I had quite the adventure last winter when I thought — for about 18 hours — that I’d somehow let one of my cats get out of the house and wander around in the very dangerous world of my neighborhood. Fortunately for all concerned, I turned out to be mistaken and Missy Mao (aka Macaroni or Mac, my 2.5-yr-old female cat) was actually in the house the whole time, not that she could be bothered to let me know that. It reminded me once again that these other beings we live with have their own interests, priorities, and obligations that don’t always jibe with those of their human companions.
It all started when I found myself going up and down my cellar stairs more often than usual. While my previous cats were given free run of the cellar, and in fact most of their litter boxes resided there the whole 16 years they lived with me in this place, I decided (when I brought this group home) that I’d make the cellar off limits. As a 170+ year old hand laid-up stone foundation with just a skim of concrete over its dirt floor, my basement is not a pretty place, nor does it smell particularly good at any time of year (let alone when it’s been raining a lot). The general yuck is compounded by my own penchant for clutter and often obsessive tendency to save everything that could possibly ever be reused again. The rule I’ve worked out (or thought I’d worked out) with this crew was that they could walk down the stairs and look around while I was putting in or taking out a load of laundry, but they couldn’t go off the stairs. That’s actually worked very well for an entire year with them. However, I must have gotten careless on my visits to the basement that Monday and Mac slipped downstairs unbeknownst to me.
I should have been suspicious when I went up to the second floor a couple of times during the day and saw only the boys cuddled together in the kitty bed on top of my bed. Normally everyone is piled together in the kitty bed at the same time. However, their flexible and frequently changing social structure means that at times one or more of the younger cats will be sleeping elsewhere.
When I returned from errands late in the afternoon and still couldn’t find Mac, I grew concerned and started running from room to room calling her. Since I know only too well that cats will often hide in plain sight but not acknowledge their presence if they don’t feel like it, I opened closets and cupboards that I knew hadn’t been opened that day. I searched the basement multiple times with lights blazing and even with a flashlight in hand to shine light into dark corners. Despite all my increasingly concerned calling, not a peep did I hear from my little girl. And the boys both seemed to be worried. Caesar, who hardly ever utters a peep cried out twice when I was calling for Mac, so I felt they too were concerned about her.
I looked outside too, worrying that somehow she’d gotten out when I was going in and out with laundry or on my errand. Of course, that led to much self-bashing as I blamed myself for being careless, then not loving her enough, and on and on. I was up and down all night, growing increasingly worried that she was out in the dark. Since all 3 of these cats are quite skittish with things and humans they don’t know, I had no idea what she might do if she had gotten out. My old house is very close to a 2-lane road that sees 2,800 cars/hour pass in morning and evening rush hour. While the speed limit is 45, if someone is going under 60 mph, it’s a miracle. Only recently had a feral kitten I’d been feeding end up smashed in the road, and a neighbor’s dog had been hit by a driver who drove off without even stopping to see if the animal was hurt. (He ended up okay, but that was only confirmed after a $1000 emergency vet visit.) Next morning, on very little sleep, I again made several passes through house, called Mac’s name multiple times outside, and then headed out for my dental cleaning early so I could sweep the neighborhood for little bodies on the side of the road. I also ran off copies of a missing cat poster I’d created and dropped them at pet stores and the police station.
After a couple of hours of dropping fliers and looking for dead animals on the side of the road, I headed home to send a note to their former foster mom to ask her to put news out among the rescue groups with which she worked. I dreaded that conversation, to be sure. Ironically, Missy Mao disappeared on the 1-year anniversary of the cats coming to live with me. To procrastinate making that phone call, I made yet another pass through my basement calling Mac’s name as strongly as before. I couldn’t believe my ears and then eyes when I heard her cries and then saw her. Of course, she’d found her way into the crawl space off my basement and was hiding. When I pushed my way into this nasty spot (replete with some of the world’s largest spiders my imagination reminded me), there she sat and hissed at me. Only when I ran and retrieved a new container of freeze-dried chicken breast — which, incidentally, is the feline (and likely canine) equivalent of crack cocaine — did she come out to grab a piece. I’m sure by that point in time she was quite hungry. I ran up to get food and water for her and brought it downstairs. She wouldn’t come out and get either while I was there talking to her, but she was talking to me for a while. Then she went quiet again. It took me 2.5 hours to get her out of the basement and it only happened when I got sick of trying to find her and went upstairs to get some lunch.
Once she got upstairs with her brothers, we all headed to bed for the afternoon. She smelled funny (and was all dusty), so at first her younger brother kept sniffing and running away from her, but eventually everyone climbed into the cat bed together and groomed each other — fortunately a reunion I got to see. Whew!
(c) Copyright 2013, PeggyMalnati. All rights reserved. Photo my own.