WHY DOES IT MATTER!
The owners of lost pets are often bewildered, hurt and coming to grasp with the fact that their beloved pet doesn’t see them as a safe place right now. It is perfectly normal and expected, but still heart wrenching to experience.
The first and most critical part of searching for any missing pet is to understand that you are Not looking for “YOUR” LOST DOG OR LOST CAT. You are looking for a pet that is lost. Depending on your pet’s history, there significant chance that your pet, being lost, is not exhibiting the same behaviors you would normally expect. Understanding this behavior pattern of a missing pet is a paramount aspect of getting started in any pet search, and survival mode is by far one of the most common issues you will encounter.
Survival mode is a regression to a pet’s primal instincts. It can be severe or partial, but is almost always temporary. Once a pet in survival mode is captured, they will generally quickly return to their earlier personalities with very little noticeable change.
A pet that has entered Survival Mode prioritizes things in the following order: Survival, Food, Water, Shelter. When a pet has entered survival mode, very often EVERY HUMAN is viewed as a predator – All humans are predators who want to capture and harm them, even the one that has fed, loved, walked, bathed and pampered them for their entire life. This fact is hard for most pet owners to comprehend as in many cases pet owners and their pets have a strong bond. But survival mode takes over when pets need it to; it can certainly hamper bringing a pet back home quickly but it is more importantly acting to keep your pet alive.
When a pet regresses to their primal instincts, it means that in their mind, they are on their own. People yelling (loud noises), cars and people chasing them, other dogs barking and pursuing, squeaking toys, a door slamming – these will all invite a fight or flight response.
It is believed that there is a struggle between the “nature” vs. “nurture” portion of the pet’s brain. They have regressed to primal instincts – to survive – yet, there is still a yearning for the comfort of that sight/smell/sound…. the conflict must be immense, especially in a pet that is strongly bonded with their owners. The conflict causes discomfort and unease, leading the animal to avoid the area in the future. We believe they do experience emotions and feelings – but also know that at a certain point, their instincts overtake their conditioning.
The point in time where a pet enters Survival Mode is different for every pet. For some – it is instantaneous. For others – it can take days or a week or more to kick in. There is very little correlation with previous behavior/life history to regression into this mode, though certain breeds and personality profiles are more prone to an immediate transition when they get lost. We can’t answer why the “switch flips” for some pets sooner than others, all we know is that it is something to be aware of whether your pet has been missing for 30 minutes or 6 weeks.
For most lost pets, it’s a single event that starts the transition and from there, it can progress quickly – a well-adjusted, well trained, well-loved pet can turn “skittish” in a heartbeat. Many times, it is a result of being chased by mostly well-intentioned people. It is not the owner’s fault and It is not the pet’s fault.
When in survival mode pets most often “indoor cats” will not respond to your call, but instead they will find a hiding spot and not move until they get thirsty or hungry. Sometimes they remain hidden for too long and they become weak from dehydration and or they even starve to death. When “indoor/outdoor cats” on the other hand go missing it’s because something has happened to the cat that makes them not come home. Seldom do indoor/outdoor cats just run away from their territory or their home. Thus, a search procedure for an indoor cat will be different than an indoor/outdoor cat. Indoor/outdoor cats can be chased out of the area by territorial cats, dogs, people, or predators or it can be as simple as being locked in a neighbor’s garage, shed or maybe chased up a tree. These cats often hide in silence from predators or from people and are forced into a different territory as well. When a cat is scared out of his home territory, they often will not leave the new area. We have also done searches for cats that were high in trees and they would not even respond to their owners’ calls, or if they did it was so quiet nobody could hear the cries.
Survival mode happens, it is a real concern and is definitely something every owner of a lost pet should be educated about. Conducting a proper educated search for a dog, indoor cat or indoor/outdoor cat search is instrumental in bringing your pet home safely. The search process and methods used to catch a pet in survival mode need to be handled delicately in order to avoid scaring them out of a specific area.