Recipe For Catching A Runaway Cat – Sardines, patience, and LOTS of wine!



Updated: January 29, 2021

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December 11, 2014 – Lost Cat Sawyer




The snow removal crew had just finished clearing Deb’s driveway and all was still and quiet. So quiet, she expected - she hoped - that she’d hear even the faintest rustling or meow from her 1.5 yr. old cat, Sawyer. 

But not a sound. Only that deafening stillness you hear on a winter’s night after a really heavy snowfall. 

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 on the internet 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.  Sawyer-lost-cat-poster.png

She also created and printed a big stack of “lost cat” posters.

Deb wasn’t a graphic designer. So after struggling to insert a photo of Sawyer into the design, she decided to do the next best thing and have a friend draw a picture of him. It wasn’t a photo but it was a good likeness and would have to do! Time was ticking.

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 every outdoor location she had taped a poster to had been removed or destroyed. She was heartbroken. “Who would do such a thing!” she wondered. But after closer inspection, Deb realized that her posters hadn’t been removed at all but rather, had “disintegrated” from the wet snowfall the night before.Lost-cat-poster

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, and heard (him) crying. This broke her heart. 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 lots of time passes...

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

Area resident, Sue, headed out for an afternoon stroll. Sue stopped when she noticed Deb’s “unique” poster a few blocks from her home. 

An animal lover and owner of two cats herself, Sue was instantly taken by the fact that the owner had chosen to draw a picture of their cat, rather than to use a photograph. Sue and Deb would later have a good laugh about how using an illustration of Sawyer had little to do with sentiment or Deb’s artistic abilities and much more to do with her admitted lack of computer technical skills!

But at the time, Sue was touched by the detail and care that went into creating the posters and instantly felt compelled to help this stranger who so obviously loved their cat. The thing about Sue was, when she committed to something, she jumped in with both feet. 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. She peered through the curtains. He looked exactly like the drawing. It had to be him!

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 emailed a few pictures to Sue so she could check if it was really him and was relieved to hear Sue confirm that it was. “He came. He ate. He left.”



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 that 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!

January 4 – A nightly vigil begins

Sue updated Deb every day. She'd tried a couple 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.”

Sue continued to share the latest developments with Deb and soon invited her over to join her. The two would sit in the dark, reminisce, and wait for Sawyer to arrive. Deb gladly accepted the invitation - showing up with cat food. “It’s all I could do,” she admitted, exasperated. And she brought wine.

Paul, Sue’s husband, would replenish their glasses throughout the evening. He knew that once his wife put her mind to something, it was wise to either support her or stand back!

PV-SAWYER3.jpgFor Deb and Sue, a friendship was rekindling. It was wonderful for both of them. 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 for both of them, 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 had reached out to a local pet detective prior to hearing from Sue back in December, and he had recommended placing a trap out. So 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 now in business.

Deb put Sawyer’s blanket inside like she had with the Rubbermaid container 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 had read on the Internet 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. This was good.

But there was a slight problem that had to be overcome…every 15 minutes.

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 it up and re-release the “stink.”

This worked!  But it also attracted some unwelcome visitors. 

One night after Paul had gone to bed the sensor light went on. Sue was still keeping watch in the livingroom. She crept to the window to check to see if Sawyer had arrived but it was an opossum. She called for Paul, who, in the middle of sub-zero weather, only wearing his shorts, went out with a broom. The sensor light that had gone off turned right back on and he was not only faced with a little opossum, that turned out to be a baby, but Mama opossum, too! She lunged at him and practically grabbed the broom right out of his hand!

After his exhilarating midnight dance with opossums, Sue and Paul both agreed they’d better hold off on the sardines for a few days in order to lose the local "wildlife."  

But Sue was not giving up on Sawyer and Deb. It was as if every challenge and roadblock made her more determined.

January 25 – Setting the trap... kind of

They were now ready to resume with the sardines and 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 sceptical cats

Paul, went to Animal Control the next day and borrowed a new trap. He set it up and tested it. This trap worked! That night they put food out like they always had, but Saywer and his “friends” wouldn’t go in the new trap!

Did they know? Had word spread amongst the local cat community that a sting operation was about to take place on Sue’s porch?

It took a few more days to repeat the same ritual of stinky sardines with both doors open and unarmed, to regain Sawyer’s confidence.


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

The sensor light clicked on. Paul appeared behind Sue moments later.

“Don’t talk, don’t move!” Sue said to Paul.

She 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. But she kept herself calm in order to not traumatize Sawyer any further. Paul gingerly picked up the trap and took it upstairs to the bathroom where they had a heated floor and where their own cats wouldn’t disturb him. It was a cold night and she wanted Sawyer to get warm gradually, and in peace and privacy.

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.”

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, 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 for 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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