Saturday, July 29, 2017

Extraordinary Luck

This kind of luck rarely happens. I hardly know how to begin in writing about it.

Remember the kittens? Oh, it was hard saying goodbye to them. But we really didn’t want to adopt another cat now. Patches, our one remaining indoor kitty, is getting rather old and is deaf. We didn’t want to upset her with any upstart interlopers. Also, we were thinking that when she’s gone, we’d have some time where we could take off on trips and not have to impose upon a cat sitter.

So anyway, things were going well—as well as we could expect, considering that we had to say goodbye to the kittens. On the same day (Tuesday, July 11), Sue trapped our mamma kitty (Thumby) in the trap Jennifer of Wild Thing–Feral Feline Fix had provided for us, and when Jennifer came to pick up the mamma, I scooped up the four kittens (who were all napping) and put them into Jennifer’s carrier. And then Jennifer took them all away. Thumby, to be spayed, wormed, vaccinated, and to return, and the kittens to be fixed, vaccinated, etc., and then released for adoption. . . . Jennifer was confident that our friendly, attractive kittens would have no trouble finding homes.

So after work on Thursday the 13th, Jennifer brought back Thumby to our backyard. She was safe and glad to be home, but giving us a lot of ugly, recriminating stares. And not letting us get near her. She looked around and called for her kittens, but of course they were long gone.

The good news is that the very first day the kittens were available for adoption, Friday the 14th, every single one of them got adopted! Yay! That quickly! But on the weekend, I got calls and messages from Jennifer—and I didn’t check messages until Sunday night. Turns out there was an “issue” with one of the females.

At first, it wasn’t clear which of the three females it was (three! it turns out “Arjuna” was also a girl!)—but on Monday we found out that it was the calico, “Lois.” The “issue” was this: The woman who’d adopted her had declined to use a carrier, leash, or other restraint, feeling confident about carrying Lois out of the Jefferson City Animal Shelter and into her car in her arms.

. . . Can you see where this is going? Everyone who’s ever carried a cat and had it wriggle free out of your arms, raise your hand!

Google “Jefferson City Animal Shelter” and look at the satellite view to see the area we’re talking about. Right across the street from the shelter is the Jefferson City greenway trail, and beyond that, Wears Creek, which is lined by impenetrable woods. Jungley Missouri lowland woods.

Poison-ivy-choked woods.

And that’s where Lois ran, when she broke out of her new owner’s arms.

So two days had elapsed by the time I learned about what happened. (I need to be better about checking all my devices and messages, huh.) Sue and I did go out Sunday night, after ten, to walk along the greenway path near the shelter and call into the woods for her.

Jennifer had put out at least one trap, hoping to lure in a hungry, lost kitten with food, but all she got, she said, were possums and raccoons.

And we went back the next morning, and then that night, and then again, and again . . .

One evening, I met a man along the trail who said he’d just seen a black cat and a young orange calico fighting on the trail, behind Butzer’s, which is well to the east. He had broken up the fight . . . he showed me the place where the young calico had escaped back into the woods. There were even a few fluffs of orange hair left on the sidewalk from the altercation.

Gosh! Was she trying to return home? Stranger things have happened. She could get very close to home just by following Wears Creek. And sometimes cats do miraculous things along those lines . . . so we started focusing more on the area east of the shelter. But one look at the big, long, water-filled culverts under Southwest Boulevard, by the Ford dealership, was disheartening.

And the weather was horrible that week—high nineties, heat index over a hundred. Sure, she had water in the creek, but as the days went on, I had a harder and harder time imagining she could have made it. It was so hot! And she was so small.

Like other people experiencing grief and loss, I went through a “bargaining” stage, where I thought: If she would come out of the woods right now, I’d take her directly home, and we’d just adopt her. She’d never have to leave her home again. I promise.

I was quickly losing hope, and my emotional stamina was failing.

There was only so much trilling and dinging on her old food dish, so much hopeful, positive, encouraging “Here, kitty, kitty!” and “Come on, Lois!” “Come on, little girl!” that I could sing out into the thick, sultry woods—as if she was there to hear me and respond. Who am I kidding? Soaking wet from sweat, I’d come home and just cry.

And sleeping was impossible; I’d wake up, and the vision of Lois would swim before me, her demise a waking nightmare.

But Jennifer was hopeful: Lois associates people with food, she reasoned, so if she gets hungry enough, she very likely will leave the woods and start approaching people. Using a photo we’d taken of Lois, Jennifer got signs made up and laminated: LOST KITTEN. She put them up along the greenway; she put them up in the neighborhood south of the woods south of the shelter; she talked to people at businesses that back up along the greenway.

I was trying to just accept that she was gone. It got so I was going through the motions: I have to be able to tell myself I did everything I could. And I was trying to convince myself that it wasn’t my fault little Lois had come to a bad ending—I had done everything just right, as far as I could tell, and her getting loose was beyond my control. I started focusing on how I could keep such a thing from happening in the future. (For starters, the Animal Shelter needs to insist that people adopting cats use some sort of restraint, a harness/leash or a carrier, or even just a single-use cardboard pet box . . . !)

I was trying to move on.

Then on Monday, July 24 (ten days after she’d run away into the woods), around 5 p.m., I heard the phone ringing and recognized (by now) Jennifer’s number. I picked it up, and she said, “I think we’ve just had a Lois sighting!”

Breathless, incredulous, I listened to her say that people in a business west of the shelter had noticed a “new” calico kitten around their building; they’re on the Wild Thing program, so apparently Lois had been getting food from them—but disappearing into the woods behind their offices, which is only a short distance, and a steep, weedy slope from the back side of Target. The city's Target store is actually just behind the Animal Shelter. You wouldn't think it is, but sure enough.

They’d seen her less than an hour ago. I told Jennifer I was heading out right now.

First, I looked at the office park, but it didn’t seem too promising—I didn’t want to trespass behind those businesses, although I thought I might have heard a “meow” in response to my calling. (By this point, I was ready to believe I was hallucinating.) A little frustrated, I drove clear around to Target, wended through its parking lot, and parked along the deserted southeast wall. I had with me the food dish and a can of stinky canned cat food.

I looked down the shrubby, impenetrable, but rather short slope toward the area she’d just been, and I called and dinged on the food bowl. Almost immediately I heard meowing in response. It took a while before I could see her, but then she appeared: Lois! A few weeks older and skinnier, but Lois indeed!

She was wary. Come on, little girl (I was trying to remember the voice I’d used when I spoke to them when they were in our backyard). I kept talking, using all the weird, unique little voices and trills I used. I think she remembered. Still . . . she didn’t come forward. She was only about six or eight feet below the top of the hill, but I sure couldn’t reach her. Time for the food.

I didn’t have a spoon, so I dipped my fingers into the can of food and flipped some at her.

Well, that got a response! She was indeed hungry!

I tried to make a trail of cat food up the hill between us. And I pushed some food onto the dish I’d brought, making what I hoped was a lot of appetizing clattering in the process. While Lois was snarfing up the good stuff on the slope below, Jennifer drove up. When she got out of her vehicle, I pointed and mouthed: “It’s her!!!” Jennifer walked closer and peered down the slope: “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe this!”

She had just set a trap behind the business below, but she drove back around to put it at the top of the hill.

There were a lot of weeds, brush, and garbage, and I was in my slipperiest flip-flops. Lois wasn’t coming up, so tried to descend to the side of her, hopefully to go past her and then back up behind her, to kind of drive her closer to the top of the slope, where I’d left the can and dish of food.

This didn’t work; she skittered farther down when she saw me coming. But when I walked back up the hill, she simply followed me. I moved the food to where I’d been, then stepped back, and she scampered up the rest of the hill to the bowl—level ground—and I simply walked up to her, grabbed her and the food bowl, and (holding onto her very securely) took us all into my car. I didn’t let go of her until I had us all inside, the door shut, the car on, and window rolled up.

She freaked out for just a moment—bounced from the front seat up onto the dashboard—but I grabbed her and set her down on the floor in front of her smelly canned cat food, and she started eating and purring. And that was that. From then on, she didn’t stop purring for about the next twenty-four hours!

I waited for Jennifer to return. When she did, Lois was sitting in the back of the car, enjoying the A/C, and apparently waiting for us to go home. We didn’t talk long; mainly talked about how amazed we are, and about adoption stuff.

Even before Jennifer had picked up the kittens, we had told her that if there was any problem or delay in getting any of them adopted, we’d be glad to just take her/him/them back. At that time, we had nightmare visions of one of them possibly languishing for days in a cage at a shelter—we didn’t dream anything like this could have happened.

So that offer, plus the more metaphysical “bargaining” I did while we were calling for her, pretty much closed the deal. And so we have adopted Lois.

Because Patches is the queen of our house, and is rather elderly and quite deaf, we’ve decided not to try to incorporate Lois into her world. We’ll make good use of our first floor being a separate apartment, and Lois will live on the first floor while Patches has the rest of the house. (When we adopted Patches, she lived on the first floor the same way, since Nikki was our elderly, frail queen cat at the time. What goes around comes around.)

Sue was almost as ecstatic as Lois when she came home. I stood beside the doorway, holding Lois, as she came up the stairs to her office: “Sue, did you get my messages?” “No, my battery ran out.” “Well . . . I have something to share with you . . . Surprise!”

Sue’s expression was priceless. She was astonished, also, because she’d had a dream that morning that Lois had returned—a dream that literally came true.

And Lois—considering she must have been exhausted after ten days in the wilderness—didn’t really sleep until the next afternoon. Sue slept in our guest bedroom on the first floor that night to keep an eye on her. And every ten minutes, Sue said, Lois renewed her purring and nuzzling and kneading.

Here are some photos of Lo-Lo since she’s returned.

Her first night at home, we let her go outside in the backyard so she could visit with her mamma. What a reunion! Lois wanted to nurse, and Thumby let her try. I doubt she was lactating anymore, having been spayed, but it’s the sentiment that counts. The picture says it all.

We sat outside with the kitties well into the evening. For the next hours, Lois trotted after her mamma like a little lamb. Sensing Thumby getting rather annoyed at times, we gave her breaks by periodically picking up and petting Lois. Even unrelated Rufus, the neutered male of our backyard clan, seemed interested in the returned kitten.

When we went back inside, we brought Lois with us. And oddly enough, she has not shown any interest in going back outside. On Friday morning, she went outside, tried to nurse from her mom, and her mom hissed at her (well, it’s time for weaning). And Lois came back in and doesn’t seem interested in going back out. Which is fine with us.

We have plenty of cat stuff—extra litter boxes, cat furniture, toys, etc.—so she’s like a little princess in her own apartment. Since Sue’s office is on that floor, she gets a lot of people-time.

As I write this, just a few days after her return, Lois is already gaining back her weight. She’s calmed down a lot; she has a pleasant demeanor. She has excellent litter box habits.

But her personality has changed since the day I put her and her siblings into the carrier two weeks ago. Then, she was a precocious, aloof, smarty-pants junior cat’s cat. We meant “food,” and she wasn’t afraid of us . . . but she wasn’t very attuned to us. But since her ordeal and return home, she seems to have decided that we are the best people in the world. We’re rock stars!

We’re family.

. . . Amazing how luck can so suddenly appear!


Connie Roetker said...

So sweet! Glad for the happy ending.

Mycologista said...

What a great story and what a great cat! Look at those ear tufts and after-thought tabby-striped leg patch! Thank you for giving this cat a home. Sounds like the kind of worry and rigamarole I'd go through, too.