It may not seem like I am ready for a child after my posts about moving on the U-Bahn and now losing my cat, but they don’t hand out licenses for these things so I am sharing my trauma in the hopes it will relieve your drama if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. Here’s the story of how we lost our cat in Berlin – and got her back.
At first, we were puzzled. We couldn’t find our cat anywhere, but as we live in a 6th floor Dachgeschoss (attic apartment) there was no obvious exit route. Examining our abode closely we found that there was only one escape – the window. Poking our head out we saw that she could have nosed her way out and done a rooftop stroll before entering any one of the many apartments that share our roof line. I was terrified, but hopeful – how far could she go?
We formed a plan and tried to go about our day with half our minds on a little grey tabby, Bellatrix, that could be anywhere.
Put Up Lost Cat or “Katze entlaufen” Signs
My first action was to plaster our building’s many entrances with signs of our cat’s disappearance. If a random cat showed up in your top-floor apartment you’d check for signs, right?
Through tears (I was already feeling pretty distraught), I picked a picture that helped identify our cat from the millions of other grey & black tabbies (getigerte in German). She looked like a total bitch in her profile which made me cry harder. Along with her picture, I listed:
- Her name & description
- Our name, street, phone number & e-mail
- When & where she was last seen
- Details of her escape
I cursed my poor language skills, especially in a crisis, and thanked the German language gods that “Name” & “Address” are the same in German and English so that my frazzled brain didn’t have to work so hard.
Expand the Search
Unfortunately, our hopeful assumptions that she could not have gone far didn’t account for the allergies of a neighbor.
This was the day of the first German game in the World Cup and we had plans to meet friends that evening for the game. Reluctantly, we left home eagerly clutching our cell phones and hoping for a call. And halfway through the game we received it. Our neighbor had found Bella and as she was allergic, we understood her to stay that she had put the cat in the garden house in the Hof (courtyard). Uneasy as we were about the exact location, we were immensely relieved that she had been found and promised to strangle or snuggle her to death.
Arriving at the address given, we realized this entrance shared our building’s Hof. But our Hof didn’t have a garden house, or anywhere safe to leave a cat. We called the neighbor back and came to the realization that she thought an adequate solution was to release our cat straight into the Hof. Our small American house-cat, without collar (but microchipped), who didn’t even speak German (my husband weakly joked) was somewhere out there in the wilds of Wedding in Berlin.
Adrenaline pumped through my body and tears sprung up once again. But there was no time to cry. We were on a mission. I printed an armful of new flyers, grabbed a can of treats and set about marking our neighborhood with flyers. Thinking she may have left the Hof through the fenced side into a neighboring Hof (which led to another and another and another Hof), we papered the Kiez (neighborhood). We were careful to use clear tape on glass and private doors to try and deter people from tearing them down because of fears of damage. We entered any open door and pitifully called her name and shook the treat jar that usually has her running. We saw more of our block in the next few days than we have the entire time we’ve lived here.
But no cat that night.
Contact the Authorities
We returned to the flat – up all 111 stairs – exhausted and feeling desperate. It was time to start my online petition.
- Tierheim (animal shelter)
- Local Police
- Posted an ad on craigslist
- Asked people on twitter to keep an eye out
- Registered her as lost through her registration on petlink
- Local vets
- Cat pensions
I sent the flyer to any e-mail I could scavenge and pleaded my case. Though I didn’t hear back from some, many wrote back with tips and promises to post my flyer and spread the word.
The Tierheim is the official authority for lost pets and is where any lost or found pet should be reported (take note allergic neighbor). I was thankful to find instructions about what to do in case of a lost pet on their website, including a contact phone number and e-mail (Tel. (030) 76888-201 or 203; E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) dedicated just to this service. They were extremely responsive, immediately checking any found pets for her microchip number and updating us after every worried e-mail – but she wasn’t there either.
If our neighbor had followed official protocol and called the Tierheim, we might have had Bella back that first day.
Put out Food and get Creative
By day three, my heart was broken and I was trying not to reveal what a mess I was to everyone else. To make matters worse, it was my husband’s birthday.
I was emotionally a little numb, but trying any last-ditch effort to get our little lady back. I continued to prowl the neighborhood, calling our cat’s name (yes – sometimes still through tears) and shaking her sad little treat cup. I was reading lost pet tips pretty incessantly at this point and realized that while Bella had no way to return to our flat, she could get back to the Hof. Even for us, it is a sadly uninviting space so I tried to make it more welcoming by finding the quietest corner and setting out a box with some of our old smelly clothes and an open container of food. Sites recommend searching at night when most of the noisy daily life has quieted down, so I varied my searches by going out multiple times between 6am and midnight. With my frequent rounds, I hoped I could coax her back and find her.
I also continued to check on flyers as some were torn down or damaged. I tried different spots, added bright pink highlights to draw attention to old signs and chatted up the local shop-owners.
Don’t give up hope!
As we returned from a determinedly cheerful (and only half-successful) celebration dinner, I told the birthday boy I would be up in a minute and tried another wander of the Hof. It was routine at this point, but I was wondering how much longer I could go on. I spent time jealously daydreaming about Bella’s new German life with a local family and cursing her for leaving or alternatively dreading that she was still out there somewhere, terrified and alone – or worse.
I checked the still empty box of clothes, called her name, shook the treat can and turned back toward home. Suddenly my husband called out, “I see her!” from the stairwell. I froze, afraid my movement would scare her away. He bounded down the stairs and we descended on the spot she had disappeared. She had crawled into a hole beneath a dumpster and as I leaned over the grate with my heart in my throat I saw her eyes and heard that kitty voice I knew so well. We had found her! I grabbed her little body and held her to my chest, joyfully breathing in her garbage-perfumed coat.
I gave up hope early and often, but we never gave up our search. This silly cat that we brought across the ocean is our favorite American export and I am so relieved to have her back. Though clearly no expert (I managed to lose my cat on the 6th floor), there are a few things we did right and I hope our story will help you if you ever lose a pet in Germany.
Do you have any tips to add?