27 Jun Lost Cat

To read about Ron’s four months in Micronesia, go to the archive to your left and click on “Marshall Islands Story Project.”

Simon, our eighteen-pound tabby, went missing this week. Tuesday night, when Jill rounded up the pets (as she usually does every night), she realized we hadn’t seen Simon all day. This wasn’t unusual. When we went off to work, we figured he was sleeping late somewhere. It’s a big house with lots of places to hide. “Did you feed the cats?” Jill asked me. I said, “I thought you fed them.” Simon never misses a meal—and he lets us know when it’s time. He hadn’t been around to remind us on this day. Sophie, our small orange tabby, was staring up at us with interest. She’s so accommodating, she’d been waiting for dinner all night. It was now eleven. We fed her, then made another thorough search of the house. “He’s gone,” I announced grimly. “Let’s go find him,”

Simon came to us through the antiques consignment shop that Jill works at occasionally. He belonged to an elderly woman who had to downsize before she went into a retirement home. Surrendering her cat along with her belongings was a sad situation, everyone agreed. She had thoroughly spoiled Simon, whom she’d named “Sir Sweetie.” Vanessa, the owner of the store, assured the old woman that she’d take care of Sir Sweetie. But Vanessa had several cats of her own. So Sir Sweetie—renamed Simon—became the store cat. He was so relaxed, so trusting, so self-possessed, it didn’t occur to him that he should be wary or afraid of anybody or anything. He regularly stretched out on the floor anywhere he pleased. Jill worried that somebody would step on him.

Strangers thought Simon remarkable because he’d approach anyone, then rear up and place his paws on the stranger’s legs, like a dog asking to be picked up. If you picked him up, he’d then place one paw on each of your shoulders, as if to hug you. If you embraced him, he’d nibble your ear lobe. Strangers found this flattering and some believed that suddenly they had a remarkable rapport with cats. But it was just Simon’s way to be friendly with anybody who’d give him a chance. When Jill brought Simon to our house for a visit, I knew we had to keep him. I’d never seen a cat so calm and well-centered.

From the start, we had to keep an eye on him. He’d slip out our front door, then trot through the bushes fronting the neighboring row houses. Once I watched him leap from our back yard brick wall onto the sidewalk—five feet—then trot to the front of the house. It didn’t faze him that I was hollering for him to halt. He believed that the world was his and that everybody would welcome him wherever he went. One morning when I opened the front door to retrieve the paper, there he sat, waiting to get in. He’d been out all night. We were appalled. How? When did he get out?

I’ve owned many cats that I allowed to roam freely. Vets will tell you it’s not a good idea. Free-ranging cats live fewer years than house-bound cats. They pick up more illnesses, leukemia the deadliest of them. And they get into trouble. They kill birds and squirrels and can themselves be killed by raccoons, dogs, coyotes, and foxes. One night, while driving through a suburb, I saw a house-cat trotting blithely across the road. As soon as he disappeared into the bushes on the other side, I saw a fox sneak across the road after him.

Arthur, a tuxedo’d tom, was my most troublesome outdoor cat. He’d come and go via the back stairs of my apartment building. I thought I was doing him a favor by letting him roam. Though he was neutered, he acted as like a Romeo. It was hard keeping track of him. Most of the time he’d show up for dinner, but some nights he stayed out until dawn. One morning, I was driving to work when I saw a crowd of crows cawing raucously and diving into and swooping around a tree top. Curious, I glanced up only to discover that the source of their complaint was Arthur. He’d spied a nest. It wasn’t easy getting him out of that tree. Another time, Arthur disappeared for three days. When he returned, his coat was oily and matted and his claws were ground down to nubs. I suspected he’d gotten trapped somewhere and had to claw his way out after many hours, perhaps days, of effort. It took him weeks to recover. Another time he came home with a broken jaw, apparently having been swiped by a speeding car. In the end, I decided, letting cats roam free isn’t worth the risks. Since then, all of my cats have been indoor animals.

For a time we thought we could let Simon lounge in our long, bricked-in back yard. But it was never enough for him. If given the chance, he’d be over the wall and trotting away. We don’t know how he got out this time. As we scoured the bushes in our block and called for him, we knew that he was enjoying himself, but it was just a matter of time before he got hurt or somebody took him in. Our great fear was that somebody would fall in love with him and refuse to let him go. Every week we see fliers in our neighborhood announcing yet another lost cat. And every time I’d glance at a flier, I’d think us lucky that it wasn’t our pet on that poster.

It may not be right to compare a cat to a child, but cats and dogs are as close as Jill and I have to little ones of our own. Without him, our life was out of whack, off-balance, like a listing ship. As we circled our block at intervals through the night, rattling kibble in his bowl and calling his name, I felt myself sinking hour by hour. At six the next morning we put up fliers offering a hundred-dollar reward. We got a few phone calls offering tips. One neighbor had sighted Simon in front of our neighbor’s yard at seven the previous morning. Another caller had sighted him at nine that night, lounging in the same place, like a dog surveying his domain. This was good news—he was still around. By the end of the day, we had gathered yet more intelligence. Apparently Simon had sneaked out Monday night after dinner. That meant that he’d been out a full 24 hours before we realized he was gone.

Jill and I hated ourselves for having let this happen. We had excuses. For starters, we were still distracted and tired from our overseas travel. But excuses were cold comfort as Wednesday wound to a close. One of our neighbors said Simon had tried to get into her building the previous night. “He was aggressive about it,” she said. “But I’ve got a cat of my own. And the guy on the third floor has a Rautweiler, so I didn’t let your cat in.” Another neighbor apologized for not taking him in. She said the two young men on the first floor of her building were seen with the cat early in the morning. “They’re not right in the head,” she continued. “Who knows what they did with him. They take drugs.” Jill and I rang their bell. A lanky young man with red-streaked dreads came to the door. He said he was playing with Simon at four that morning. “We left him right here,” he said, pointing to the small square of grass in front of the building.

After he went inside, I asked Jill, a social worker, if she believed him. “Yeah, he was very calm. A sociopath would have had an attitude. He’d be angry or edgy.” It was now eleven Wednesday night. Simon had been out a full 48 hours. It was possible that Jill and I had missed our chance. Maybe someone had taken him in at last. Maybe he had wandered farther off. In the case of missing animals, as with missing children, the more time that passes, the less likely there will be a return.

We locked Sophie on the porch, then opened the front doors (keeping the security gate locked) so that Simon could wander in, if indeed he was still wandering. We thought it remarkable how many strangers called to express concern or offer tips. And most apartment buildings kept our flier up. Only in one building did somebody keep tearing it down. What was that about? Jill hoped it wasn’t some evil person who had decided to keep our Simon. For two nights Simon had been right here in front of our building, waiting to get in. And we had been oblivious. If we didn’t get him back, how many years would our regret pursue us?

Later, as we were sleeping, a sudden jolt woke us—eighteen pounds dropping onto our bed. It was Simon, having returned and now making his customary entrance at the foot of our bed. He was fine and unfazed, happy to receive our shower of affection but apparently unchanged by his adventure. This meant he’d be eager to sneak out again. We fed him, then let Sophie get reacquainted with her partner. She sniffed and sniffed him. He smelled of the world, apparently.

The next evening, we walked the dog and took down the fliers. It was a very happy occasion. And still we got a calls of concern, one from a young woman who had played with him in front of her building. “He was so cute, I wanted to take him home,” she said. “I’m glad he’s back.”