Kim Freeman, a former advertising copywriter, had already traded in her pen for a new life as a cat finder when she came across her future partner — and her life was about to change again. Kim had been successfully applying FBI techniques for finding missing persons to cats when in late 2013 she happened upon an outdoor pet adoption. A black-and-white cat wearing a purple harness was lounging on a grassy hillside, casually watching people, dogs, cats and golf carts driving by. She knew instantly this cat was different.
“At that point, I’d been recovering lost cats locally for about a year,” she says. “I considered training a Bloodhound for cat tracking, but my concern was that ‘sniffer dogs’ have a low ‘walk-up find’ success rate of actually finding a hiding cat. It’s a pretty rare cat who will let an unknown dog get within even 50 feet, much less nose-to-nose.”
When she saw Henry and how fearless and friendly he was, a light bulb went off. “I ran to the car to get my gear,” Kim says. “I wanted to test his interest in other cats and his olfactory abilities. That part was easy. The hard part was convincing the head of the adoption group, that although yes, Henry would go outside as a working cat, I would absolutely provide an excellent home and keep him safe when we were out on cases.”
Three months (and a letter from Kim’s veterinarian) later, Henry found his forever home with Kim in early 2014. She began training Henry to see if her theory would work.
“I figured I might be laughed at, but why not at least try to train him to be the feline version of a lost pet tracking dog? It took many months before we were ready for a case,” she says. “After about a year of training, I had a case I knew would be ideal to see if Henry was ready.”
Henry’s first case involved finding Claire, a foster cat on her way to an emergency vet when her carrier fell and broke open, allowing her to
The result? Henry tracked Claire within 10 minutes. “It still took us about two hours to lure her out,” Kim says. “But Henry had done his job and proven his mettle.”
Kim’s instincts about Henry were correct. She was able to train him to track missing kitties, though he specializes in indoor-only cats who have gotten out within three days. There is a reason for this.
“This is because we need a single scent trail to follow,” Kim says. “Cats who are routinely allowed outside create a complex, interlocking spider web of scent in a wide range of territory.
That would potentially create frustration for Henry and potentially diminish his enthusiasm, so I handle those cases solo using my equipment, tracking and profiling to figure out what happened to a missing outdoor cat.”
Although Henry has now worked in three states, the cases he works on are on a more limited basis than what Kim does regularly. Many clients call Kim in a panic and demand that she and Henry fly out to wherever the missing cat is located. But that’s cost and time prohibitive. She can consult with worried owners from just about anywhere and even help them if a cat has been missing for more than three days.
Each case is unique, so Kim works with her clients to find out about the cat, the location, weather and anything else that might be a factor. Above all, Kim advises owners not to panic and to stay calm.
“Like with a missing person case, the first 48 hours are key, but with a methodical plan and focused groundwork advice, cats can be found weeks later,” she says.
Between Kim and Henry, the two are a pretty solid cat detective team. The work can be stressful, she says, but she’s warmed by the happy reunion photos and thank you notes she receives from owners who were once crying and sleep-deprived.
“I don’t know about Henry,” Kim says, “but it sure makes me happy knowing we’ve helped get another lost and frightened cat back home.”
Learn more about Henry and Kim at lostcatfinder.com
Top Photograph: ©Courtesy Keith Baird