- Tami McCandlish
My heart sank as I watched her sprint into our 15-acre woods, disappearing into the dark, thick underbrush.
Woodsy first arrived at our house during a snowstorm when she was a kitten. I named her after where she came from, but she hadn’t been outside since. Now, as she found herself thrust outdoors, pushed out a flimsy screen door by her sister, she freaked out and when into hiding.
Woodsy is my sweetest. The kind that follows me around, talks to me, and sleeps by my head all night. She’s even so kind as to wait for me to wake up before she says good morning. And those Puss in Boots eyes. They melt my heart every time.
Devastated that she had escaped, I prayed Psalms 36:6 like crazy (“You, Lord, preserve both people and animals”), took deep breaths, tiptoed through the woods, and calmly called her name. I searched all night but didn’t find her.
The next day, my husband, Charlie, and I planned to exhaust all efforts to get her back.
Indoor-only cats do not tend to venture far. Whereas dogs run, cats hide. Indoor-only cats run to a safe spot where they hunker down for days and revert to their primal instincts. Unsure what their houses look like from the outside, they usually don’t run back to the front porch to paw at the door. And they won’t respond to their humans even in broad daylight.
I’m sure I walked past her hundreds of times. I heard her faintly meowing from who knows where deep within our woods. It was phantom-like, echoing off trees in every direction, and it tore me up that I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. As much as I wanted to know that she was nearby, I believe she wanted to know I was close too, so I kept calling to keep hope alive.
If a cat does not return within two days, it most likely takes ten to fourteen days when it reaches the peak of hunger. So, we knew Woodsy needed extra help finding her way home.
We left lights on, cracked our garage door, created outdoor shelters near her exit point, and set out food and water. We also set up five trail cameras, proving that she was nearby.
Knowing her whereabouts, we tracked her patterns and noticed she came out of the woods between 10:00 p.m. and 3 a.m.
We also watched her with a night vision monocular that allowed us to better track her and know, in real-time, from where she emerged.
Although the cameras showed Woodsy looking toward our house, she hesitated to dash from the wood line through our wide-open yard. So, we made trails of our dirty laundry to provide her a path of familiar scents home.
The odds seemed against us. Whatever could go wrong seemed to be going wrong. I had never heard so many creepy calls of owls, foxes, and what I could only assume were their screeching victims.
During four torrential thunderstorms, all I could do was pray she had found shelter and wasn’t running farther away. I cringed every time neighbors lit fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July. And, for days, kids rode a muffler-less four-wheeler on our dead-end road, which they had never done before. They wouldn’t stop, despite us telling them our story.
Looking back, I think all of it helped Woodsy stay safe and hunkered down.
Day after day, as I shared updates on social media, people asked, “Why doesn’t she just come home?” I wondered the same and wished it were that easy, but I knew the only way we would get our girl back was to trap her.
We set five humane live traps in the areas where we saw her on the trail cams. Every night, we baited the traps with her wet food, and every morning we checked the traps and our cameras.
Our cams revealed which traps were of interest to Woodsy and that, although she was curious, she wouldn’t enter the traps. But we didn’t move them and kept trying, catching a total of six raccoons and a possum, all of which we humanely released.
The raccoons drove me crazy and cracked me up—they are so smart. Once they found food, they returned. Woodsy knew it and stayed away. So, we distracted the coons by creating a trail of corn and fruit, which ended with a prize of marshmallows and an egg. It took a few days, but this did the trick, and Woodsy re-emerged.
The more time I spent outdoors, the more I saw beauty in the experience. I spotted a rare bird and saw a baby deer bedded in the woods, and butterflies landed on my arms. In the midst of this stress, it was obvious that there were still countless reasons to praise God.
One night, through my night vision monocular, I watched Woodsy walk halfway across the yard. I quietly cracked the front door, hoping she would slip back inside, but she spotted a feral cat and bolted into the woods. Nonetheless, this promising sign lifted us.
We were getting closer.
The next day I shared this encouragement on social media. Many kind people were praying for Woody’s return, but one guy told me to give up, that she was officially an outside cat. The devil tried to use him to sidetrack me, but the plan backfired.
Defiance surged through me. I wasn’t stopping until I got my cat back.
Many people give up too soon when it comes to lost cats because they give in to disappointment. They listen to discouragement, often assuming predators kill their cats, but rarely is this the case. Because cats tend to hide, it can take months to find a kitty. They need the relentless help of people to bring them home.
So, we pushed negativity aside, kept our faith, and kept at it.
On the 16th night of Woodsy’s absence, as I searched for her with my night vision monocular, thick fog enveloped our land until I could no longer see. I said a prayer of surrender, headed to bed, and slept better than I had since she’d been gone.
The next morning, I awoke to my husband celebrating. "Come here!" he said. "She's in the trap!"
I sprinted across the yard praising God. It was like He sent fog because He knew the only way she would go in there was not by sight but by relying on her sense of smell.
What a reminder that that's how we get through trying situations in life—by relying not on what is seen but trusting in what is unseen.
Once inside, Woodsy collapsed on the floor, exhausted. She reeked of the woods and needed a bath, but we let her sleep for days. She was thin, and it took weeks for her appetite to regulate, but otherwise, she checked out healthy.
We also fixed that flimsy screen door. Because those 16 days are something I never want to go through again.
I hate seeing this happen to others. If that’s you or anyone you know, I hope our story brings you hope.
Reunions are possible!
Search diligently, exhaust all efforts, and stay faithful.
And please get in touch with me so I can pray for you and send you my ten steps to find your kitty.