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Applying Physics to find lost pet

  1. Jan 14, 2015 #1

    I'm hoping you can assist me with this problem.

    My cat darted out the door and has been missing for two weeks. I recently had a sighting and would like to narrow down the search perimeter in order to try to locate my cat.

    So.....I thought perhaps physics gurus may be interested in helping by applying physics concepts to aide in the search?

    Time missing: 15 days (spotted yesterday; missing since 12/29
    Distance traveled: .73 of a mile (location seen is northeast direction from my home)

    Yes, I know....it's an odd ask...but, if you could help, I'd appreciate it very much!

    thanks so much for your time!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 14, 2015 #2

    Stephen Tashi

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    With only that information, physics alone can't give a good estimate for a perimeter. Animal behavior would be a better guide. What's the gender of the cat? Is it neutered or spayed? Are you in the city or country?
  4. Jan 14, 2015 #3
    I agree with @Stephen Tashi

    A general range that a cat could travel or would travel is important. But more important is looking in areas where the cat could shelter or find food.
  5. Jan 14, 2015 #4
    Thanks for the reply. Yes - I know this won't net "100%" result, however, I'm getting a little desperate. I'm trying to get a general idea of speed and travel area so I can target the 'lost kitty' flyers.

    It's a male cat - I just got him and only had him for 2-days so he is not 'fixed'. He's a rescue from a junk yard. He showed up on a lady's porch and ate her cat's food. She found me via a lost cat report I submitted to the SPCA. Apparently, he's now injured a hind leg as he's limping.

    I did V=D/T and estimate that he's traveling 46275.765879236 foot/day. As I am NOT a physics guru (clearly!), I thought, what the heck, maybe you guys could take a shot at this for me?
  6. Jan 14, 2015 #5

    Stephen Tashi

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    For D = .73 miles and T = 15 days, it's about 257 ft per day. An animal behavior question is how the cat would attempt to navigate himself back to the junk yard.
  7. Jan 14, 2015 #6
    It's a highly populated suburban area. Loads of families with family pets who leave food and water out for their animals.
  8. Jan 14, 2015 #7
    Stephen Tasi - thank you so much for that data. How would you expand a search area radius for an object traveling at 257 ft. per day?. I realize this is 'approximate'. I've attached a map pic from my location to where he was seen last.

    An interesting point on the cat behavior.....the junk yard (it's an architectural salvage yard actually) owners did not want the stray and had even taken the cat and left him at the county dump. The cat somehow navigated back <10 miles to the junk yard over 3 weeks!!! I believe he's trying to do that yet again. I am 14 miles from the junk yard.

    Attached Files:

  9. Jan 14, 2015 #8
    Physics tells you that you can be *absolutely certain* that the cat is no more than 2.6*10^13 m from where it was last seen 1 day ago.
  10. Jan 14, 2015 #9

    Stephen Tashi

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    Based just on the map, and assuming your flyers will be good for about 2 weeks, I suggest you distribute flyers a distance 2 blocks east and west of point A and for about 10 blocks south of it.
  11. Jan 14, 2015 #10
    You guys are FANTASTIC. That's the info I am looking for.

    I am very grateful to you....I'll let you know the outcome and any report sightings or changes.

    Thank you again for your help!
  12. Jan 14, 2015 #11


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    IMO, assuming a constant rate of travel is exactly the wrong approach.

    The cat is not going anywhere; it is looking for food and shelter. It will patrol an area , and if it can find enough food (and is not taken in by someone), it will establish a routine, visiting the same places each night.

    I had this happen just over the summer. A cat found me, and came back every single night for weeks (because I fed it). Then one day, I just never saw it again. It was either retrieved, killed, or it found a better route.

    IMO, your best chance for finding your cat is to concentrate your search on the radius of the last sighting.
  13. Jan 14, 2015 #12
    http://www.missingpetpartnership.org/recovery-tips/lost-cat-behavior/[/PLAIN] [Broken]

    web site may have everything there is to know about recovering lost cats.

    Usually, cats go less than two miles. Your case is different, however. Your cat had not accepted your home as its new home. (To accomplish that, keep the new cat indoors for eight weeks.) There is a good chance that it is trying to make its way back to where it previously lived.

    Ask the people along the route between your house and the junk yard and the people at the junk yard to be on the lookout and call you if they see him. Then, you'll need to trap him with a humane trap.

    Good luck. I know from experience that it is an anxious time when your cat is missing.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  14. Jan 14, 2015 #13

    Stephen Tashi

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    Is Pt A on the map your house or is it the location of the last sighting?

    If you cat is mostly gray or black, other cats might mistaken for him. How distinctive is his appearance?
  15. Jan 14, 2015 #14


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    How old? Male, from junkyard to neighbor, from neighbor to you. Kitten just grown up and dumped? Older animals will have "printed" on specific locations or people, and can be very persistent about returning to what's familiar. Younger "refugees" and dumped animals are more adaptable, but are also going to be in something of an "adolescent identity crisis" in terms of who they are, where they belong, whom they can trust. Keep fingers crossed.
  16. Jan 14, 2015 #15
    I was trying to keep the details brief, but to clarify, here's the full story.

    I do animal rescue (primarily cats) via an area rescue group and have done so for years. This cat was rescued by me and was being fostered by me until a more perm arrangement could be made. I found him at the Junk Yard and brought him to my home. Kitty escaped the confines of his kitty kennel (ie: large dog crate) when I opened the door and bolted into the yard and under the fence.

    I've put out lost cat notices and notified all the rescue groups and animal control. Kitty was seen eating on a lady's porch on 01/12 (point B on the map... .73 of a mile from my house northeast. The lady was nice enough to call SPCA to see if anyone had filed a missing cat report - which I had - and they provided my contact info which is how I learned of his presence at her home.

    Kitty is an un-neutered male, all black, long-hair looks like a Persian-mix. Apparently, he's now injured in his hind legs as he was seen limping.

    I'm desperate to get him back....to say the least.
  17. Jan 14, 2015 #16

    Stephen Tashi

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    Assuming that report is correct, I suggest suggesting for 10 blocks the north of B (rather than 10 blocks to the south of A).
  18. Jan 14, 2015 #17
    Thanks, Stephen. Yes- that's my plan as my location is "A" and "B" is the cat sighting. I went today to post flyers. I will do more probably.

    Thanks again for everyone's input. I really appreciate it very much!
  19. Jan 21, 2015 #18


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    There was a thread last year about an experiment where several cats were fitted with trackers and their movements were plotted. I couldn't find it but I remember that they followed pretty regular patterns.

    EDIT: I think that this is the story - How far do your cats roam?
    There's an interesting link to a http://cats.yourwildlife.org/cat-tracks/ [Broken] page that shows the tracks of various cats that people have outfitted with a GPS. You can click on an individual cat and see its movements.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  20. Jan 21, 2015 #19


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    I just watched a show a couple of days ago where they tracked cats. They only patrolled their routine routes within a few blocks.

    I don't think that applies to this cat.
  21. Jan 21, 2015 #20
    Yeah, this kitty is new to the area so does not have a "route". He's scared and "on the run". He has not been seen back at the one house where he ate the pet food. So, another week has passed and not one single sighting. (sigh....)

    I walked the entire area all weekend. I "thought" I saw him but he was too far away and the cat darted under someone's backyard fence.

    This is like trying to find a needle in a haystack which is why I reached out to you all in order to get some idea as to how far he could travel per day to help me narrow the search.
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