Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Cat Odyssey

What follows is the true story of my attempt to reunite a cat with his owners, an epic quest that rivals The Odyssey, Gilgamesh and (at times) Dante’s Inferno.

On Thursday August 3, 2017, I was driving home from work. As I entered my neighborhood I noticed a gray tomcat crouched under a parked car. I remembered that my wife told me about an e-mail going around, alerting the neighborhood of a gray cat that appeared to have been separated from his owners. The e-mail asked that we try to catch the cat and take him to the vet so his chip could be read.

I felt for the little guy. After parking my car, I hurried down the street to find him. Initially, the cat was very friendly. He let me pet him and pick him up. He even followed me a couple blocks.

Certain that this was a cat who needed help, I ran home and grabbed one of our pet carriers. He was still waiting for me when I retuned, but (of course) his demeanor changed the second I tried to put him in the carrier.

Below is an artist's rendition of the emotional turmoil suffered getting the cat into a carrier:

Once I FINALLY (and I mean finally) got the cat secure, I hauled him down the street to our house where I planned to call the vet.

I was about two yards away when the cat burst through the front of the carrier and the container fell apart in my hands. Apparently we buy these things from IKEA.

By the time I put the carrier back together, the little fuzz ball had vanished.

I could have gone home and worked on my endless “to do” list. Heck, it was the start of my weekend! I could have gone home and watched Lego Batman 99% guilt free. But I was on a mission to help this animal.

While walking down the street, I asked four neighbors if they’d seen the cat. I also asked if they knew anyone in the area who owned a gray tomcat (I wanted to be certain I wasn’t kidnapping someone’s beloved pet).  No one had seen the cat and everyone confirmed that a gray cat didn’t live on the street.

The closest I got to a lead was when one man pointed to a house and said the woman who lived there owned a gray cat. I knocked on the door and was greeted by (I’m not making this up) a little old lady in a wheel chair who told me, “My cat just died.” She then looked like she was about to cry.

Go me.

Eventually, a couple neighbors spotted the cat. As soon as he was in our sight everyone else said, “He’s all yours” and cleared out.

I crept up on my little friend, caught him and managed to stuff him into the carrier.

Once again, an artist’s rendition of the struggle:

I carried the cat back to our house, awkwardly clutching the carrier so it wouldn’t fall apart again.

The second I opened our front door the cat burst out of the carrier, sprinting into our home.

As you may have guessed, my wife and I own two cats, Maui and Chewie. We’ve had them since they were kittens and they have seldom interacted with other animals. They can’t even stand each other. Hardly a day passes that one of them doesn’t growl, hiss or swipe. 

The second Maui saw the strange cat she ran upstairs and did what she does when she hears thunder:

Chewie, however, may look like this:

But his soul looks like this:

Within seconds both cats were spitting and clawing. They never actually touched, but they came close. I managed to grab Chewie and locked him in the room where we keep his litter pan.

I called my wife and told her what was happening. She was the one who had actually read the e-mail, and she confirmed that the lost cat was gray with a tuxedo pattern, just like the one I’d found. I called the vet to set up a time to check the chip.    

I should note that during all this I had 2% power on my phone so I was constantly running back and forth, to the charger.

Initially, the vet put me on hold. While I waited I tried to calm the poor cat who had cornered himself in our kitchen.  

I should note I didn’t take these photos to capture the magical moment of having a scared cat. We wanted to e-mail them to the neighborhood in case we couldn’t find the owners.

After ten minutes of listening to hold music, I hung up and called the vet again. This time when the receptionist answered I blurted what was happening. She told me to take the cat in right away.

I grabbed a much more secure carrier, forced the cat inside….

(Which looked like this)

…released Chewie from the litter pan room and took the lost cat to the vet. 

By this point I had bonded with the little feline. We were partners on a journey that would end with him reunited with his people.

We reached the vet (for the first time ever I had trouble finding a parking spot) and I carried him inside.

They took us around back right away, scanned the cat for a chip and the nurse told me she would be right back.

I expected her to return with an address or at least a phone number. The cat would then be reunited with his people within the hour and the world would rejoice. 

 Instead she came back with an eighteen-digit ID and a phone number. She told me that legally their office couldn’t help any further. I needed to go home, call the number, give the ID and someone else would take care of the situation from there.

Per the nurse’s instructions I kept the cat in the carrier when I got home. I didn’t want to risk him passing parasites or diseases to my two sheltered puffballs. However, this made the cat howl and scream. And I mean scream. Like I was worried the neighbors were going to call the cops.

I called the number and (of course) got an automated message. I followed the prompts, entered the ID number and was told they couldn’t help me.

I went to their website and was given another phone number.

I called that number.

I was disconnected.

I called the number again.

I was given a third number.

No one answered.

I banged my head against the wall.

At long last I got in touch with someone who said that they had the cat’s information on file. They tried to call the owner but apparently no one answered. They asked if I could keep the cat overnight.

By this point the cat sounded it like a wolverine fighting a wood chipper while barn owls screeched from the sidelines. When I went upstairs to check on my own cats I found them hiding in the corner. Maui was perpetually growling. A few years ago she had growled so much she threw up blood.  

No, we couldn’t keep the cat overnight.

I told the woman I’d drive the cat to the facility myself. Before I hung up I asked what they would do if they couldn’t contact the cat’s owners. She assured me they weren’t a kill shelter. The only reason they would euthanize an animal was if it was sick. She also told me they were the ones who would have to reunite the cat.

So once again, I hauled the cat, who was still howling in the carrier, out to my car. I drove back to where I’d found him, knocked on a few doors, held up the carrier and asked if people knew the owners. I wanted to be ABSOLUTELY certain I couldn’t settle this myself.

The only person who recognized the cat was a sweet elderly woman who said she had seen him around, but no one in the neighborhood owned him.

With no other options, I put the cat back in the car and drove thirty minutes north of Baltimore.

To be fair, the facility I arrived at looked very well maintained and the staff seemed legitimately concerned about their animals’ welfare.

I talked to a woman at reception and she confirmed their policy on putting animals down. She said there was an extremely slim chance that would happen, especially if the cat was friendly (I assured her he was despite the howling). Everything was almost complete when she noticed a bloody scratch on my hand. I told her that was probably a result of my knuckles scraping the carrier when I caught the cat. She said that didn’t matter. If blood was drawn the cat had to be in a ten-day quarantine.

She could tell I was frustrated and assured me that this wouldn’t count against the cat. He would just have to stay away from other animals for ten days.

Finally, there was nothing left for me to do but hand the little guy over. I was about to leave when the receptionist double checked my contact information and said, “Oh, the cat’s registered owners live on your street.”


I had gone through a journey that makes Odysseus look like a stay at home dad and the whole time this cat was in his own neighborhood!

Let’s just say when I got home I treated myself to Chipotle. 

During all this I had been communicating with my wife who was still at work and was also very concerned about the animal. We both decided that we should at least try to find the cat’s owners, to ensure they knew where their pet was.

So we walked to the part of our neighborhood where I found the cat, knocked on a door and a young woman answered. We’d barely finished introducing ourselves when she said, “Yeah! He’s our cat. We know where he is. They called us.”

Within thirty seconds we’d found the owner.

Now you need to understand that this house is in the dead center of where I’d been asking people. This woman literally doesn’t have a single neighbor who knows she owns a cat or lets him outside. There have been e-mails throughout the neighborhood sent by people who think the cat is lost.

So that’s it. That’s my cat odyssey, a tale of blood and tears wasted to “save” a cat who’d been hanging out ten feet from his doorstep. The whole thing is an allegory in nihilism. At the end of the day nothing that happened mattered.

However, one thing that did come from all this is that the following day I walked upstairs and saw something I’d never seen before. Our two cats, who can barely be in the same room with each other, were snuggling.

I have no explanation for this except they were comforting one another. A common enemy had brought them together.

Maybe that counts for something.

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