Feb 22, 2023 - News

Atlanta's cat detective is on the case

Illustration of a magnifying glass inspecting cat pawprints.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Tiger snuck out the door and bolted into the woods behind your house. Three days have passed, your voice hurts from calling his name, and you’re tired of waiting by the door.

What's happening: Over the past 10 years, the Decatur pet detective has helped nearly 4,000 cat owners in 48 states and 23 countries try to find their lost cats, Freeman told Axios.

Why it matters: Cats are intelligent, picky, calculating and relatively hard to predict animals. When you strike a bond with one, they’re perfect friends, and when friends go missing, you worry.

Catch up quick: Freeman's experience of losing and later locating her “snuggler cat” Mister Purr made her realize how few resources were available other than old wives’ tales (more on those in a moment).

  • In 2012, she became a full-time cat detective.

Details: First, Freeman advises people — many of whom first turned to pet psychics, online services and armchair experts — to skim her “Lost Cat Kit.”

  • The guide includes a “crash course” to help the owner understand lost cat psychology and effective recovery methods based on a cat’s personality type.

For additional guidance, Freeman offers a private "coaching session" via Zoom to learn more about the lost cat and develop a custom plan.

How it works: "I need to know every detail about the cat’s personality, habits, reaction to strangers, startle-response and level of food motivation," she said.

  • Some clients request an in-person search, and Freeman will visit armed with a plan and equipment like thermal detection cameras and long-range listening devices.
  • She canvasses a 250- to 500-foot radius area, interviews neighbors and pays close attention to crushed vegetation, claw marks on fences and other telltale signs.

Yes, but: Don't walk around the neighborhood shaking treats and calling the cat’s name, Freeman said. (It could lure them farther from home.)

  • Don't leave a litter box outside. It can attract bully cats, raccoons and coyotes. "Home smells more like home than a tray of litter… A sack of potatoes would have worked just as well," she said.

Of note: Some of Freeman's most memorable cases include:

  • Petra, an escaped cat in rural Texas whose owners thought was killed by coyotes but was found by Freeman nearly one year later and less than 1,200 feet away from home.
  • Poncho, who escaped his owners on Grizzly Peak above Berkeley, California, ran down the mountain. The owners found him after adopting Freeman's advice to ditch the litter box and view things from the cat’s purrspective.
  • Milo, a ginger Boston feline who hid deep in his owner's Tesla — and stayed there throughout 17 miles of driving around looking for the cat at a shelter, posting signs and buying traps at Home Depot.

Reality check: Not every cat gets found or comes home. Occasionally the cat fell victim to a coyote.

  • “Sometimes the cat has climbed up into an SUV and been transported farther away than the person is looking,” Freeman said. “I get a lot of resistance from owners on this possibility but I have scores of cases of it happening.”
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