We had just about covered the entire planned search area when Mu gave a strong alert on something. I had to look at the ground for several moments before I could make sense of what I was looking at. Finally, the image resolved in my brain. It was the mandible of a cat.
Mu has found the aftermath of a coyote attack at least 115 times during the last seven years. Coyotes usually don’t leave much behind, but if they leave anything substantial, it is usually the lower teeth. I told Mu he was a good boy, and give him his treat reward. I asked him to sit while I examined the scene. The mandible was definitely from a cat, by the shape and the number of the teeth. They also appeared consistent with the age and size of the missing cat. 100 feet from their yard, in the woods, along the path he had been known to travel, everything fit with the hypothesis that this was the missing cat. I couldn’t find any evidence to rule it out. With Mu’s nose helping me, I found more skull fragments and part of a femur. I looked for any remnants of fur that could confirm or eliminate the lost cat, but we didn’t find any. Coyotes typically eat almost every part of their prey.
We got back to the house, and I told the cat’s owners that Mu found remains that could not be ruled out as having come from their cat, and that the location would strongly suggest that it was their cat. I told them they didn’t have to look at the remains, but they could if they wanted. They said they wanted to see, and I left the evidence with them while Mu and I continued along the coyotes’ trail in search of more evidence. We followed their trail for a quarter mile, but didn’t find anything else.
When we got back, the owners said the remains could belong to their cat. Another young cat had gone missing two weeks earlier on the next block, and the remains were not inconsistent with that cat, based on my limited information. They asked me if they should keep looking for their cat, and at first I didn’t know what to tell them. I felt 95% certain this was their cat, but I have been wrong at least once in the past. About six months ago, Mu found remains of a cat near the yard of a lost cat. There was some fur remaining and it generally matched the color of the lost cat. I told that cat owner that his cat had most likely been killed by a predator. The next day, his cat came home. The remains Mu found just happened to be from a similar looking cat.
After I thought about it a few moments, I told them they should keep looking if they couldn’t confirm it was definitely their cat. I told them they could send the remains to a DNA lab for testing and confirmation, and they said they would. I hate to give them false hope when I was 95% certain their cat was deceased, but I wouldn’t want to stop them from looking if the 5% probability turned out to be true. They said they would keep searching until they got the DNA results.
Whatever the outcome, Mu did an excellent job, as always. Finding some cat teeth in acres of forest is something a human couldn’t hope to do. Even when I was looking right at the evidence that Mu pointed out, it took several moments to distinguish the object from the background of dirt and twigs. Without Mu, the cat’s owners probably would never have known what happened to their cat. Mu and I prefer to find the cat alive, but if my cat was missing, and no longer alive, I would prefer to know that than to always have to wonder.