This post is going to be a little more personal than normal, but the moral of the story will hopefully prevail.
Sixteen days ago - our family cat "Maple" disappeared without a trace sometime around 5:30 pm on May 2nd.
I didn't get home from work that day until after six, so my last memory of her was in the morning. She's mainly an indoor cat with outside access for an hour or two each day...usually only during nice weather and rarely at night.
After five years of ownership, I can count on one hand with four fingers leftover how often she's spent the night outside. That single time, she was there in the morning...just waiting to be let in.
So when night came and our efforts to find the cat by calling her name, shaking her stainless steel bowl filled with cat kibble and using the flashlight to check under every car and bush along our street...I can't say I was entirely worried.
However, when Maple was still at large the next morning...I began to wonder.
By the end of the day I had posted the following message to a Facebook page dedicated to finding lost pets and reuniting them with their owners in my city.
The next day we would begin canvassing the neighbourhood. My eldest son and I talked to neighbours in the ever-s0-crucial five property radius of our home.
Apparently lost cats are often found this close to home - especially if they rarely travel outdoors. But our cat was used to having outside access, so research indicated that something must have happened to disturb her usual routine - otherwise should would have returned... (more on the possible causes of her disappearance in a minute).
This was Sunday morning, and we spoke to any and all neighbours who happened to be at home that morning...some were presumably off at church, so they would be canvassed the following day.
Posters were made up and a $300 reward was offered to entice people to take interest in helping Maple find her way back home.
So what are some of the things you're supposed to do when your cat goes missing?
Besides calling all of the local vets, the humane society, canvassing your immediate neighbours (and asking permission to search their property) and putting up posters it's also recommended to leave items like the cat box and dirty laundry - scents the cats would associate with home, outside to help them find their way.
So we did that as well.
We also left out food and the next morning it was empty.
For a few minutes my hope was renewed, that is until we discovered another neighbourhood cat had discovered the free meal and came back for seconds.
Posters went up by Monday and an advertisement graced the local paper...complete with mention of that drool-worthy reward money. The phone started ringing...but the tips we received were mostly useless.
It seemed like lonely people called just because they wanted someone to talk to. Most of the leads involved short-haired cats, when ours was a long hair. We also learned that a good portion of the population don't really know what a "calico" cat is, as one photo of a cat that was pregnant, and appeared to be a tabby with short hair - was sent to me with a caption, "Is this your cat?"
The initial hope of another lead on our hunt to find Maple soon faded.
Want to talk about useless tips?
One person called to tell us there was a cat on their roof making noise 7 days ago - gee thanks. How far can a cat travel in 7 days? Did the cat match the description of our missing cat? Hard to say - it was night time...!
Researching how to find a lost cat gave several reasons why a cat would break it's normal routine and not come home - most of these weren't pleasant for the cat:
- Theft - although extremely rare, this is one of the first things that seems to come to mind.
- Death from a predator - I've seen coyotes wandering the streets of Guelph, but not our neighbourhood. However, there is also a family of osprey not more than a kilometer from our home...so it could have been death from above for poor Maple.
- Scared off their territory by a dog, predator or other cat and unable to find their way home. Lost cats tend to hunker-down somewhere safe and stop meowing or responding to calls in an effort to be less detectable by predators.
- Left home to have a litter of kittens - Maple was fixed...so that wasn't a likely explanation.
- She was already sick and hid her symptoms and merely crawled off somewhere to die.
- Dislocation - she could have climbed into a car or back of a truck unnoticed and ended up far from home. The flip side is that an annoyed neighbour may have purposefully taken her out to the country to get rid of her.
- Trapped - she could have wandered into a shed, garage or some other type of building and been locked inside unbeknownst to the owner and had no way of getting out. Especially if said owner happened to go on a vacation.
So the odds were stacked against Maple.
We really hoped that maybe some senior in a nursing home took her in and didn't realize that she was missing or notice the ad in the paper... or the lost cat posters.
I monitored two different Facebook groups where I posted that Maple was lost: I was somewhat encouraged about the stories of lost cats being found and/or merely returning home on their own, but I was also discouraged.
Some animals were lost and found after we lost Maple - and yet our cat was still missing...and one such cat was from only a block or two away from us.
The kids were having a rough time, they were crying at night time.
I had images of shredded cat fur on the ground far below the osprey nest located atop the outdoor lights of the sports field a kilometer or so away from us...
My boss at work told me a story about his cat that went missing...it suddenly showed up two weeks later, having gained weight and an apparent visit to the groomers.
That didn't sound so bad!
One person knowing of the lost cat situation told me that the matter was "out of my hands" and I agreed.
Maple had disappeared before I even got home...so at least I didn't have the guilt of being the last person to let her out of the house. I attempted to diffuse any guilt that surfaced in the kids regarding the cat - what they could have done or should have done while she was still with us.
Well into the second week of Maple's disappearance, we started to face the reality that she just wasn't going to come back.
The unopened bag of cat food was returned. The kids were told (in the nicest possibly way of course) that they should get used to life without Maple.
After 15 days, the cat boxes were finally emptied since their ability to draw our cat back home seemed lacking. Dumping the contents into the green bin I wondered not for the first time where she was and hoped that at the very least...she wasn't suffering.
Dumping the cat litter seemed to bring it home - that she wasn't coming back and that I wouldn't be doing this chore anymore.
The next morning...the impossible happens.
I wake up and walk into the kitchen around 6:45am on Sunday (day 16 without Maple) when I hear a distinctly familiar sound coming from the back patio...although one with a heightened sense of urgency to it.
Could that be Maple?
No way...I must still be dreaming or hearing things. I go to the patio door and quickly pull aside the curtains...
...and there she is.
Meowing at me.
I throw open the door and she rushes in.
She looks pretty good to me...considering she's been missing for 16 days.
I quickly head into the kids bedrooms with the cat, partially because I know how relieved and happy they'll be but also to reassure myself that I am in fact awake.
The kids are just as amazed as I am...and as happy to have her back, but some nagging part of me wonders "why now?".
What happened to take her away from us and what...just as mysteriously, brought her back?
I don't want to sound ungrateful here...but none of it adds up...
...at least a predator would make sense.
It's only after a few minutes that we really notice that the poor girl has lost a lot of weight.
She hungrily devours food as soon as I present it to her...luckily we had a little bit of kibble left after returning the full unopened bag several days ago.
Maple alternates between eating, seeking affection, going back for more food and then ultimately allowing herself to rest after what must have been a pretty harrowing experience for her.
I took a few minutes to let the folks on Facebook know that Maple has miraculously returned:
Of the possible scenarios that I outlined above...only a few of them seem like a possible outcome; perhaps she was trapped somewhere and finally worked her way free? Perhaps she was lost and somehow wandered into a familiar area that enabled her to find her way home. Perhaps the vacationing family from a street over came home, opened the garage and she scurried out as fast as can be?
We'll probably never know for sure. The important thing is that she's back and seems healthy. But she did lose a lot of weight and should get a check-up from the vet to ensure that all is well.
It could have been much worse; she isn't limping or bleeding. Aside from the weight loss, she has a few burrs and could do with a bath - not bad considering she was gone for almost 16 full days.
So what does this story have to do with business?
Hope can be a powerful thing, but it's 100% passive. It's the only thing you have when everything else is completely out of your control.
There are businesses out there that are in trouble. They cling to hope and pray that posting on social media will save them.
But social media, in and of itself is not going to save a business. Not if there's no strategy, no overarching plan on how social media is going to be part of the winning recipe to help grow your business.
Randomly posting and hoping is much like what I was doing posting on social media while my cat was missing - it felt like something positive to do when I was ultimately powerless to bring my lost cat home.
Don't treat your business like a lost cat.
Don't talk about putting a microchip in the pet that is already lost - that's the modern equivalent of locking the gate after the horse has already gotten out.
At the end of the day, a cat is going to do what it's going to do. Unless we lock her indoors - we can't control her actions.
Your business is 100% yours to control and to shape in a way that is predictable.
There's very little that can be done once the cat has gone missing, but if you notice that you're increasingly hoping and praying with your business...then you still have a chance to make a difference before hope is all that you have left.
Today - our hope was rewarded, but it just as easily could have went the other way.
Don't take chances with your business.
Put together a sound marketing plan and work it consistently. Measure everything, do more of what works and less of what doesn't.
Then you'll no longer need to hope and pray that things will turn around for you - you'll be making it happen yourself...
...and you'll sleep a whole lot easier.
Kind of like the way that I imagine Maple is going to sleep tonight.