Jack the Cat: How Cats Survive Life on the Lam

Cat lovers all over the Web rejoiced today at the news that Jack the cat had been found at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Jack had been missing for two months after getting lost in the American Airlines baggage check area.

But Jack isn’t the first feline to make a seemingly miraculous re-appearance after being missing in action for a long period of time.

In September, two other missing cats turned up following long absences. First, Willow the cat was found wandering the streets of New York five years after she disappeared from her Boulder, Colo., home. A microchip implanted between her shoulders when she was a kitten helped track down her family.

Then, a 5-year-old tuxedo cat in Washington named Oscar was reunited with his owner after a three-year absence. Oscar disappeared from Auburn, Wash. and popped up about 30 miles south in Seattle.

So how do these domestic cats survive life on the lam?

“Cats are good survivors, good at conserving water and very agile,” Dr. Louise Murray, the vice president of Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital at the ASPCA’s New York City headquarters, told ABCNews.com. “They can find food or water where it’s difficult to access, where a person or dog wouldn’t be able to.”

Murray said their athleticism and ability to jump give them advantages for surviving on their own. She said cats are also very good at avoiding detection, which can be good in a dangerous situation but not when searchers are looking for them, like in Jack’s case.

“Cats’ general abilities make them a little more adaptable to new or critical situations, whereas you take a poodle and let him loose for a couple of months, and they probably won’t do so well,” Dr. Elizabeth Czerwonky, a veterinarian at the Cat Hospital of Chicago, told ABCNews.com.

Murray said it was important to emphasize that most cats that have to survive on the street don’t make it. She said the average lifespan for a cat living outside is only one and a half years.

“We shouldn’t be over-confident about cats’ abilities to survive on their own,” she said. “The ones that do are the exceptions.”

For now, Jack’s Facebook page reports that “he looks tired but bright-eyed and dirty.” He is in kitty ICU on fluids and will need treatment for his fatty liver disease, which comes from malnutrition. He’s not yet stable enough for surgery and is being fed through a nasal tube.

“There’s every reason to believe he’s going to be OK, but he definitely needs to get healthier before he can fly back home,” the Facebook page reported. “[His owner] is VERY confident he is getting GREAT care and she will be coming back to NYC to pick him up and celebrate very soon!!!”

Jack has almost 17,000 followers on his Facebook page and hundreds left messages celebrating his recovery.


Jack the Cat was found at JFK airport after escaping two months ago. (Photo credit: Facebook)