It just didn’t seem like a coincidence. Erin Liedtke was missing two of her five cats. Within the same two weeks in late July and early August 2015, she found her third cat dead on her lawn.
Liedtke was heartbroken, confounded and certain something weird had happened.
“I started looking at dates on Craigslist, Facebook lost pages, calling people (who had put up) lost posters and talking to neighbors,” Liedtke said. She learned other people were missing cats, all within roughly the same month.
Liedtke was fed up. She started up a Facebook page, dubbing it “Catch the Boise Cat Napper.”
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Now she’s up to more than 400 likes and the page is buzzing because again, this August, people started talking about their missing cats.
How it became about a ‘who’
Liedtke is friendly with her neighbors on Ironside Drive. She chose to live in Southeast Boise because of the tight-knit community and good schools for when her 18-month-old Ella grows up.
It didn’t take her long that summer to find neighbors who had also just lost cats or who had their indoor/outdoor cats die mysteriously.
One, a fluffy orange and white cat named Cheddar Bob, vanished that July. Liedtke’s neighbor, a friend of hers, posted signs around the neighborhood and even hired a pet detective with no luck, Liedtke said.
Neighbor Earl Banks said his two otherwise healthy cats, Tommy, 5, and Sunny, 16, both suddenly became ill and died. Tommy that July stopped eating, became lethargic, still cuddly but obviously ill. A veterinarian told Banks his kidneys might be shutting down, and Banks put him down.
Less than a month later, Sunny started showing the same symptoms. Banks still doesn’t know what happened, but said he’s fairly sure somebody hurt the pair.
Banks has new cats: “These ones: they’re not going outside. ... I’m careful of even (having) my dogs in the backyard.”
When Liedtke couldn’t find her cats or Cheddar Bob, things settled down for a bit. In February 2016, missing cat posters started going up again. Then Liedtke’s last two cats disappeared on March 27.
She’d already decided someone must be behind the disappearances. Now, she said, she wanted to find out how to stop it.
A plan forms
Barry Kelso lives on Jesmond Way, near East Junior High. On Aug. 4 of this year, he followed his usual morning routine: Around 4 a.m., he let his brother’s tortoiseshell cat, Oreo, 9, out onto the back porch. He put on the coffee. Then at 5 a.m. he let his tuxedo-patterned cat, Little Girl, 7, out the front door. He sat down, checked his email and social media, and went to let the cats back in.
They weren’t there, and he hasn’t seen them since. He’s troubled with the question: Why would two cats go missing the same day? The same morning?
Kelso heard about Liedtke’s Facebook page and began poring over the comments and posts. The stories looked like his. Maybe, he told the Statesman, there was something to the idea that somebody was stealing cats.
Kate Lyon, who lives off of Wright Street — not too far from Ironside — isn’t much of a cat person. But her mom is. Lyon would do anything for her mom, and therefore anything for her mom’s cat, Scratch, a 15-year-old gray cat with a white chin.
Since Aug. 2, Scratch has been missing and Lyon has been patrolling the neighborhood each night, sometimes bringing a friend, sometimes bringing her boyfriend. Lyon works at a Petco and gets off work around 9 p.m. After every shift, she gets home, eats dinner and then heads out for a drive.
“The second I get home I feel like somebody’s up to no good,” she said. “I feel like there’s something going on and us as a community haven’t been able to communicate effectively.”
Since Lyon got in touch with Liedtke, they’ve spoken regularly. Liedtke passed on two security cameras that Lyon positioned in her neighborhood.
Together, they’ve turned information from Craigslist posts, Facebook notices and fliers into a map they say shows the extent of the problem in Southeast Boise. Next, they plan to set up a neighborhood cat-napper watch.
Some numbers about cats
Cats allowed outdoors have a significantly shorter life expectancy. Many sources — the SPCA, the Boston Globe, even pet store companies — say outdoor cats’ average lifespans top out at 5 years, while indoor cats can make it to 17 years or more.
Somewhat more lost cat reports have been filed with the Idaho Humane Society in March and August this year compared with those months in 2015 — the months Liedtke highlighted as spikes. But overall trends don’t seem out of the ordinary to the organization, spokeswoman Allison Maier said.
There was a jump in missing cat reports from March 2014 to March 2015. Cats typically go missing more often in warmer months when they’re more likely to be outside. March 2014 was far more rainy and slightly cooler than Marches the following two years, according to National Weather Service data, which could help explain the difference.
IHS also thinks better awareness of how to report missing cats has contributed to a rise in reports in recent years, Maier said.
Hundreds of cats are reported lost every year in Boise.
641 Total reports filed with IHS on lost Boise cats in 2014
721 Total reports on lost Boise cats in 2015
So why do cats vanish?
Southeast Boise residents have shared plenty of theories with the Statesman and on social media: Cats are being picked up for dog-fighting rings. A for-profit organization is grabbing them off the streets for medical testing. There’s a pet-flipping business in town and cats are getting sold off to other families at a high price. Hunters are training their dogs by setting them on cats. They’re sold on the black market for their fur.
In late August, Leidtke posted on Facebook that a woman was “caught red-handed” trying to steal a cat, describing her vehicle and the type of cat involved. The report came from Lyon, who told the Statesman that she and her mother didn’t actually see a cat being stolen, but heard a cat yowl and soon after saw a woman driving through the neighborhood in a way they deemed suspicious. They called police. Officers said they needed more documentation: photos, videos and eyewitnesses.
The Statesman was unable to confirm any details of the interaction with Boise police.
There are certainly several more mundane reasons outdoor cats disappear.
Idaho has no shortage of predators who might want to eat cats. Coyotes. Hawks. Owls. Foxes. When Maier first heard about the reported rash of missing Southeast Boise cats, “that was an initial thought,” she said.
Cats can also be lost to cars.
Good Samaritans can play a role: “Sometimes if the cat is not microchipped, people could think it’s a stray cat and take it to the shelter or take it in as their own. That’s a pretty likely scenario,” said Kate Power, program manager at no-kill shelter Simply Cats.
If you see a cat on the street, it probably knows where it is.
Allison Maier, spokeswoman, Idaho Humane Society
And a common possibility is closer to what Leidtke’s Facebook group fears: upset neighbors trapping cats and taking them away, though not in a large organized group or by one “cat-napper.”
If a cat wanders onto a neighbor’s private property, that neighbor has a legal right to trap the cat. But they then are required to drop the cat off at a shelter. The neighbor doesn’t need to notify the cat’s owner of the trapping, but the neighbor also can’t hurt the cat, or drop it off in a random neighborhood.
“Though we don’t see trapped cats brought in by the public every day, it’s close to every day,” Maier said.
There are a lot of people who are upset with cats on their property. (It’s) the main reason we recommend cats stay inside.
Allison Maier, spokeswoman, Idaho Humane Society
Power’s and Maier’s advice: If your cat goes outside, have it use a yard with high fences or use a cat leash. Supervise the cat. Always get your pet microchipped.
And be a friendly neighbor, so that you know who nearby cats belong to and who to turn to when you can’t find yours.
Education is key to making sure cats stay safe in their homes and neighborhoods, Maier said. She’s trying to get neighbors talking to each other about their cats.
Liedtke’s got a head start.