Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lost Pet in Germany

How to find your lost cat in BerlinI've written about our cat, importing pets from abroad and adopting the bunnies - I never wanted to write a post about a lost cat in Berlin. But there we were on Monday, preparing for my 21-week pregnancy check with our power still out in the kitchen (a German apartment story for another time) realizing the cat wasn't in the house. Catastrophes never happen at a good time.

As we live on the 6th floor attic apartment (dachgeschoss) with nowhere for the Bellatrix to go but out the window, we could guess what had happened. Hot days and nights have us cracking the windows to coax in a nighttime breeze and a strong wind must have opened the windows enough for the cat to take a cool rooftop stroll. I was already close to tears, but Ian comforted me by telling me her only recourse was to go into one of our neighbor's apartment. We would put up signs all over the Hof (courtyard) and entrances and when a neighbor found a furry surprise visitor they would give us a call.

(The last few days have been traumatic and I go into detail here, but rest assured we have a happy ending. If are just looking for tips to find a lost pet in Germany scroll to the end.)

Distractedly, we set off for our appointment (all good - whew!) and I hurried home to put up some some quickie signs. I tried to work throughout the day, anxiously checking my phone from time to time and researching "Lost Cat" (Katze entlaufen) tips. By that evening we hadn't heard a word but we were committed to meeting friends who were briefly in town and watching the first German World Cup game. My heart wasn't completely in it, but sitting at home wasn't doing us a lot of good.

Halfway through the game we received a call. Our neighbor had found the cat and as she was allergic, Ian understood her to stay that she had put the cat in the garden house in the Hof. Uneasy as we were about the exact location of the cat, we were immensely relieved that she had been found. We alternately felt like strangling or snuggling her to death.

Lost Cat in Germany
Out our window and onto the roof
We arrived at the address she had given and realized with a start that this shared our building's Hof . More alarming - we knew there was no garden house. We walked into the Hof in a daze and Ian called the woman again, trying to figure out where she had left our cat. She said she put the cat in the Hof earlier that morning...which has one open side to another courtyard and at least 5 doorways to the street. We were stunned. She had taken our little house cat from her lofty perch above the city and basically released her to the wilds of Berlin.

Ian tried lame jokes like "She doesn't even speak German.", but mostly we were just devastated. There was no sign of our little sleep buddy. We had adopted Bellatrix Badou at 6 weeks old (after her feral mother ran off), flew her over a continent and an ocean and loved her for close to a decade.

Lost Pet in Germany
Cat in Berlin

We were murderous at the totally illogical actions of our neighbor, but there was nothing to do but form a plan and get her back. I lost hope early but continued to brainstorm and contact the authorities in my terrible German. Ian was our beacon of hope and kept telling me we would get her back. We were on a mission.

That night I created a more formal flyer and posted them around our Kiez (neighborhood). Through tears I picked out a picture that most identified our typical gray and black tabby and learned that was called getigerte in German. She looked like a total bitch in the picture which made me cry harder.

How to find lost cat in Berlin

We saw more of our block than we have the entire time we lived here. We went into every open building and Hof, searched through every mass of bushes and peeked under every dumpster.

I couldn't sleep and was up by 6 to check the Hof. I called her name quietly and shook her treats. Nothing. Crawling back into bed, Ian was tossing and turning. He wasn't sleeping well either, but at least he had beers to dull the pain and distract him. I was fully conscious of my distress and haven't wished I could have a beer more strongly in my entire life.

That day I explored our area six times (all the way up and down 111 stairs), calling her and shaking the treats pathetically. I again searched the Hofs, noted which signs had been torn down and put up new ones. I was despondent. I knew she wanted to come home - the issue was how? Though I was aggressively keeping an eye on the door situation in the Hof, there was no getting around the many entrances and exits. I was trying to keep the door to our stairwell open and the others closed, but of course it was trash day so the only means of shelter - the dumpsters - had already been rolled out to the street that morning with the doors flung wide open. Our extreme pech seemed to be on a roll.

I contacted the Tierheim (animal shelter), the police, posted an ad on craigslist, asked people on twitter to keep an eye out, registered her as lost through her registration on petlink and contacted every vet and cat pension in the city. Still, I wasn't hopeful. Though people were sympathetic, they weren't looking like we were. And there was no way for her to get to us. We had to find her.

The next day (day 3 missing) had me really trying to pull out of a slump. It was Ian's birthday and he didn't deserve any of this bad mojo. I had already surprised him with an ice cream cake at midnight, and now I made him breakfast and slipped a candy bar into his lunch. We both tried to be cheery and did my best to keep the crazy at bay so he could enjoy his day with the Kita. I had put out a box of our old clothes and food out in the Hof the night before and found it untouched that morning. More discouraged. We dabled into the smartphone waters that evening, and almost got to enjoy ourselves at a BBQ dinner in Berlin

Coming home, we realized some of the signs had a mistake on the phone number. In my tear-stained stupor I had made a colossal mistake on the flyer. For the millionth time, I cursed my luck, my stupid brain, my inability to find our cat. We started our trek around the neighborhood all over again to change the number and add highlights to the poster to draw more attention after being up for a day. One sign had an address where a cat had been seen (we checked it out - no) and we got a call from a possible sighting - but that cat had a collar. But still - this seemed like progress. Maybe the BBQ had turned it all around...

As Ian headed up the stairs, I told him I was going to check the Hof one last time for the night, calling her and shaking the sorry little can of treats. As I reached the dumpsters, Ian yelled out "I see her!" I froze, terrified my movement would scare her away. "Where?" I shouted back. He had the advantage of being one floor up and I was trying to determine her whereabouts on ground level. "There - behind the garbage!" he pointed. There are like 10 dumpsters. I was immeaditly, non-nonsensically furious and frustrated. But then I saw where he was pointing and we both ran over. I saw nothing, but he explained that she had disappeared behind the dumpster and down a hole. Like Hulk, we flung the dumpster away and exposed a 3.5 foot deep cubby into a cellar with one grate missing - perfect escape for a cat in a busy courtyard. And down near the bottom, as we shakily shone the flashlight app down, we saw Bella. Squinting up at us, doing that dumb cat thing of rubbing against the walls, was our cat. If I put my arm all the way in I could touch her face as she reared up to meet me. I couldn't figure out how she could get out of there, but Ian swore she could. We tried to be patient and figure a way in, but eventually she rallied her strength and jumped out. I grabbed her little body and held her to my chest, joyfully breathing in her putrid garbage-perfumed coat.

How to find your lost cat in Berlin
She's back! Roughly 1 minute after we got her back in the door.

We've had her back for just over 12 hours and I am so incredibly relieved. Ian got his birthday wish and our family is back together.

Though clearly no expert (I managed to lose my cat on the 6th floor), there are a few things we did right and many we didn't that might help you if you ever lose a  pet in Germany.

Top Tips for Recovering your Lost Pet in Germany

Lost pet in Germany
  • Microchip your pet: My mom did this to bring Bell over the ocean. Seeing as she didn't have a collar (next tip) it was relief to know she did have one formal ID if she ever did reach the authorities.
  • Collar: As a strictly indoor cat I never saw the need to collar our cat. I know she finds them uncomfortable and I didn't see the need. After 3 restless, unpleasant days of looking for her I can't help but think if she had some obvious ID on we could have saved ourselves a lot of anguish. 
  • Know your neighbors: Germans, and Berliners in particular, aren't an overly friendly bunch and while we are head-noddingly familiar with the people next door and a few floors down, we know almost nothing of the people who share the Hof and have their own separate entries and stairwells. Maybe if we had something more than passing familiarity that neighbor would have thought twice before dumping our domesticated house-cat outside. Then again, I don't think we'll be starting with her as both of us are still unreasonably angry at what passed for a reasonable reaction to an unexpected house-guest from her.
  • Flyers: There are templates in Word and from sites like petlink to help you put up flyers quickly - even when you are in a mind-numbing panic. However, that does not safeguard you from making very stupid mistakes (e-hem). Double check all info and provide two contacts if possible (we included our cell # and e-mail). Also - remember to take these down when your pet is found. When I was doing that today a construction worker asked if she was missing. "Gefunden!" I told him happily as I ripped it down. We also left the one flyer up that the person had given a tip on with Gefunden. Hopefully other people see and know the system does work.
  • Talk to everyone: We talked to anyone who seemed interested about what the flyers were about and what we were doing. An office worker below us would see me come inspect the Hof and give me an update - it was nice to know he was keeping an eye out. The guy at the nearest Sp├Ąti also did his best to give us hope, checking on our progress and sharing stories about cats in his family that had returned a week later. Everyone was highly sympathetic and even though they weren't directly helpful, they made us feel better and more connected to our community in general.
  • Call the Authorities: Supposedly, the German law states that lost pets must be turned into the Tierheim (animal shelter). It would have been nice if our neighbor knew that. If she had turned Bella in we probably would have had her back that day. The Tierheim's contact page offers info on pets lost and found in Germany (Tel. 030 / 76 888 200 oder -201 or And if your pet does end up there, rest assured that this is a no-kill shelter where only pets that are seriously ill are put down. 
  • Spread the word: I also sent our flyer and info to the local polizie station, every katze pension, vet, or animal rescue I could find. Google was my friend as I e-mailed anyone I thought could help. Though many didn't respond, a few offered to put her into their list of missing animals. I also posted a Craigslist ad and spread the word on Twitter. Bella's microchip also came with a registration at petlink so I took advantage of their services allowing me to change her status to lost. I don't know how often this would be of help, but I was trying anything. 
  • Address risks responsibly: Bella has shown an unhealthy interest in getting on the roof. Dumb cat. I'd like to say she is cured, but sayings about "nine lives" and "curiosity killed the cat" allude to another conclusion. My dad suggested screens, but (as many of you must know) those are freakishly uncommon in Germany. I think we will settle for keeping all windows in Bell's vicinity closed.
If you came across this posy and actually want to get a pet still (crazy person), I highly recommend Berlin's Tieheim. Not only is the space amazing to visit, they take great care of their animals.

How to find lost cat in Berlin
Back at home where she belongs.


Natalye said...

"Squinting up at us, doing that dumb cat thing of rubbing against the walls, was our cat."

Haha, of course.

"Oh hi mom, it's so great down here. So many smells!! What's up? Just snuggling this wall!" rubrubrub

Sharon Brendle said...

Whew! Glad to know she's home. Sorry you had to go through all that.

Anonymous said...

Hi- I work for PetLink in the US. If Bella is microchipped, please register her with the German database Tasso! That way if she is found and scanned, they will know how to reach you. I'm so glad she made it home!

Admin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

We're Back in Berlin Ja!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!
ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008