It was a dark and stormy night—one of those early autumn thunderstorms that rattles the eaves and deposits a hundred stray branches in my yard. A wet and noisy night that sends cats scurrying to the basement to hide under the pool table or to form shaky little cat-lumps under the bed-comforter. Thunderstorms were always Lady’s great fear—the combination of thunderous booms with the occasional light show sent shivers through her little Cockerspaniel heart. As for myself, I always worry that the lawn furniture will end up in the street and usually awake to find that one or two terracotta pots didn’t survive the night.
But, this particular night, silent due to storm-struck cats, I heard a tiny meow. Peering out the window into the wet I thought I could see a small shape huddled on my doorstep. After opening the door slowly so as not to scare her, I found a dainty Maine Coone kitten holding up one wet paw. Her collar says her name was Pat. Pat the Cat—a nursery rhyme name if ever there was. And, instead of running to the safety of the bushes, she promptly mews and steps slyly onto the living room carpet.
I can tell right away that Pat is a cat who is used to the finer things. She doesn’t like being picked up and locked in the garage. She doesn’t like the plastic “guest cat” bowls into which I pour her kibble and water. And, most of all, she doesn’t like being left alone while she hears me and my other cats just outside the door.
But, not knowing Pat or her vaccination history (or lack thereof,) I can’t risk bringing her inside with my other cats. The garage is safe and warm and most importantly dry. Though the garage may have a spider or two lurking in the rafters and few mole-crickets under the stored garden pots, it is a cat-friendly environment. Pat will just have to get used it to for a few days until I hopefully locate her owners. My ferocious quartet of divas sit pawing at Pat’s door and making hissing noises until I chase them upstairs. There is an enemy in the house—no matter than she weighs only three pounds.
Pat’s collar has a phone number and no address. The phone number is, remarkably, from another town. I call and leave a message. And, hope that someone would return my call in the morning. How could a kitten end up twenty miles from her home? Was she stolen, transported by accident in a home delivery truck, or perhaps her people had just moved and haven’t had a chance to update her collar. I am anxious to find out Pat’s story. And, when I check on little Pat, I find her a little dusty, but contently curled up on an old blanket. Her kibble has a good-sized dent in it and the toy mice and balls that I had left for her are scattered to the four corners of the garage.
In the morning, there is still no answer from Pat’s number. I check www.Petfinder.com and call the local shelters to see if anyone had called about a missing Pat. No posters in any of the three local vet’s offices, no word at the animal shelters, nothing online about Pat. Surely, someone is looking for a tiny lost Maine Coon! Her collar is dark blue leather with tiny silver rhinestones and a breakaway clasp. Someone has made sure to add a reflective strip to keep Pat safe from cars. And Pat is, herself, very fat and well-groomed. Just from looking, you can tell that Pat is a very loved cat and one who hasn’t been on her own for long. After drying out from the storm and polishing off her kibble, Pat makes sure to groom each of her paws–although she doesn’t seem to have mastered the art of cleaning her nose. I watch her drink kitten-milk contently and look up with milk-rimmed whiskers.
Pets are lost all the time. My neighborhood is full of flyers with captions of Lost Dog and Lost Cat. Occasionally, a Lost Parrot or Lost Gerbil adds themselves to the wanted boards and telephone poles on our streets. My vet has a board devoted to notices for missing and found pets. And, we have several in-city online sites devoted to finding lost animals.
Still, despite their owners’ vigilance, many pets are never found. They find new homes, they end up in shelters, and they sometimes meet with bad ends. I’ve known pets who disappeared for months only to return home and some that despite their owners’ endless searching never reappeared. I have, myself, taken in several found cats whose owners (if they had any) I was never able to locate. I hope Pat isn’t one of these lost cats. I hope that someone is searching for her and that they will very shortly have their pet back in their lives.
After taking Pat (and a found cat poster) to the vet, I find that she is not microchipped. No surprise there—most pets in my neighborhood are sans microchip. The only microchipped pet in my neighbor, other than my own, that I know is Ryder—microchips are a requirement for pets that émigré to France, as my neighbor and her cat are planning to do. Many countries in Europe now require microchips for pets along with other standard vaccinations as a prerequisite for admittance of pets from abroad. This is not the case in the US, and most pets remain un-microchipped and unlikely to returned home if they are lost.
Lost pet sites advocate thinking of found animals as “lost” as opposed to “stray.” And, Pat certainly seems to fit that bill. A gregarious little cat, I’m sure that on a sunny day she would’ve paraded up to the first human she saw and demanded help (and soft food). Still, after three days, I can find no trace of Pat’s owners. I continue to leave voice mail messages with no reply. I email found cat posters to the shelters near Pat’s phone number and call the vets in her town. Still no luck. Pat continues her hiatus in my basement and my cats continue to grouse.
Finally a full ten days from finding Pat, I receive a frantic phone call at work. It is Pat’s owners—they want to know if I still have little Pat. I tell them that I do and they arrange to pick up their kitty. It turns out that they were on vacation and left Pat with a friend in my neighborhood. How Pat has escaped or why her temporary sitter did not see her posters is a mystery. But, Pat’s owners are so happy to have her back. Pat practically jumps into their arms, purring and rolling, her little eyes fill with happiness. Pat’s story, it seems, does have a happy ending.
Still, Pat’s AWOL status has me worried. How many Pats, I wonder, are there out there who never find their way home? How many little kitties, dogs, lizards, and gerbils end up far from their owners? Some probably find very good new homes. Many are probably adopted by people who believe they are taking in a stray dog or cat. After days, weeks, or months on their own, many cats and dogs (and certainly most house pets) have a scruffy appearance. Lost cats and dogs are sometimes shy or aggressive and may seem feral to those that find them. But, that doesn’t mean they are feral. They may just be far from home, out-of-depth in a neighborhood that isn’t their own. Without the familiar sites and sounds of home, some animals hide and others shiver and cower when people approach. Although cowering or aggression responses can indicate abuse, in many animals they indicate only fear.
I worry about all these little furry souls out in a big, hostile world, where an outstretched hand could be a friend—or any enemy. And, I’m not really sure what to do. Pat’s owners may’ve begun checking shelters and websites if I hadn’t called, but they may’ve not known best how to find their kitty. If they had been gone for a month instead of a week, Pat’s posters would have, most likely, been covered with the pictures of newer lost pets. They may’ve never found their cat and never known whether she was safe and sound in a new home or lost in the wild.
It is heart wrenching to think of all the lost animals that are out there. Every lost poster has a story behind it—a little girl without her tabby or a little boy searching for a beagle or an iguana. These pets are loved and though they may find a new hearth and home, their loss leaves a hole in their first owners’ lives. So, they next time you see a roaming dog or take in a lost cat, remember to check the lost pet sites. Keep your eyes peeled for posters and make a few calls to shelters and local vets. Check for missing animals not just in your town, but a few zip codes away as well. You never know just how far an animal has traveled before finding his or her way to you.
Amazing journeys are real and some stories do have happy endings. But, most of all be thankful for your own pets and mindful of their safety. Even inside pets need collars. Keep recent digital and hard copy photos of all your pets, as well as good vaccination records for identification purposes. Think about microchipping—especially if your pets are sometimes outdoors. And, make a list of places to look before you need them—hopefully you never will!