily rounds before they were lost.
Does it matter where a person lives in terms of following set advice? For instance would you advise a different search approach depending on city or country living?
Yes, but the search radius is still roughly the same. Cats who live in the country are also more likely to come in contact with a predator, at least here in the States.
Yes, true. Someone said to me that the search methods would be different for cat owners who have lost a cat here in the UK but I am convinced it’s roughly the same. Would you care to comment on this a little more?
I might look more closely at the terrain in a country setting in case a cat regularly visits other homes or special hunting grounds, but in general, my search methods would remain the same. I would certainly have less stress without the worry of finding fur or bones as a bad ending from a coyote. On a side note, cat owners should keep in mind that domestic dogs go into pack mentality with two or more, and probably kill more cats in the US than coyotes do.
I am assuming you keep really irregular hours. Are you normally on call 24/7?
Yes, I am, and this means I do not get much sleep!
Wow. That is service! How do you deal with being on call all hours?
I sleep when I can and do errands when I get a chance. It seems I rarely have a whole “day off” and am always out of something or in need of doing laundry. I realise I’m slowly losing my personal life and restorative downtime, so I may be hiring an assistant in the near future.
Do you ever step into the ‘Jackson Galaxy’ arena work wise or do you stick to detective work for missing cats only.
I used to go to people’s homes to help with behaviour issues in order to keep cats from being “surrendered” to shelters, but the lost cat work has taken over my life. My local shelter now has volunteers who advise cat owners via phone (which I do not think is nearly as useful as seeing the cat’s environment and behaviour in person). I wish I had time to do both!
What steps would you advise owners to take before introducing their cat to the outside world?
I advise people to keep a cat inside for at least two weeks before letting them out, then to go out and chaperone them each time for a week, observing their paths and behaviour, then feed them when they come inside. I also suggest not letting cats out over night.
Can you expand on not letting them out at night or is it because of the predators you have in some areas of the states? Over here, people fear foxes so they keep their cats in at night, but after I did a case study on foxes and cats, it has been proven that most foxes, will simply ignore a cat or even allow itself to be chased away by them (unless the cat has got too close to the cubs).
I suggest owners keep cats in at night, as they tend to roam farther and get up to more trouble than they do in the day. And yes, foxes and adult cats do generally ignore each other. Again, the neighbour’s terrier is more of a threat than the local fox.
Could you name a few reasons why some cats end up lost or away from home for longer than usual?
They are often chased by a neighbouring bully cat, a loose dog, or disappear under the watch of a pet sitter when the owner is out of town. Sometimes they leave because of new pets or crying children. Occasionally cats become trapped in a garage or accidentally transported in a van, or under a car chassis.
You mention the personality of cats in your book. Does the sex of the cat make a difference to your search methods?
No, the personality is more important than the gender, but intact vs. spayed/neutered does make a difference.
Last but not least what immediate advice can you give to a desperately frantic cat owner whose cat hasn’t returned home for 24 hours?
Start searching and take action right away. Do not “wait and see.” Do not leave food or kitty litter outside as it can create complications luring other cats and dogs, sabotaging your recovery efforts. Read over the instant download steps and tips I offer or watch my HOW TO FIND A LOST CAT video at www.LostCatFinder.com
I’m available to help anyone, all over the world, and have coached owners to get cats found in 11 countries so far, including Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Israel.
Thank you so much Kim. It’s been great chatting with you.
After the interview was conducted Kim emailed me over a recent testimonial from a client with a picture of Spencer, a cat she had helped to find. Spencer was one of the lucky ones.
If your cat has gone missing you may want to check out Kim’s great advice in her book and DVD which can be downloaded on her web site. Further links to Kim are listed at the bottom of this post.
Just wanted to let you know that today is the one year anniversary of when I first emailed you about Spencer’s escape on June 29, 2014. You emailed me back the same day, beginning the partnership that was instrumental in his recovery. Every day has been special since the day he came home in September of 2014. Several times a week, Ron and I look at each other and say, “We got him back!” It’s almost still a dream.
We know that following your tips were so very important, as was of your examples of recovering cats that seemingly were lost forever.
I now contact people who have missing cats, sharing our story and the links to your website. I want everyone to know that there is hope is they follow your advice!
So thank you again, and please remember when you’re sweaty and bug-bitten, that you have two ecstatically happy people in Brainerd, Minnesota!
I’ve attached two recent pictures of Spencer. I thought you might get a kick out of them.
LINKS TO KIM