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Welcome to the Lost Pet Research Blog

Cat tracks in shallow snow.
Cat Trail in 18 inches of Snow.  Note the triangular pattern of the imprints.
Cat Trail in 18 inches of Snow.  Note the triangular pattern of the imprints.

Helping Bring Science to the Lost Pet Search & Recovery Community

A recent study found that as many as 15% of cats and dogs will go missing at least once.  Unfortunately, there is currently a shortage of accurate information on lost pet behavior available on the internet.  The mission of Lost Pet Research & Recovery is to find, organize, and share useful and reliable information relating to the search and recovery of lost pets.

This blog contains summaries of research articles obtained from the scientific literature and my own research projects covering numerous topics including cat and dog behavior, GPS & radio-tracking devices, trapping & surveillance techniques, and predator behavior.

To find articles on a particular topic, use the Blog Article Menu located in the right sidebar.  If you don’t find what you are looking for, you can also try the Search button or Contact me to see if I have any material on the subject.

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If you are interested in reprinting a blog article on your own website, please fill out a Contact Form.  Permission will generally be granted as long as the article is not modified or used for commercial purposes and as long as author attribution (Danielle Robertson, Lost Pet Research & Recovery) and a link back to the original article are included.

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Research Studies on Lost Pet Behavior and Recovery

Hiding cat

Unfortunately, there are few research studies on lost pet behavior.  This is a list of citations and abstracts of published research papers related to lost pet behavior and recovery.  There are links to a few of the papers.  You may be able to find other papers by visiting your local college or university and checking their online journal databases.

Huang, L., M. Coradini, J. Rand, J. Morton, K. Albrecht, B. Wasson, and D. Robertson.  2018.  Search methods used to locate missing cats and locations where missing cats are found.  Animals 8(1), 5.

Abstract:  Missing pet cats are often not found by their owners, with many being euthanized at shelters. This study aimed to describe times that lost cats were missing for, search methods associated with their recovery, locations where found and distances travelled. A retrospective case series was conducted where self-selected participants whose cat had gone missing provided data in an online questionnaire. Of the 1210 study cats, only 61% were found within one year, with 34% recovered alive by the owner within 7 days. Few cats were found alive after 90 days. There was evidence that physical searching increased the chance of finding the cat alive (p= 0.073), and 75% of cats were found within 500 m of the point of escape. Up to 75% of cats with outdoor access traveled 1609 m, further than the distance traveled by indoor-only cats (137 m; p < 0.001). Cats considered to be highly curious were more likely to be found inside someone else’s house compared to other personality types. These findings suggest that thorough physical searching is a useful strategy, and should be conducted within the first week after cats go missing. They also support further investigation into whether shelter, neuter and return programs improve the chance of owners recovering missing cats and decrease numbers of cats euthanized in shelters

Lord, L.K., W. Ingwerson, J.L. Gray and D.J. Wintz.  2009.  Characterization of animals with microchips entering animal shelters.  Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 235(2): 160-167.

Abstract:  Objective: To characterize animals with microchips entering animal shelters and the process used to find owners.  Design: Cross-sectional study.  7,704 microchipped animals entering 53 animal shelters between August 2007 and March 2008.  Procedures: Data for animals with microchips were recorded by participating animal shelters and reported monthly.  Results: Of 7,704 animals, strays accounted for slightly more than half (4,083 [53.0%]), with the remainder classified as owner-relinquished animals (3,225 [41.9%]) and other (396 [5.1%]). Of 3,425 stray animals for which animal shelters reported that the owner was found, a higher percentage of dog owners (2,191/2,956 [74.1%]) than cat owners (298/469 [63.5%]) was found. For 876 animals for which the owners could not be found, the main reasons were incorrect or disconnected telephone number (310 [35.4%]), owner did not return telephone calls or respond to a letter (213 [24.3%]), and animal was registered to another group (151 [17.2%]). Of 1,943 animals for which animal shelters contacted a microchip registry, 1,129 (58.1%) were registered in the database. Purebred neutered dogs whose owner information was in the shelter database registry or microchip registry had a higher likelihood that the owners would be found.  Conclusions and Clinical Relevance: The high rate for return of microchipped dogs and cats to their owners supported microchipping as a valuable permanent pet identification modality; however, issues related to registration undermined its overall potential. Bundling of microchip implantation and registration, point-of-implantation data registration, use of annual compliance and update reminders, and providing access to all registries are potential solutions.

Lord, L.K., T.E. Wittum, A.K. Ferketich, J.A. Funk, and P.J. Rajala-Schultz.  2007.  Search and identification methods that owners use to find a lost cat.  Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 230(2): 217-220.

Abstract:  Objective: To characterize the process by which owners search for lost cats and identify factors associated with time to recovery.  Design: Cross-sectional study.  Sample population:  Owners of 138 cats lost in Montgomery County, Ohio, between June 1 and September 30, 2005.  Procedures:  A telephone survey was conducted.  Results:  73 of the 138 (53%) cats were recovered; median time to recovery was 5 days (range, 0.5 to 81 days). Most cats (48 [66%]) that were recovered returned home on their own or were found in the neighborhood (5 [7%]); most other cats were recovered through posting of neighborhood signs (8 [11%]) or calling or visiting an animal agency (5 [7%]). The highest success rate for any of the search methods that were used was only 12% (posting neighborhood signs). Only 26 of the 138 (19%) cats had some type of identification at the time they were lost (ie, identification tag, rabies tag, or microchip). Owners allowed 82 (59%) cats to spend at least some time outdoors. The percentage of sexually intact cats recovered by their owners (4/16 [25%]) was significantly lower than the percentage of neutered cats recovered (69/122 [57%]).  Conclusions:  Results suggest that the percentage of lost cats recovered by their owners is low, possibly in part because of the lack of use of traditional identification methods and the general acceptance that cats may roam. Veterinarians can help educate owners about the importance of identification and the need to keep cats indoors.

Lord, L.K., T.E. Wittum, A.K. Ferketich, J.A. Funk, and P.J. Rajala-Schultz.  2007.  Search and identification methods that owners use to find a lost dog.  Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 230(2): 211-216.

Abstract: Objective: To characterize the process by which owners search for lost dogs and identify factors associated with time to recovery.  Design:  Cross-sectional study.  Sample Population:  Owners of 187 dogs lost in Montgomery County, Ohio, between June 1 and September 30, 2005.  Procedures:  A telephone survey was conducted.  Results:  132 of the 187 (71%) dogs were recovered; median time to recovery was 2 days (range, 0.5 to 21 days). Dogs were recovered primarily through a call or visit to an animal agency (46 [34.8%]), a dog license tag (24 [18.2%]), and posting of neighborhood signs (20 [15.2%]). Eighty-nine (48%) dogs had some type of identification at the time they were lost (ie, identification tag, dog license tag, rabies tag, or microchip). Owners had a higher likelihood of recovery when they called an animal agency (hazard ratio, 2.1), visited an animal agency (1.8), and posted neighborhood signs. Dogs that were wearing a dog license tag also had a higher likelihood of recovery (hazard ratio, 1.6). Owners were less likely to recover their dogs if they believed their dogs were stolen (hazard ratio, 0.3).  Conclusions:  Results suggest that various factors are associated with the likelihood that owners will recover a lost dog. Both animal agencies and veterinarians can play a role in educating dog owners on the importance of identification tags, licensing, and microchips and can help to emphasize the importance of having a search plan in case a dog is lost.

Lord, L.K., T.E. Wittum, A.K. Ferketich, J.A. Funk, and P.J. Rajala-Schultz.  2007. Search methods that people use to find owners of lost pets.  Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 230(12): 1835-1840.

Abstract:  Objective:  To characterize the process by which people who find lost pets search for the owners.  Design:  Cross-sectional study. Sample Population-188 individuals who found a lost pet in Dayton, Ohio, between March 1 and June 30, 2006. Procedures-Potential participants were identified as a result of contact with a local animal agency or placement of an advertisement in the local newspaper. A telephone survey was conducted to identify methods participants used to find the pets’ owners.  Results:  156 of 188 (83%) individuals completed the survey. Fifty-nine of the 156 (38%) pets were reunited with their owners; median time to reunification was 2 days (range, 0.5 to 45 days). Only 1 (3%) cat owner was found, compared with 58 (46%) dog owners. Pet owners were found as a result of information provided by an animal agency (25%), placement of a newspaper advertisement (24%), walking the neighborhood (19%), signs in the neighborhood (15%), information on a pet tag (10%), and other methods (7%). Most finders (87%) considered it extremely important to find the owner, yet only 13 (8%) initially surrendered the found pet to an animal agency. The primary reason people did not surrender found pets was fear of euthanasia (57%). Only 97 (62%) individuals were aware they could run a found-pet advertisement in the newspaper at no charge, and only 1 person who was unaware of the no-charge policy placed an advertisement.  Conclusions:  Veterinarians and shelters can help educate people who find lost pets about methods to search for the pets’ owners.

L.K. Lord, B. Griffin, M.R. Slater, and J.K. Levy.  2010.  Evaluation of collars and microchips for visual and permanent identification of pet cats.  Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 

Abstract:  Objective:  To determine the percentage of pet cats still wearing collars and having functional microchips 6 months after application.  Design:  Randomized controlled clinical trial. Procedures:  538 client-owned cats were randomly assigned to wear 1 of 3 types of collars: plastic buckle, breakaway plastic buckle safety, and elastic stretch safety. Each cat was fitted with the assigned collar, and a microchip was inserted SC between the scapulae. Owners completed questionnaires about their experiences and expectations of collars at enrollment and at the conclusion of the study.  Results:  391 of the 538 (72.7%) cats successfully wore their collars for the entire 6-month study period. Owners’ initial expectations of the cats’ tolerance of the collar and the number of times the collar was reapplied on the cats’ necks were the most important factors predicting success. Type of collar likely influenced how often collars needed to be reapplied. Eighteen (3.3%) cats caught a forelimb in their collar or caught their collar on an object or in their mouth. Of the 478 microchips that were scanned at the conclusion of the study, 477 (99.8%) were functional.  Conclusions:  Most cats successfully wore their collars. Because even house cats can become lost, veterinarians should recommend that all cats wear identification collars since they are the most obvious means of identifying an owned pet. For some cats, collars may frequently come off and become lost; therefore, microchips are an important form of backup identification. Owners should select a collar that their cat will tolerate and should check it often to ensure a proper fit.

Weiss, E. M. Slater, and L. Lord.  2012.  Frequency of lost dogs and cats in the United States and the methods used to locate them.  Animals 2: 301-315.

Abstract:  A cross-sectional national random digit dial telephone interview was conducted between September and November 2010. There were 1,015 households that had owned a dog or cat within the past five years. Of these 817 households owned dogs and 506 owned cats. Fourteen percent of dogs (95% Confidence Interval (CI): 11–16%) and 15% (95% CI: 12–18%) of cats were lost in the past five years. No owner demographic variables were associated with losing a pet. Ninety three percent (95% CI: 86–97%) of dogs and 75% (95% CI: 64–85%) of cats were recovered. For dogs, searching the neighborhood and returning on their own were the most common methods of finding the dog; 14% were found through an identification tag. For cats, returning on their own was most common. Dogs were more likely than cats to be lost more than once. Cats were less likely than dogs to have any type of identification. Knowledge of the successful methods of finding dogs and cats can provide invaluable help for owners of lost pets. Since 25% of lost cats were not found, other methods of reuniting cats and their owners are needed. Collars and ID tags or humane trapping could be valuable approaches.

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Do Coyotes Carry Cats Back to their Den?

Coyote pup exiting a well concealed den.
Coyote pup exiting a well concealed den.

When a cat or small dog goes missing, pet owners/guardians are often concerned that s/he could have fallen prey to a coyote or other predator.  As a pet detective for eight years, I have often been asked the question: “Do coyotes carry cats back to their dens to eat them?”  Of more concern, I’ve occasionally heard from people that a tracking dog team led them to a presumed predator den and they were told that the resident coyote (or fox or fisher) had killed their cat and taken it into the den.  There is unfortunately a lot of misunderstanding and myth when it comes to coyote behavior.  I am still doing research on this topic, but I wanted to share my findings to date.


Den Use by Coyotes

First of all it is important to understand that coyotes only use dens when they are raising their pups and stop using them when the pups are 8-10 weeks old.  “After that, even young pups generally sleep in the woods – even on nasty, rainy days” (Way 2012).  The coyote breeding season runs from mid-January to early February (in Massachusetts), and the pups are born 60-66 days later in mid-March to early April (Way 2012).  Several weeks before the pups are born, the coyote pair will excavate multiple possible den sites.  If a den site is disturbed, the coyotes will move the pups to one of these other dens, and they will often move the pups every few weeks presumably to avoid parasites like fleas infesting the den (Parker 1995: 63-66).

While the pups are nursing, the female will make short excursions from the den for food and the male may also provide her with some food (note to self: need to find research data on whether the male regurgitates or carries prey).  Once the pups are 8-10 weeks old, the coyotes will move the pups to a rendezvous site.  This is usually in an open area and near water.

Do Coyotes Bring Prey Back to their Dens?

Jonathan Way operates Eastern Coyote Research and has been studying coyotes in Massachusetts for more than ten years.  There is a good article on his website on the “Eastern coyote/coywolf life cycle in southeastern Massachusetts,” which answers many commonly asked questions about coyote behavior.  This is what he had to say about whether adult coyotes bring prey back to their dens.

“I have heard reports of dens surrounded by cat collars, cat remains, or deer fawns. However, all dens I have examined (over 20) have been devoid of prey. I believe this is an old wives tale to perpetuate the myth that coyotes/coywolves wipe out their prey supply, or at the least are having an undesirable affect on our local wildlife (or pets). Adults regularly clean dens by doing things like eating pup feces and regurgitate most food to the pups during this time” (Way 2012).

For more information on coyote denning behavior, I would recommend reading Way’s (2001) study on “Eastern coyote denning behavior in an anthropogenic environment.”  Other research presented in Eastern Coyote: The Story of Its Success (Parker 1995) found similar cases of clean coyote dens:

  • South Dakota – “There are seldom excessive tracks or any large accumulation of food remains around a den as would be expected if the den were used [for] several weeks” (Gier 1957).
  • Maine – “Active dens were devoid of prey remains and adult scats, similar to observations [of dens] in Missouri” (Harrison and Gilbert 1985; Hallett 1977).
  • Wisconsin – “Unlike foxes, coyotes remove bones, scats, and other debris from the den site” (Fruth 1986).

Conclusions (to date)

A coyote is most likely to carry its prey a minimum distance from the kill site before consuming.  Unless the location is perceived as unsafe by the coyote, carrying prey, especially a 10 lb cat, is a waste of energy.  If they need to bring prey to their mate or pups, they will usually consume the edible parts, carry the food in their stomach, and then regurgitate it at the den or rendezvous site.  If they don’t need to share their food, uneaten prey remains are more likely to be cached (buried) for later consumption.  From the research that I’ve read and my personal experience doing coyote research in Yellowstone, it is highly unlikely that a coyote would carry a cat or other large prey item into the den to consume.  On one occasion, I observed a coyote in Yellowstone carrying the legs of a pronghorn fawn, back to the den area.  When we later surveyed the coyote den sites in the park, I found some scat, bones and pieces of hide near the dens.  However, at least in areas where coyotes are hunted, they seem to keep the den area cleaned of prey remains.

In contrast to coyotes, I found in preliminary research on bobcats, foxes and fishers that these species are more likely to bring prey back to their den.  Bobcats and fishers may even bring the prey into their den to consume.

Literature Cited

Fruth, K.  1986.  The coyote (Canis latrans).  Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Wildlife Management PUBL-WM-148. 1.

Gier, H.T.  1957.  Coyotes in Kansas.  Kansas Agricultural Experimental Station Bulletin 393: 254.

Hallett, D.L. 1977.  Post-natal mortality, movements, and den sites of Missouri Coyotes.  M.Sc. thesis University of Missouri, Columbia.

Harrison, D.J. and J.R. Gilbert.  1985.  Denning ecology and movements of coyotes in Maine during pup rearing.”  Journal of Mammalogy 66: 714.

Parker, Gary.  1995.  Eastern Coyote: The Story of Its Success.  Halifax, N.S.: Nimbus Publishing Limited.

Way, J.G. 2012. Eastern coyote/coywolf life cycle in southeastern Massachusetts and some commonly asked questions. Eastern Coyote Research Publications 4: 1-5. URL:

Way, J. G, P. J. Auger, I. M. Ortega, and E. G. Strauss. 2001. Eastern coyote denning behavior in an anthropogenic environment. Northeast Wildlife 56: 18-30.

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Lost Pet Recovery Seminar and MAR K9 Bootcamp

Dante sniffing ground

Missing Pet Partnership Northeast Regional Training – Mystic, CT – May 2017

Missing Pet Partnership is holding a Northeast Regional Training on Saturday, May 20th through Wednesday, May 24th.  This training is open to anyone interested in learning about lost pet recovery work whether or not they have completed a Missing Animal Response (MAR) Technician course.

For more information and to register, Click Here.

2-Day Lost Pet Recovery Seminar (May 20th and 21st) – $100

This training will consist of a series of workshops, demos and panel discussions including:

  • Disaster Animal Response Work
  • Creative Captures
  • Compassion Fatigue for Rescuers
  • Net Gun, Collarum, Snappy Snare and Net Demos
  • Complex/Unique Cases and Handling Difficult Owners
  • Bone, Scat and Track Identification
  • Airport Searches
  • Managing Facebook Groups and Pages
  • Missy Trap, Enclosure and Drop Traps
  • Proper Search Dog Use and Scent Theory

Lost Pet Research and Recovery will be participating in several of the demos and running the workshop on Bone, Scat and Track Identification.  This training will focus on identifying dog and cat remains and sign such as skulls, tracks and scat.  There will also be some discussion on coyote behavior.

3-Day MAR K9 Boot Camp (May 22nd-24th) – $275 handler and one dog, $60 observer

This is a hands-on dog training for both MAR cat detection and MAR trailing dogs.  Both new and experienced search dogs are welcome.

Instructors include:

Dante scent training

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Cat Homing Behavior Survey Results

Cat resting after returning home

Cat resting after returning homeSince there is so little information on cat homing behavior, I am currently conducting a survey and these are the preliminary results.  If your cat has ever displayed homing behavior, please consider taking this very short survey.  To take the survey, click here.

Homing Definition

Some lost cats are able to find their way home using homing behavior.  Homing is the inherent ability of an animal to navigate towards an original location through unfamiliar areas.  Cat homing ability is poorly understood, but it may be due to an “unusual sensitivity to the geo-magnetic field of the earth which enables [the cat] to keep a compass fix on their home region regardless of distance and direction traveled” (Beadle 1977).

Possible homing scenarios include:

  • You move to a new home and your cat travels back to your previous home.
  • You are traveling with your cat or visiting a strange location (e.g. the vet’s office or a friend’s home) and your cat escapes and travels back to your home.
  • Your cat accidentally travels in a vehicle (e.g. gets into a contractor’s truck or a moving van) and gets out at a different location and then travels back home.
  • Someone intentionally takes your cat and dumps it somewhere and it finds its way back home.
  • You adopt a new cat and it travels back to its previous home.

Characteristics of cats that displayed homing behavior

Table 1 - Characteristics of cats that displayed homing behavior
Characteristics of cats that displayed homing behavior.

Outdoor Experience

Nearly all of the cats that displayed homing behavior were allowed outdoors (84% outdoor-access) or lived strictly outdoors (11% outdoor-only).  Although I have heard of a few instances of indoor-only cats displaying homing behavior, this seems very rare.  (Note: Escaped indoor-only cats will frequently return to their point of escape, which could possibly be a homing behavior, but the current survey only focused on cats that traveled from an unknown location to a known location.)

Age and Sex

Most (67%) cats were adults followed by 21% young adults.  Without more data for comparison, this could indicate any of the following.  There could be fewer kittens and/or senior cats in the cat-owned population or they are less likely to go missing away from home.  It could also mean that kittens and/or senior cats have poorer homing ability or they have equal homing ability, but they may be less likely to successfully travel home.

Slightly more (62%) male cats displayed homing versus females (39%), and most cats (74%) were spayed or neutered.

Circumstances of Homing

Table 2 - Circumstances of homing behavior in catsMost (40%) of homing incidents took place when the owner moved to a new home and their cat traveled back to a previous home.  This was followed closely by 37% of cats that were lost away from home and traveled back to their home.  Only a small number of cats were lost due to accidental transport (12%) and intentional disposal (7% – i.e. when someone intentionally takes a cat and dumps it somewhere else).  Most of these cats traveled back to their current homes though one accidental transport traveled back to a previous home.  Recently adopted cats only accounted for 7% of homing incidents, and these cats traveled back to their previous owner’s homes.

Eighty-six percent (86%) of cats were reported either very familiar or familiar with the location that they homed back to.  Thirty-three percent (33%) lived there more than 5 years and 40% lived there for 2-4 years.  Only 14% of lost cats homed back to a location where they had lived for less than 1 year.

Time, Distance and Speed Traveled

The survey results found that most cats were missing one day to 90 days and traveled 0.2 miles up to 14 miles (0.3-22 km).  Only three people reported long distance travel (40 miles over 6 months, 17 miles over 12 months and 52 miles over 30 months).  These results were removed from most of the analyses because they skewed the results.  Hopefully more people will submit survey results for long distance homing and these can be analyzed in more detail in the future.

The average distance traveled was 3.5 miles (5.6 km), and the average time missing was 12 days.  Distance was either self-reported by the owner or it was measured as straight-line distance between start and end locations (if reported).  Therefore, actual distance traveled by the missing cat is an unknown distance longer than the reported distance, and occasionally owner’s may over-estimate distance traveled possibly by using distance traveled by car.  I found that owner’s reported distance tended to be 0.7 miles (1.2 km) farther than the straight-line distance that I measured.

Days lost and distances traveled by cats displaying homing behavior.
Days lost and distances traveled by cats displaying homing behavior.

The average speed of travel was 0.5 miles per day (0.8 km/day) with a range of 0.06 – 1.4 miles/day (0.1-2.3 km/day).  This average may be a useful to estimate possible distance traveled by a missing cat that may be displaying homing behavior.  However, this is not likely an accurate estimate of actual travel speeds of missing cats because we don’t know the actual distance traveled by the cat and the cat may not have been immediately found once it returned to the home area.

These speeds are considerably slower than those reported by Herrik (1922) in a study where they intentionally transported a cat between one to three miles from home to test her homing behavior (see article Homing Ability of Lost Cats).  This cat traveled an average speed of 0.095 to 0.26 mph (0.15 to 0.4 km/hr) which converts to 2.28 to 6.24 miles/day (3.7 to 10 km/day).  Two factors may account for these faster speeds.  This cat had kittens near weaning age and may have been highly motivated to travel home quickly.  Also, in all but one case, the cat was able to travel home in less than 12 hours and possibly in as few as four hours.  Therefore, she may have been able to sustain a higher average rate of speed.

Possible risks encountered while traveling

Terrain and potential hazards encountered while traveling.
Terrain and potential hazards encountered while traveling.

As part of the survey, I asked people if their cat likely traveled through the following types of areas – Urban (city), Suburban, Rural (country), over a 2-lane highway, over a 4-lane highway, or across a stream or river.  Thirty-four percent (34%) reportedly crossed a 2-lane highway while 12% crossed a 4-lane highway.

Forty-six percent (46%) reportedly crossed a stream or river.  In 18 cases, I could view a map of potential travel routes, and most water crossings appeared to be streams or creeks.  However, there were several potential crossings of rivers from 30 feet wide to over 300 feet wide (as measured on Google Maps).  Most appeared to have bridges at some point.

How to use this information when searching for a lost cat

Unfortunately, there isn’t any research on how frequently cats display homing behavior.  Precht and Lindenlaub (1954) found that at distances of 3.1 miles (5 km) or less, only 60% of cats appeared able to determine the direction of their home, but most cats were unable to do so at greater distances.  The results of this survey found that the majority (66%) of homing excursions were 3.5 miles (5.6 km) or less.  However, 25% of cases were between 3.8 – 14 miles (6-22 km) and 7% were 17 – 52 miles (27-83 km), so don’t rule out longer distances.

Based on the results of this survey, homing is more likely if your cat was allowed outdoors, if he went missing 3.5 miles or less from his current or previous home and had lived at that location for at least 2 years.  Some cats do travel across 2-lane and 4-lane highways and streams/rivers so don’t rule out the possibility of homing due to these potential obstacles.

A few important notes – please read if your cat is missing

Please keep in mind that there are many reasons why an outdoor-access cat might go missing from a new home and many cats that get lost away from home do not attempt to travel back home.  In fact, many of them do not travel far from their point of escape.  Although cats are capable of traveling 0.5 miles/day or more from where they go missing, in most situations lost cats do not travel far (less than one mile is common), and they may circle around back towards the point of escape rather than traveling in a linear direction.  If your cat goes missing and fits one of the possible homing scenarios above, then consider homing as a possibility, but make sure that you understand typical lost cat behavior and follow all the suggested search actions including large florescent lost cat posters in the neighborhood where s/he went missing and a physical search of all property for at least 3-5 houses in all directions from the point last seen.

For more information on lost cat behavior and recovery, see Pet Detective Services and Lost Pet Resources.

If you are moving to a new home or traveling with your cat, consider purchasing a radio-tracking device or GPS collar for your cat.  Learn more in this article.  Be sure to check out the new Nuzzle GPS tracker, which is small enough for cats and does not have a monthly fee.

Literature Cited

Beadle, M.  1977.  Chapter 14: The Little Differences in The Cat: History, Biology, and Behavior.  New York, New York: Simon and Schuster.  Reviews the available scientific research on cat homing behavior as well as psi-trailing.

Herrick, F.H.  1922.  Homing Powers of the CatThe Scientific Monthly 14(6): 525-539.

Precht, H., and E. Lindenlaub.  1954.  Uber das Heimfindevermogen von Saugetieren. I. Versuche an Katzen.  Z. Tierpsychologie 11: 485.  I was unable to find an English translation of Precht and Lindenlaub (1954), so I had to rely on the summary of the study written in Beadle (1977).


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Can Cats See or Hear Wildlife Cameras?

Orange cat looking at infrared camera
Orange cat looking toward infrared camera

Wildlife cameras (also called trail or game cameras) are often recommended by pet detectives as a method to help locate missing cats.  They can be particularly helpful to determine the presence of an escaped indoor-only cat, since these cats tend to hide nearby and venture out at night.  Wildlife cameras are also commonly used by wildlife biologists in animal research and monitoring including studies on both wild and domestic cats.  These cameras are generally considered an unobtrusive method of observing animals.  However, little research has been done to determine the potential effects that wildlife cameras might have on animal behavior.

Of particular interest to pet detectives and lost pet owners, can cats see or hear wildlife cameras and what impact might this have on their behavior?

reconyx-hc500Wildlife cameras are electronic devices and make some sound when they take a picture or video though this may be imperceptible to humans.  The cameras now come in various flash types including xenon white flash, infrared, low-glow and no-glow.  White flash cameras (rarely used these days) will emit a bright white flash that is clearly visible even to humans.  With infrared cameras, the bulb display will glow red, but the flash itself is usually invisible to humans.  With low-glow or no-glow cameras, the bulb display will glow less or not at all.  Infrared cameras are often marketed with the claim that animals cannot see the flash (Meek and Pittit 2012).

The results of this study provide evidence that cats can both see and hear wildlife cameras

Figure 9 from Meek et al. (2014) Camera Traps Can Be Seen and Heard by Animals. PLoS ONE 9(10): e110832. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110832
Figure 9 from Meek et al. (2014) Camera Traps Can Be Seen and Heard by Animals. PLoS ONE 9(10): e110832.

Meek et al. (2014) conducted a research study where they measured the audio and visual outputs of 12 infrared wildlife camera models.  They then compared the hearing and vision ranges of dogs, cats and foxes to these camera values to determine if they can see and/or hear the different models of wildlife cameras.  The camera models tested included Reconyx, Scoutguard, Moultrie, Cuddeback, Pixcontroller, Bushnell, and Uway*.  All measurements of sound and infrared light were conducted in a laboratory with the camera placed 100 cm (40″) above the ground and 50 cm (20″) from the measuring device.  Additional light measurements were conducted with the camera 80 cm (30″) from a field spectrometer.

Evidence that Cats Can Hear Wildlife Cameras

The hearing range for cats is 45 to 64,000 Hz compared to 67-45,000 Hz for dogs and 64-23,000 for humans.  The audio output of the different cameras was not significantly different from each other except for the Cuddeback Capture which was louder.  Figure 9 (Meek et al. 2014) shows the mean audio output for the Reconyx HC600 camera with dotted lines for the 95% confidence limits.  The red dotted lines represent the hearing range of the cat and dog.  Where the red dotted lines are below and closest to the black lines, the camera sound can be detected by the cat or dog.

Although cats can theoretically hear the sound of wildlife cameras, their ability to detect these sounds in actual use (compared to the laboratory) is less clear.  In all models except the Cuddeback, the sounds emitted by the camera were not significantly different from the background sounds of the laboratory.  Meek et al. (2014) conclude that it would be more difficult for animals to hear the cameras with the background of forest noises, especially with increased distance from the camera.

Evidence that Cats Can See Wildlife Cameras

Figure 12 (Meek et al. 2014) shows the mean infrared wavelength illumination for seven wildlife camera models.  Camera traps labeled as “no glow” or “covert ops” typically use infrared with wavelengths over 850 nm.   Unfortunately, there are no studies available on the range of infrared light that is detectable to cats.  However, several studies on marsupials and ferrets found that they could detect infrared light at 539-557 nm and 870 nm, respectively (Sumner et al. 2005; Hemmi et al. 2000; Newbold et al. 2009).

Figure 12 from Meek et al (2014) Camera Traps Can Be Heard and Seen by Animals. PLos ONE 9(10): e110832.
Figure 12 from Meek et al (2014) Camera Traps Can Be Heard and Seen by Animals. PLos ONE 9(10): e110832.

Meek at al. (2014) also provided evidence from unpublished research that cats appear to detect wildlife cameras, including those with infrared flashes over 800 nm, more frequently than other animals.  They conclude that this is likely due to their retina sensitivity at 826 nm (Gekeler et al. 2006) combined with their wide field of vision.  The researchers further speculate that when animals see an infrared flash that it looks similar to what is seen when one infrared camera records a second camera as in the video below.

While this research provides evidence that cats can see wildlife cameras, further research is clearly needed.  Given the lack of sufficient research on the range of infrared light that is detectable to cats, I am not yet convinced how visible the “no glow” infrared cameras are to cats.  These cameras can have infrared wavelengths over 900 nm and ferrets (the only carnivore measured) could only detect infrared up to 870 nm.

There is a clear need for further research to determine the effect that wildlife cameras have on lost cat behavior

At this time, I would still recommend using wildlife cameras to search for missing cats.  In my eight years as a pet detective, wildlife cameras have proved invaluable in many cases.  However, in light of this research, I plan to modify some of my camera use procedures.  I also plan to continue researching the potential effects that wildlife cameras have on cat behavior.  I just purchased Meek’s (2014) book on Camera Trapping: Wildlife Research and Management, which will hopefully provide much more information on their research and experience with using wildlife cameras.

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Literature Cited

Gekeler, F., K. Shinoda, G. Blatsios, A. Werner, and E. Zrenner.  Scotopic threshold responses to infrared radiation in cats.  Vision Research 46: 357-364.

Meek P.D., Ballard G-A., Fleming P.J.S., Schaefer M., Williams W., et al. (2014) Camera Traps Can Be Heard and Seen by Animals. PLoS ONE 9(10): e110832.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110832

Meek, P.D. and A. Pittit.  2012.  User-based design specifications for the ultimate camera trap for wildlife research.  Wildlife Research 39: 649-660.

Newbold, H.G. and C.M. King.  2009.  Can a predator see ‘invisible’ light?  Infrared vision in ferrets (Mustela furo).  Wildlife Research 36: 309-318.

Sumner, P. C.A. Arrese, and J.C. Patridge.  2005.  The ecology of visual pigment tuning in an Australian marsupial: the honey possum Tarsipes rostratus. Journal of Experimental Biology 208: 1803-1815.

Hemmi, J.M, T. Maddess, and R.F. Mark.  2000.  Special sensitivity of photoreceptors in an Australian marsupial, the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii).  Vision Research 40: 591-599.

*Not all links are to the exact model of camera used in the research study.

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Missing Cat Study

MyronsMUGMissing Pet Partnership has partnered with the University of Queensland, Australia, to conduct the first-ever Missing Cat Study.  Lost cats that are not found by their families are a major contributing factor to worldwide feral, shelter, and homeless cat populations. In 2011 a preliminary, non-scientific study by Missing Pet Partnership determined that the majority (93%) of escaped indoor-only cats were found within a 3-house radius of their escape point, hiding in fear. A scientific study is needed to verify these preliminary findings and to help educate animal welfare, veterinarian, and animal shelter staff how to properly advise cat owners where and how to search for a missing cat. Missing Pet Partnership is excited to announce that we’ve partnered with the University of Queensland (Australia) to conduct the first-ever Missing Cat Study. Through an on-line survey, this study will interview cat owner/guardians who’ve lost a cat and identify the typical distances that lost cats travel, how they behave when lost, and the most effective recovery methods.  If you’ve ever lost a cat, please help us by participating in the below survey (Survey is Closed).  Thank you for helping MPP to help save the lives of cats!

Reprinted from Missing Pet Partnership

The Missing Cat Study Has Been Published!

Huang, L., M. Coradini, J. Rand, J. Morton, K. Albrecht, B. Wasson, and D. Robertson.  2018.  Search methods used to locate missing cats and locations where missing cats are found.  Animals 8(1), 5.

Abstract:  Missing pet cats are often not found by their owners, with many being euthanized at shelters. This study aimed to describe times that lost cats were missing for, search methods associated with their recovery, locations where found and distances travelled. A retrospective case series was conducted where self-selected participants whose cat had gone missing provided data in an online questionnaire. Of the 1210 study cats, only 61% were found within one year, with 34% recovered alive by the owner within 7 days. Few cats were found alive after 90 days. There was evidence that physical searching increased the chance of finding the cat alive (p= 0.073), and 75% of cats were found within 500 m of the point of escape. Up to 75% of cats with outdoor access traveled 1609 m, further than the distance traveled by indoor-only cats (137 m; p ? 0.001). Cats considered to be highly curious were more likely to be found inside someone else’s house compared to other personality types. These findings suggest that thorough physical searching is a useful strategy, and should be conducted within the first week after cats go missing. They also support further investigation into whether shelter, neuter and return programs improve the chance of owners recovering missing cats and decrease numbers of cats euthanized in shelters

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Should We Catch this Dog?

I originally wrote this article as a response to a similarly titled article Should We Catch the Dog? by Mark Johnson, DVM, of Global Wildlife Resources.  The article and ensuing discussion were about whether we should always catch feral/roaming dogs or whether it is sometimes in the dog’s best interest to leave them free.  This is a rarely asked question and may not often be feasible, but it is an interesting discussion nonetheless.  I would suggest also checking out Mark’s article and the reader comments if this is an issue that you are facing.

I run a business where I help people find their missing cats and dogs, and sometimes this involves catching a frightened lost dog. It is actually surprising, especially to the panic-stricken and bewildered owner, how often a beloved pet dog will run in fear even from their owner once lost and in an unfamiliar environment. This is commonly referred to as the dog being in “survival mode,” and I have worked several cases (and heard of many more) where a lost dog acted feral until it was captured. Some revert to their normal friendly selves while still in the trap as soon as they see their owner, while others need to be brought home to relax in a familiar environment before acting friendly and social again. I have also seen similar behavior in lost or stray dogs where the owner was not present. While loose, they acted extremely fearful and untrusting of people, but once trapped and brought indoors, they turned out to be friendly, well-socialized dogs.

Lost dog at pre-baited trap in Vermont.
Lost dog at pre-baited trap in Vermont.

One such case stands out in my mind.  I received a call from a Tennessee rescue group that had lost a foster dog in Vermont.  He was a pug mix and had slipped his leash and run away upon arrival at his foster home.  I was not contacted until one month after he went missing, but I located him within three weeks using 30 large florescent posters put up over a six-mile radius from where he went missing.  It turned out that he was living near a small town about four miles from where he escaped, and a local woman had been putting out food for him but couldn’t get anywhere near him.  We used a humane trap baited with food and blankets mailed up from his original foster mom in Tennessee.  He appeared subdued, but not outwardly friendly once trapped.  However, when we carried the trap into the house and let him out, he transformed into a different dog.  He ran from person to person and jumped into laps and appeared ecstatic to be back in a home after seven long weeks living in the woods. Here’s example of a similar story where the dog was loose for years before being caught: Ghost Dog Finally Makes It Home.

Lost dog caught on wireless wildlife camera entering an enclosure trap.
Lost dog caught on wireless wildlife camera entering an enclosure trap.

On the other hand, I worked another case where the outcome was very different. I was assisting another lost pet tracker in a case where the lost dog was a former street dog from the south, and he escaped upon arrival at his new home in New England. He was actually caught a few weeks later, but then again escaped his new owners within one week. Even when indoors at his new home, this dog was extremely fearful of people and had a reported history of biting in fear. It took several months and many trapping attempts before he was finally captured, and despite being on his own living in the snow and cold, the Animal Control Officer thought he looked remarkably healthy. In a very unfortunate series of events, the dog ended up seriously biting someone shortly after his capture. Now he is being held indefinitely by animal control, his new owners did not reclaim him (for complicated reasons so please don’t judge), and his future is uncertain.  I don’t think there really was the option to leave him running loose where he was, but the outcome was really disheartening.  (Update: I originally wrote this article in 2014.  This dog lived for 1 ½ years as a foster dog before passing away due to an illness.  He was described as a productive shelter volunteer that helped evaluate and befriend new shelter dogs, and no additional incidents of biting are known.)

The real question is probably not whether this dog should have been captured once lost in New England, but whether it was in his best interest to be caught down south in the first place and transported up here as an adoptable dog. I don’t know enough about these programs to provide a critical argument, but it does raise some interesting questions.  Do feral or severely under-socialized dogs that are rescued down south and then transported up north really benefit from the situation?  It is not uncommon for these dogs to run off shortly after being adopted, and if found and caught, they remain at a high risk of taking off again at the first opportunity.  Are there other options for these dogs besides killing them or adopting them out?  Are trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs for dogs ever a viable option in the United States?

Obviously this is a complicated issue that would need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.  Personally, I think in some cases (if the option exists) that an extremely fearful or feral dog might be better off left alone to live on their own similar to TNR colonies of feral cats. However, I would caution people that it is not possible to assess the temperament of a loose dog until it has been trapped and allowed to feel safe indoors. Unfortunately, this leads to the quandary that in order to determine if you should catch a dog, especially one where the owners cannot be located and you don’t know the dog’s history, you really need to catch the dog first.

– Danielle Robertson, Lost Pet Research & Recovery


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Kyon Smart Collar: Never Lose Your Pet Again

Kyon Collar Photo 1

Owning a pet is a great pleasure. If only we knew what they are thinking and feeling! And if only we could ensure that they would never get lost! Pets deserve our attention as they have needs and feelings. Wouldn’t it be ideal if they could communicate with us? So, what if we told you there is a pet collar which gives your pet a voice?

KYON smart collar is a multifunctional pet tracker that helps you communicate with your pet and simultaneously protects it from getting lost.

KYON is a stylish wearable device of highly advanced technology supporting a GPS and a GSM technology accompanied by an LED display where you can project the messages you want. Along with a Basestation and an easy-to-use mobile application that audits and receives alerts or info regarding your pets’ condition, KYON brings you closer to your best friend.

KYON smart collar tells you the exact location of your pet while it notifies you if your pet runs away from a specific distance approximately 300ft, a “safe zone” which can be extended by adding a SIM card for an extra $4.99 per month.

Kyon Collar Photo 2

With its Sense technology, the KYON collar lets pet owners feel their pets’ mood. For example, there is an embedded 9- axis accelerometer which updates you about your pet’s activity levels (if feeling happy or sleepy) when you are not at home. Moreover, KYON collar has a heat sensor which informs you whether your pet is feeling too hot or too cold. It holds as well a water sensor that operates like a “lifeguard” by notifying the owner when it detects water.

KYON smart collar, offers some additional exciting features which along with the aforementioned guarantee that it is the smartest collar there is. The collar helps you avoid dangerous dog fights with its pacifying technology that uses a high frequency sound that calms your pet. Tip: When two pets of contradictory breeds are both wearing a KYON collar, then the pacifier feature is activated automatically. Barking can be sometimes risky and annoying. KYON prevents your beloved “yeller” from barking with its “Shhh…!” feature.

In addition, with KYON you can also in-flight monitor you pet and thanks to KYON’s vet appointment and annual vaccination as well as walk reminder your pet’s needs won’t be forgotten.

KYON has a 30 day life rechargeable battery (depends on usage).  It is designed for pets with 25 to 50cm neck perimeter and its leash clip can support over 30 kg and it operates in 120 countries worldwide. Details, finally, can make the difference, hence KYON smart collar is offered in a variety of colors in order to make the choice you prefer.

KYON pet collar is a KICKSTARTER project which has launched its campaign in March and aims to be funded by the 15th of May 2016 (5:35 PM +03:00). If you want to be part of this initiative, then, don’t hesitate: Make your pet the perfect gift!

Guest blog article written by Fenny Chroni

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When NOT to Use a Tracking Dog to Find a Lost Dog

Running Dog - Morgue FileThe idea of using a tracking dog to find a lost dog is very compelling, but most people who pursue this option do not have a good understanding of how a tracking (or trailing) dog works.  In some cases a tracking dog CAN provide useful information for locating a lost dog such as confirming sightings or establishing a direction of travel.  However, very few lost dogs are actually found and captured during the search (i.e. a “walk-up find”), which is what most people are hoping for when they hire a tracking dog team.

What many people do not consider is that there are actually some cases when you should NOT try to use a tracking dog to find a lost dog.  In these situations a tracking dog is not only a waste of money, but they can actually be detrimental to finding and catching the lost dog.  The situations where you should not use a tracking dog to find a lost dog include most cases where there are multiple sightings of the lost dog in a general area, and the dog is running in fear from everyone.  This most often occurs with newly adopted dogs and skittish lost dogs.  However, even an otherwise friendly dog can enter what is known as “survival mode” (where they run from all people including those that they know) if they are lost in a frightening situation (such as a car crash) or if they are on the run for several days, especially if people attempt to chase or capture them.  Sometimes these lost dogs will run for several miles (1-5 is common and 10 or more miles is not unheard of), but in most cases the lost dog will eventually settle down in a place where they feel safe.  Generally this safe place is somewhere with food, water, shelter, and (very importantly) where people are not attempting to approach or catch them.  In some cases the lost dog will actually circle around and come back to close to where they went missing.

If you you get multiple sighting (even 2-3) of the lost dog in a general area (hopefully less than 1 mile apart), then the lost dog has likely found a safe place to hide out.  The last thing that you want to do in this situation is chase the dog out of his newly found haven.  If you use a tracking dog, they may help you find out where your dog has been taking shelter and getting food, but in the process you may scare your dog out of the safe place.  Likewise, it is a very bad idea to have human search teams go into this area and look for the lost dog, especially if it is a wooded area.  Even if they see the dog, they are most likely going to scare him out of the area.  In either of these situations, the lost dog may feel pressured to leave the area and find a new safe place, perhaps miles away.

In these types of cases, it is very important to leave the dog alone and encourage others to report sightings, but not to approach or attempt to catch the dog.  Most of these dogs are ultimately caught using lure and capture techniques such as feeding stations, calming signals, surveillance cameras and/or humane traps.   If your lost dogs fits this profile, you may still want professional advice and/or assistance in catching them from a trained pet detective.  If your dog does not fit this profile, then read this accompanying article on Search Dogs to determine if a tracking dog team could help you find your missing dog.

Lost Pet Research & Recovery offers phone consultations throughout the United States and on-site services in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and parts of Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and New York.  For more information, visit: Find a Lost Dog.  If you are looking for on-site assistance outside of this area, then check the Missing Pet Partnership Pet Detective Directory.

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Wireless Wildlife Cameras and Trap Alarms

Lost dog caught on wireless wildlife camera entering an enclosure trap.
Lost dog caught on wireless wildlife camera entering an enclosure trap.

Humane cage traps and enclosure traps are effective methods for catching escaped indoor-only cats, outdoor-access cats lost away from home and skittish lost dogs.  However, monitoring a trap is often very labor intensive, especially when set away from your home.  Checking the trap frequently (such as every four hours in good weather) is important not only for the well-being of any trapped animal, but also because any time that a non-target animal is caught in the trap is a missed opportunity for catching your own missing pet.  For this reason I recommend the use of wireless wildlife cameras or trap alarms.  These will alert you when an animal is caught in the trap and you can either release the non-target animal or bring your lost pet home quickly.

Wireless Wildlife Cameras

Regular wildlife cameras (a.k.a. trail cameras) save their pictures to an SD card in the camera that you then need to retrieve to view the photos. There are now a variety of wireless trail cameras available.  These cameras will send a picture to your phone or email (almost) every time one is taken by the camera.  Some of them require an AT & T or TMobile account, but most now allow you to purchase a pre-paid phone card such as the Go Phone plan from AT & T for only $10/month.  Be warned that you may need to talk to several sales associates before you find one that understands what you need to purchase to make the camera work, and don’t let them convince you that you need to purchase a plan that includes minutes.  In order for these to work, the camera must be set up somewhere with cell phone coverage.  A signal booster may be used in areas with weak signals.

When the camera is directed at a trap, you will start receiving photos via email or text as soon as an animal is caught in the trap.  These work well both with humane cage-type traps and larger enclosure traps.  These can also help you monitor a trap at night.  If you have a smart phone, you can set it up so that the incoming message alert wakes you up and/or you could set you alarm to go off every 2-4 hours to check for any new photos.

Covert Special Ops Code Black

Check out this review from  This is the one wireless trail camera that I have used, and it worked quite well.

HCO UWay and Panda Wireless Cameras

Moultrie Game Cameras

Moultrie offers a pay as you go wireless service for several of their cameras.  You also need to purchase the Moultrie Spy Game Management System.  For more information, visit the Moultrie website.

Here is a review of the Moultrie I35, which is the cheapest model compatible with the Spy Game Management System.

SpyPoint Tiny-W2

This camera does not require a monthly subscription plan.  However, it is only able to transmit up to 250 feet, where it stores a copy of the pictures on a separate device (the “black box”).  This would work best if you are trapping around your home and could place the black box in your home.  If trapping away from home, you could still put one of these cameras at the trap and then check the pictures from a distance without disturbing the trapping site.

Other Wireless and Cellular Cameras

I am continuing to research other cameras, but most of them appear very expensive.

Build Your Own

If you are tech savvy, then you might consider building your own wireless trail camera.  Check out these instructions from

Trap Alarms for Trapping Lost Pets Around Your Home

If your lost dog or cat is close to your home (as is often the case with escaped indoor-only cats), you may be able to use one of these cheaper motion alarms.  Some people even use a basic audio or video baby monitor set close to the trap.  These type of alarms can be quite useful when trapping at night (when most lost indoor-only cats are active) because they are loud enough to wake you up when an animal is caught in the trap.

These are the trap alarms that I use most frequently.

Driveway Alarm

There are various cheap versions of driveway alarms. I used to use Driveway Patrol, but it is no longer manufactured.

This driveway alarm has a short detection range, so it can only be used if you are trapping immediately around your home.  The specifications say that it works up to 400 feet, but I have found that some only work to 50 feet.  I have found that you do get what you pay for with these alarms, and they may not last for more than a year.  You may be able to find something similar to this alarm at a hardware store such as Harbor Freight Tools.

Chamberlain Wireless Motion Alert

This alarm is supposed to work for up to 1/2 mile, so it should have a reliable range of at least half that.  In the city I have found that it may only work for a few hundred feet.  You can also purchase additional Add-on Sensors to use with one receiver.  Here is a video of my dog entering a trap that is armed with a motion alarm.

In this case, I attached the alarm to a piece of wood and angled it downward.  This way the alarm should not go off when an animal walks around the outside of the trap.  For the video, I placed the alarm receiver next to the video camera, so you could hear when it beeped, but normally the receiver would be in the house with you and the trapped animal wouldn’t hear it.  Though a bit more pricey, I find these alarms much more reliable than the Driveway Patrol.

SpyPoint Wireless Motion Detector

SpyPoint also sells some good quality trail cameras including at least one wireless camera.

GPS Trap Alarms

There are also commercially available GPS enabled trap alarms that don’t have the range limitations of these wireless models.  However, they are probably prohibitively expensive for most people since they start around $500.  These, like GPS locators and wireless cameras, also require a monthly subscription plan.   A few models are the:

Lost Pet Research & Recovery Online Instructions

This information is taken from my Online Lost Pet Recovery Instructions.  They also include more detailed instructions on using surveillance (e.g. wildlife cameras) and traps to catch lost dogs and cats.  Access to these password protected instructions is currently available for only $20 and can be purchased from the Lost Pet Research Store.