When Cat didn't show up one Thursday morning for breakfast, Deanna Bowdish started wondering where she was.
Bowdish and her boyfriend adopted the black-and-white feline about six years ago, after she showed up on their doorstep in the Pigeon Point neighborhood in Beaufort. Bowdish likes her pet to stay indoors, but she has not been able to keep Cat from prowling.
Nonetheless, Cat rarely missed a meal, so when she hadn't returned by Friday, Bowdish got worried.
She posted Cat's picture on social media sites, spread the word with neighbors and friends, and sent her boyfriend to the Beaufort County Animal Shelter.
All to no avail.
But several days later, Bowdish learned Cat had been trapped by a neighbor and sent to the Spay/Neuter Alliance & Clinic in Ridgeland for shots and to be tested.
"Baiting and trapping is only luring animals to your yard, and there are better ways to keep animals from coming to your property," said Bowdish, who has since had Cat microchipped. "If I grill a steak and leave it on the table, it's going to attract a lot of things, including my neighbor's husband."
Trapping animals -- including house cats -- on private property is legal in Beaufort County, but shelter director Tallulah Trice said it's a practice her staff tries to discourage, especially in neighborhoods such as Pigeon Point.
"We're trying to teach people that, hey, we know you don't want the animal coming in your yard, but the way to do it is not to put out sardines and draw them into your yard to trap," she said. "We're trying to educate people how to deter, instead of luring them to their property."
Most trapping occurs on rural land, and it is mainly used to catch feral animals so they can be neutered or spayed to control their population, Trice said. Dozens of trapped cats are brought in to the shelter each month.
However, in December, Trice issued a warning that some pet cats were being trapped and brought to the shelter, and it's often impossible for shelter workers to distinguish between feral cats and family pets. The shelter encouraged pet owners to get microchip implants for their pets.
The shelter is training animal control officers and working to have calls about animals routed to them instead of to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. That way, the animal control officers can talk with residents about their concerns, other ways of dealing with the animals and selective placement of traps, which typically are baited.
The shelter received three donations to buy 50 traps for the Beaufort Cat Project, which is designed to combat cat overpopulation through spaying and neutering. The program also provides tools like the ScareCrow, a sprinkler system that goes off when an animal passes, training them to stay out of an area.
"Most people are responsive, but there are some people who are just determined to trap," Trice said.
The shelter intends to take pictures of cats that are trapped, unless they are obviously neglected strays, and post them on its Facebook page to help reunite owners with their pets.
Trice would like to do more, including posting signs in an area where trapping occurs so owners know to go to the shelter if their pets disappear.
In fact, trapping feral cats can be upsetting, too. In Trice's neighborhood, for example, residents often collectively care for the animals because they help keep rodent and pest populations down.
"If someone moves in and starts trapping animals, we're not going to like it because we've fed them, we've cared for them, we've named them," she said.
The issue has come to a head in Pigeon Point because Ed Gilman -- who Bowdish believes snared her cat -- has been trapping.
"It's an ongoing issue in our neighborhood and any of the downtown neighborhoods, but I don't think it's ever come to a head with something like this," said Rod Mattingly of the Pigeon Point Neighborhood Association about the concerns over trapping. "... It did happen; there was a neighbor who did trap some cats, and he also trapped two raccoons, which isn't all bad. He did it with all good intentions."
Trice is planning to speak with the neighborhood group, and Mattingly hopes she can explain the rules, "so we can take as much of the emotions out of this as possible."
Gilman, a former city police officer who moved to Pigeon Point about a year ago, said he started trapping about a month and a half ago. Cats set off his 7-year-old son's allergies, which require weekly shots, and his family adores birds and wants to protect them.
Trapping stray cats is a humane way to deal with them, said Gilman, adding he's stopped setting the traps because cats are no longer coming in his yard.
"People care about their cats," he said. "I'm sure they love their cats, but they don't really exhibit that by allowing them to run stray. For the cats' well-being, we wanted to make sure they were picked up and cared for by the animal shelter."
Gilman said he does not lure the cats into his yard, but he does place food in the traps.
"If they're already currently in your yard, then you're not drawing them in," he said. "It's not about drawing them in; it's about trapping the ones that are there. If the cats had never come into my yard, then I never would have had to do anything."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.