This week our six-year-old cat went MIA or AWOL or walkabout, as my 7-year-old daughter and I like to say to each other. Her record, the cats' that is, is three days missing. She does this from time to time in the warmer weather. On this occasion it was two and a half days, but somehow I'd managed to convince myself that this time was different: I had printed the 'MISSING CAT' fliers using impact font and photos of her in various poses to show off her distinctive markings and her soulful character. On the morning of the third day, I was washing my face getting ready to go and put these fliers up around the neighbourhood, when my husband, who was making tea downstairs, called up excitedly: "Honey she's back!"
And there she was outside the conservatory. Looking a little thin, but otherwise fine, and very non plussed. As though she'd simply nipped out to get milk and bread and wondered what all the fuss was about. And of course I made a big fuss - I was awash with relief, and guilt, and a whole bag of emotions. I fed her, gave her her favourite treat, and then watched as she sauntered upstairs to her spot on the sheet covered spare bed where she set upon sleeping for the next 24 hours. A bit later in the day I curled up on the bed next to her and we both had a nap.
I do wonder where cats go. This recent disappearance prompted me to buy a location device, which you attach to your cat or dog's collar - or your keys or phone. I didn't read the fine print, and hoped this would be a kind of tracking device that would somehow work with google maps and show you exactly where your cat is by way of a throbbing red dot. Something between a Bond film and and Indiana Jones flight mapping scene. Not that I want to stalk my cat or infringe on her privacy, but in times where she does go MIA for three days, it would be useful to locate her. Also to see if she has a routine, because maybe she is being fed elsewhere? But as it turns out the this locater doesn't work with the Internet, and instead transmits to a handheld device, has a range of up to 400 feet in a clear line of sight, and uses visual and audio directional beeps to help you locate your cat. It's clever, but not quite what I had in mind. My husband tells me the GPS tracking thing does exist and it's call TAGG - although it only currently works in the USA. This is all neither here nor there because there is the small matter of getting a collar on her to attach this to in the first place, but more on that later.
Our younger cat, who is now a year and a half old, is a male that we got as a kitten. I had made that choice very deliberately so as to make a gentle introduction to our fragile natured older cat by way of a companion. Thinking this way she'd still get to be the boss cat of the house and she'd also have a friend. She never took to him, and now he has grown into a great big panther of a cat, and despite being neutered, is territorial and terrorising of this small fragile creature. On the eve of her most recent disappearance he was taunting her in the garden and then chased her right across the grass up and over our fence and out into the street. I ran out to try and get them back, but by that point they had both vanished - cats at full tilt are very fast.
I had heard of cats running each other off in this way - they are not companionable creatures and are very happy to be the only animal in a household. There was a stray Bengal we used help take care of with another family where we used to live, who had similarly been run off from the home he shared with his sister. The sister is a twin so uncannily similar to him, that when he too went missing recently, people kept calling in saying they'd seen him, when they'd actually seen her. He, unfortunately, had been hit by a car and during the four days he was missing was lying in someones garden where he had been placed by the driver who quite possibly thought he was dead and didn't want him run over by other cars. It was only by chance that an elderly woman and her grandchild walked past, saw him, and called in to my friend saying they'd seen a cat of that description sleeping under a tree. It was a call that saved his life, because he wasn't sleeping, he was in fact dying and probably would not have lasted much longer. My friend found him terribly dehydrated, with his jaw dislocated and lopsided and his front leg so badly damaged it has since had to be amputated. After extensive surgery, dental work, and various treatments, the good news is that he is fine, and recovering, and amazingly agile despite missing a limb.
This happened a couple of months ago and it was so traumatic and raw that I imagined a similar fate had befallen our cat. My mother, who has provided a home for many strays and rescues over the years, had a practical and reassuring opinion: "She knows where her home is, and cats won't starve - as long as they are not injured they will hunt and provide for themselves. And when her food source runs out she'll come home."
If she's not injured, because that's the catch right? One day, like the Bengal, she might not be so lucky.
I think owning cats somewhat prepares you for when your children become teenagers and start going out with their friends. The insomnia and grey hairs inducing worry, the whole 'I hope they are being sensible, and safe, and not doing things they shouldn't be doing' thing. Dogs are different: They are loyal, fairly predictable in terms of their character, and provided your property is enclosed, they are not going anywhere. Not so with cats. Each time our cats exit our property via trees or leaping up and over our fence, I know there's a risk that they might get hit by a car, get attacked by a dog or fox, or decide that another family is more indulgent of their specific needs.
When our cat went missing this week I told the grocery delivery man about it. He used to breed cats and seemed to know a lot about them. A muscular individual with incredibly well groomed eyebrows and the faintest hint of eyeliner, "Ave you got a collar on er?" he asked in a gruff voice. Me: "No, she won't wear one, she gets incredibly depressed. The last time we tried putting one on her she hid under the stove for days." Also, there is the small matter of us actually having to pick her up and hold her in place to put a collar on her - which would require either a tranquilliser or a falcon glove. He advised that cats with no collars are often assumed strays, and there is a risk they adopt another family that feeds them. It's a terrible admission to make on my part, but sometimes I think this wouldn't be such a bad thing. Provided the individual, couple, or family in question were kind and loving and she was the only pet in the home, I think her existence would be a much more peaceful one that she currently has. Right now her life is a bit like having to dodge Cato in the Pink Panther - never knowing where our younger cat might be lurking ready to pounce on her. Also if she does adopt another family I won't be reading up on Botox following the added worry lines I get each time she decides to go on one of her excursions.
"Maybe she does it so we appreciate her more. You know? The way some twisted individuals do where they break up with with you from time to time so you want them more?" I ask my husband. He looks at me in that way he does where he thinks what I've just said is completely nuts. But he's indulgent: "No honey, she's just scared, that's all. And maybe she's getting fed by another family." In this recent MIA incident I started having these bizarre fantasies featuring our younger cat keeping her locked in a shed somewhere and disappearing at night to go and taunt her. What he was in fact doing was patrolling the garden so he could chase her off. It's like having a gorgeous and perfect boyfriend who's actually secretly this psycho that is setting about alienating all of your friends and family because he's threatened by you having affection for anyone other than him. My husband sometimes jokes that the cat would be happy if everyone left except my daughter (who he adores) and me. Given the dark and menacing way he eyes my husband as he prepares for bed at night, I think he might be on to something.