Thursday, December 19, 2013

Home for the holidays

This year, we seem to have (so far) circumvented a lot of the traditional Christmas traumas associated with our pets. Because the baby is crawling, climbing and grabbing like mad, we bought a small tabletop tree rather than a full-sized floor-based one, and as a side benefit to being out of the nine-month-old's reach, it's also out of reach of the cats and dogs. It hasn't been toppled over once! (Knock on tannenbaum) Also, as of yet no one has sent us foodstuffs in the mail or plied us with leftovers at a party, so there haven't been any latenight discoveries of shredded red cellophane and cookie crumbs or the like. (The other day, my wife made lunch to take to work and forgot it at home and the dogs made short work of it, but that's not really a seasonal thing, it could happen any time of year.)

So there hasn't been much cause to focus on the animals hereabouts lately, and in fact I had been more or less avoiding the topic for a few months, because one of our cats had run away. Sort of. Our felines in residence, as of this year, have included one very old female (whom my wife has had for longer than she and I have been romantically involved) and a pair of male and female littermates who were stray kittens not terribly long ago. The male quickly made it abundantly clear he wished to be an indoor/outdoor cat, and established a very reliable pattern of gallivanting about the neighborhood most of the time (so long as the weather was nice) and regularly checking in at home for mealtimes. His (half-)sister, on the other hand, was incredibly skittish and generally spent most of her time hiding in the basement or behind furniture. Eventually she would come into view in the main living areas as long as only the immediate family was home, but strangers frightened her back to her safe spaces. The elder cat, for what it's worth, split the difference between the two: sometimes she would slip outside for some fresh air, but she could go days on end lounging around the house, as well. (Needless to say she was also unafraid of/unimpressed by anything.)

And then one day in October or so we suddenly realized we hadn't seen the younger female in a day or so, not even at feeding times (which, granted, can be chaotic around our house for the two-legged residents alone) and it slowly dawned on us that the cat had gotten out of the house. And this was confirmed some days later with a sighting of her on the front lawn late at night, and a few days after that when, as I was walking the dogs down our street, she crossed my path and then disappeared down the creekbed. In the beginning my wife and I told ourselves that she must be mortally terrified to be out and about and she would come home soon enough, particularly when she started to get good and hungry. But weeks stretched into months and she never came scratching at the door. My wife had the idea to set out small animal traps, but we only succeeded in capturing the two cats who hadn't run away (plus one raccoon!). And every time we were about ready to give up the kitty as so much coyote chow, she would flit ninja-like through the yard and prove she was still with us, or at least in our general vicinity.

Bless my wife's animal-loving heart, she grew extremely distraught about our poor lost skitty-kat, but she never completely lost faith. She repaired the damage to the cage-trap that the raccoon had wreaked, and set it out one more time a week or so ago, in a new spot. And lo and behold, it finally worked as intended, and our wayward cat tripped the spring and then waited patiently for someone to come and let her out.

She was skinnier than we remembered, but otherwise unharmed. My wife was going to set up a little cat recovery suite in my dork room in the basement for as long as it took the cat to readjust to living inside (and around the noises of other cats, dogs, small children, &c.) but the cat got out of the room after just a day or so and seemed perfectly content to have the run of the house. She hasn't tried to run out through any open doors, either, which I point out merely to underline the fact that I apparently understand doodly-squat about animals. When the cat first disappeared I assured my wife that she'd be back very soon, as soon as she calmed down and missed her twice-daily feedings. I was wrong about that. Then, as the absence continued, I consoled my wife that there was nothing we could have done differently, that clearly the cat did not want to live with us, despite our best efforts to create an accommodating living situation for her. She had been a wild kitten and clearly preferred living in the (suburban) wild. I was wrong about that too, apparently, as she seems content to be under our roof once again.

And that's the important thing, really. My wife sighed wistfully more than a few times that all she really wanted for Christmas was for our lost kitty to come home, and miraculously enough, she got exactly what she wanted. Clearly that's an indicator that for all the sleep destroyed by fussy babies and patience wrecked by tantrum-y two-year-olds and stress created by the turbulence of a child starting kindergarten, the only thing really worth wishing for is the recovery of a runaway pet. Life is pretty good.

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