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Catching a Runaway Cat: Sardines, Patience, and LOTS of Wine!

Author: LeeAnna Buis, CFTBS, FFCP

Published: June 11, 2021

Updated: February 8, 2024

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True Story of Sawyer the Lost CatIt can happen to anyone. Cats are lightning-quick and can squeeze through the smallest opening in a door or window. And before you even realize it happened, your cat is halfway across the neighborhood.

Bringing back an escaped kitty can be as simple as, “Hey, get your furry fanny back inside!” But it can be a scary, exhausting, and heartbreaking ordeal if they take off and you can’t catch them. If you've found this article, chances are that you’re trying to find a lost cat. We’re so very sorry, and we want to help!

There are many things you can do to try and get your best feline friend home safely. You can read all about them in our "How to Find a Lost Cat" article, as well as the tactics outlined in the true story below.

There are also many reasons to have hope. And hope is important. It’s what keeps you going when you feel like the odds are against you. That’s why we want to share this story of Sawyer, the lost cat, and the unexpected friendship and unyielding hope of his owner that brought him home safely. It took time – almost a month and a half – patience and commitment. But, in the end, it all paid off.

Sawyer the lost cat photoThe True Story of Sawyer the Runaway Cat




The snow removal crew had just finished clearing Deb’s driveway. It was so quiet, she expected — she hoped — that she’d hear even the faintest rustling or meow from her 1.5-year-old cat, Sawyer. But not a sound.

Deb had cracked the door open, just a smidgen, to talk to the work crew when she caught a “flash” out of the corner of her eye. In an instant, Sawyer bolted out the door — it happened so fast! Initially, she thought he was likely close by, but once the crew set off on their way, Deb was convinced that Sawyer got so frightened by the noise of their equipment that he simply fled in whichever direction he felt safest.

She followed his paw prints in the snow as far as she could, but the trail eventually disappeared. Fear and worry overcame her thinking about her young cat. She quickly ran inside, bundled up, and headed back out to search the neighborhood.

December 12 – Deb was devasted

She’d searched all night and didn’t find Sawyer. As she walked through the neighborhood, calling his name, she spent a lot of time thinking about the day she had rescued him; he was found alongside a road at just 10 weeks old. He was helpless then, but she had saved him. And she was determined to save him now.

The recent cold snap wasn’t going to end anytime soon, so Deb set to work rigging up a “shelter” for Sawyer in her backyard. She’d read how cutting a hole in a (Rubbermaid) container and placing a blanket with their (and your) scent on it, may help a runaway cat to recognize the familiar scent of home and at least seek out the comfort of warmth and shelter during bad weather. And luring Sawyer close to home would give Deb a chance to try to catch him.

Sawyers lost cat poster exampleShe also created and printed a big stack of “lost cat” posters.

She blanketed the neighborhood, her vet office, and the local humane society, hopeful that someone would see the poster, see Sawyer, and give her a call. The very next day, she went to check on the posters, only to find that each one had been destroyed by the wet snowfall the night before.

Undeterred, Deb printed off a new batch of posters – this time covered them with plastic and securely taped to every post. Surely someone would see Sawyer and call.

And she did get calls.

Neighbors let her know that they had seen him. One local even called to tell her he had actually caught Sawyer, but he had squirmed out of his arms before he could get him into a confined space.

Deb knew what that feeling was like — getting so close to catching Sawyer a couple of times, but then having her hopes dashed. During those first several days after his escape, Sawyer wandered home a few times. Deb would gently and patiently try to lure him close enough to catch him, but every time she got a little too close, he would run away. He would always come when called in the house. "Why not now?" she thought. As the days and weeks passed, she was beginning to wonder if her beloved cat was starting to become “wild” and that maybe he didn’t “want” to come home.

Lots of wondering, lots of "what ifs," and more time passing ...


December 30 – A team is born ... enter Sue

An animal lover and owner of two cats herself, Sue noticed Deb’s poster and instantly felt compelled to help this stranger who so obviously loved their cat. She’d often see and feel sorry for the local strays. So, she decided then and there she was going to purposefully try to “lure” Sawyer right up onto her front porch by leaving cat food out for him. And then watch and wait.

January 1, 2015 – Could it be ...

Sue got her first sighting of the cat she suspected to be Sawyer. Excited to finally be able to call the number on the poster, Sue introduced herself, explained that she had been leaving out food at night to see if she could lure Sawyer close enough to at least try to identify him.

Deb was encouraged that Sawyer had a full belly that night and was so grateful to Sue for her efforts. Sue and Deb lived in the same general area, but it wasn’t as though they were next-door neighbors. By showing up at Sue’s that evening, it was evident that Sawyer had wandered quite far by this point. Deb feared that if he strayed any farther outside of Sue’s immediate area, she might never get him back.

Sue would hear none of it!

Now that she had confirmed the cat on her front porch was indeed Sawyer, by hook or by crook, she was going to get him out of the cold and reunite him with Deb!

As these neighbors and mutual cat lovers continued to chat, they discovered something else they had in common. Something quite coincidental.

They actually already knew one another! Both Deb and Sue used to work together for the same airline, as flight attendants, nearly 40 years ago! What were the odds?!

The pair agreed to stay in close touch. The initial plan was to get Sawyer into a nightly routine of coming to Sue’s porch for food, but things were about to get much more elaborate.

And there would be wine ... a lot of wine!

Deb and Sue waiting for lost cat Sawyer

January 4 – A nightly vigil begins

Sue updated Deb every day. She tried a couple of times to get him to come inside, but he always took off running. “It was hard to tell Deb about the times I “almost” caught him, but I think it was comforting for her to know that at least he was getting a good meal every night. And — he’d made a few friends, some of the neighborhood strays.”

Deb gladly accepted an invitation to join Sue — showing up with cat food. “It’s all I could do,” she admitted, exasperated. And she brought wine.

For Deb and Sue, a friendship was rekindling. But in the back of Deb’s mind, she wondered, “Is this all in vain? Does Sawyer even 'want' to come home?” She tried to remain positive.

This routine continued night after night. Every time they heard something or the light sensor would go off, they’d creep on their hands and knees to the window to see if the visitor was Sawyer. And every time they opened the door, Sawyer would run off. It was frustrating but together, they made the decision, “We’re not giving up!” They would, however, need to get a bit more creative.

January 10 – The "Sardine Buffet" opens and attracts more than just Sawyer!

Deb reached out to a local pet detective prior to hearing from Sue back in December, and he recommended placing a trap out. Now that Sawyer was used to frequenting Sue’s house, that’s what they decided to do. They borrowed one from a neighbor and were in business.

Deb put Sawyer’s blanket inside and started out by baiting the trap with food but NOT engaging the release mechanism. They were told to keep both ends of the crate open, so they could lure Sawyer in and gain his trust without it feeling too much like a confined space. But he wouldn’t go in.

Deb read online that no cat could resist the smell and taste of sardines. So, they placed sardines inside it and waited.

For one week, the “Sardine Buffet” on Sue’s front porch was open! And by the end of the week, Sawyer and his buddies became quite comfortable eating in and around the new trap.

But there was a slight problem. A recent cold snap was freezing the sardines. At that point, they no longer had that “stinky” aroma and appeal.

Undeterred, Sue would rush out to the porch in 15-minute intervals, grab the plate of sardines, and microwave it to soften them up and release the “stink.”

This worked! But it also attracted some unwelcome visitors in the form of opossums. 

January 25 – Setting the trap... kind of

They were now ready to set the trap on the crate. That very night Sawyer went in, ate, but…

Nothing! The trap door didn’t release – it was faulty!

All they could do was stand there, watch Sawyer finish his meal and with a full belly, saunter into the night.

Much wine was consumed that night!


January 26 – A new trap... and skeptical cats

It took a new trap and a few more days to repeat the same ritual of stinky sardines with both doors open and unarmed to get Sawyer comfortable with the new trap.

January 29 – "Don't talk, don't move!"

The sensor light clicked on. Sue was on the floor waiting for the trap door to shut. And then she heard it! Her head popped up over the window’s ledge — it was Sawyer!

Sue was so ecstatic she could hardly contain herself. She took the trap upstairs to the bathroom, where they had a heated floor and where their own cats wouldn’t disturb him.

And then she made one of the happiest phone calls she’d ever made. By now, she was in tears, and as soon as Deb picked up, she cried into the phone, “Get back over here; we’ve got your cat!”

Deb arrived as quickly as she could, although it felt like it took forever to get back to Sue’s. “He’s upstairs,” Sue said, pointing up to the second floor. Deb flew up the stairs, feet barely touching the ground. She recalled, “I was in shock! I had just arrived home from sitting watch with Sue, and then the phone rang. It was like so many other nights – I was resigned to the idea that tonight wasn’t going to be the night – again. When I saw Sue, she had tears streaming down her face, I had tears streaming down my face, we both cried and laughed and cried some more. It was so emotional for both of us.”

Sawyer at home climbing a ladder

Deb and Sawyer return home...

Once home, Deb reunited Sawyer with Taz, her other cat, who greeted him with a couple of enthusiastic hisses as if to scold him for putting their Mommy through so much trouble and heartache. But soon, the pair were wrestling and playing, just like they had almost two months before. Deb was relieved.

As Deb gave Sawyer a much-needed bath, she couldn’t help but reflect on the roller coaster ride the last several weeks had been. One thing she knew for sure was, meeting Sue had made so much of this possible. She had the heart of an animal lover and, respectfully, the stubbornness of a mule! She didn’t give up. It just wasn’t an option for her. And now Sue was back in her life, and they had a renewed friendship. And Sawyer was safe.

Deb dried him off, and he seemed like his old self. But she wondered, would he be different? Had he changed?

Deb got her answer about an hour later as she laid down on the couch, exhausted from the emotional events of the day. It was only a matter of minutes before Sawyer happily assumed his usual position, tucked into Deb’s neck, and it was official ...

Sawyer was home!



P.S. Deb took Sawyer to the vet the very next day. He had lost 3 lbs., but he was otherwise happy and healthy.

Taz & Sawyer:



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About the author

Profile picture for LeeAnna Buis

LeeAnna Buis, CFTBS, FFCP

LeeAnna Buis has adored cats her entire life and thought she knew them inside-out and sideways. But it wasn’t until she worked with a feline behavior consultant that she fully understood how incredible, complicated, and inspiring cats really are. Literally, that day, she made a career change knowing she wanted to give other cat parents the same experience of truly “seeing” and appreciating their cats. Now, she works virtually with cat parents all over the world through Feline Behavior Solutions and Preventive Vet.

LeeAnna earned her certification through Animal Behavior Institute, earning the CFTBS designation. She is a certified Fear Free® trainer (FFCP), a training professional member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), and a member of both the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) and Cat Writer’s Association (CWA).

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