Like a Rerun…

May 13, 2012

Hey, remember when this happened?

I don’t want to say “it happened again…” but it happened again. The circumstances are a little foggy around how the screen actually fell out (whether it fell out or someone took it out – thinking we were summer people and casing the joint), and I actually saw Ted run from our yard when our neighbor’s dog began to chase him.

This time it took five days to get him back, and we’re incredibly lucky, given where we live.


See all of that national forest around us?

I spent Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning (while I wasn’t working) walking that loop of our subdivision, over and over. I spent hours looking under cars, under bushes, leaving posters on doors, and talking to neighbors. I spent Tuesday night sitting up in the living room, with the slider door open, and I spent Wednesday and Thursday night sleeping in the garage with the door cracked open, in case he was scared of the dogs at neighbor A and neighbor B.* I had seen the direction he had run when neighbor A’s dog chased him, and I knew his behavior from the last time this happened… I felt confident I was on the right track.

Spencer and I had immediately put in place everything we learned from our last experience. We made fliers with a clear, large picture of Ted. We put the litter box he favors out on the porch, and I sprinkled some of the used litter around the perimeter of the house. I sprayed the porch down with Feliway, and put the tank top I had been sleeping in across the welcome mat. We left the slider door open and turned on the ceiling fans. Because we had been through this before I felt confident that he would be able to find his way home. What I wasn’t confident about? All of that National Forest area around our house, and his ability to outrun the coyotes we hear howling each night. (Or his ability to know that rattlesnake /= rattlemouse toy.)  In Tempe I was so worried about cars, drunken college students, and our psychotic neighbor that I didn’t get too concerned about other wildlife. (Other than Ted’s father, the (still) ruling feral Tom of our neighborhood.)

On Thursday morning I called Deborah, the pet detective that we hired last year. She was in Colorado, working a case on a lost dog, but was preparing to drive home – through our town. Not that it mattered but this saved us her travel fees, since she was able to stop on her way home, since we now live about 100 miles from her.

On Friday, Deborah arrived a little after noon with three of her dogs. We’d had a candid conversation about the forest area, and I told her I understood, but that I needed peace of mind one way or another. At first, the dogs took us on a loop through our own subdivision, which was what I had expected… and then they took us to the forest at the end of our street. They quickly lead us back out, and to a large drain pipe that went from our subdivision into the next. Ted was traveling underground, but the good news was it appeared he was moving on his own. (Rather than being carried.**)

Deborah and I drove the dogs around to the other side and sought out the outlet for the pipe, and at this point we discovered that the subdivision next to us was riddled with underground pipes. We talked to more neighbors, and handed out more fliers (I hadn’t even been on this street before), when we struck gold at a house the next street over (the yellow diamond to the left). The wife was in the yard and said her husband was out in the woods walking, but that she would call him back and have him look at the poster. Within 10 minutes he had returned and told us that he had seen Ted near their mailbox pod the day before. He had called to him, but Ted had run, back through the yard of the yellow diamond to the right. He recognized him because he could see the tag hanging from his collar. And then I cried.

And then, the people who live the second occupied house came home, and allowed us to bring the dogs into their yard. And at that point, Riley almost pulled Deborah’s arm off, trying to get into their stacked wood, and we heard something (bigger than a lizard) moving. Wood, stacked next to a tall fence, with a lot of little nooks and crannies, perfect for a lost cat to hide in. We backed off, set out some treats, and talked to the home owners about setting up traps.

Within the next two hours we had set 3 traps (one with mackerel, two with KFC). I lead a stink trail all the way from the drain to our house, and then we waited.

And nothing happened.

As I pretty much knew it wouldn’t, because Ted has never gone into a conventional live trap. I also didn’t think he would find his way home so quickly. Cats are smart, a lot of people let their cats out and they come back, they can find their way home, but I was concerned. We are surrounded by dogs, not all of whom are kept on leads, and I didn’t know how or why he wound up going through the drainage pipe – was something chasing him? Or was he just being a curious cat? (Was he chasing a lizard?)

Saturday morning, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I ordered a video baby monitor and a drop trap. (Think Bugs Bunny or Wiley Coyote.) We also went over to our neighbors and made a proposal. I asked if I could sleep on their screened in porch, and try to lure Ted out of hiding that night. They said yes, and I spent the rest of the day mentally preparing.

Before I left home I set Spencer up to wait in my chair in the living room. I spent the day with the slider open, and the kitchen window cracked, with the ceiling fans going. I refreshed the stink trails from the road to the back if the house. I sprayed the porch with Feliway, left out catnip for Spencer to sprinkle, turned on a lamp, left out a blanket in case he got cold waiting with the window open. I moved the cat tree in front of the slider, where the “open” section would be, and I placed a bowl with an unopened can of Fancy Feast (stinky, ungodly cat food) about six feet inside.

Then I packed a bag: the blanket that Ted sleeps on when he’s in my lap in the living room, the blanket that Ted sleeps on in his tent under the bed, Feliway, a can of Fancy Feast (no, seriously, this stuff smells like a dock hand in August), two rattle mice… along with my eReader, a book light, an some pepper spray.

When I arrived at the neighbors’ the woman of the house (we’ll call her Rose) wanted to walk around the neighborhood, looking for Ted. She had gotten permission from the summer neighbors to walk through their lawns and yards and look. So off we went, but she kept calling to Ted. She also told me that her husband had rattled some of the items around the wood pile, in an attempt to get Ted to jar and move so we could catch him… and at this point my heart sank into my stomach. As much as they were trying to help, they were ensuring that it would be harder than ever to convince Ted to come out in a scary, unfamiliar place.

Spencer got home around 8:30, and we both settled in, in our separate locations, to wait as I sent up a silent, pleading prayer that this would be the night.

At 11:30 my phone rang, it was Spencer, “He’s here, he’s home. He’s home.” Ted had walked into the house and started eating. Spencer had slid the door closed – Ted looked at him, but didn’t run or startle. Shaking, I gathered my things, got in my car and drove home to find Ted hiding under my chair in the living room. I sat on the floor, gathered him into my lap, and checked all of his pieces and parts. Filthy, skinny, and exhausted, he purred and snuggled into my lap, looking absolutely exhausted.

He spent last night alternating between Spencer and myself, snuggling in, but jumping anytime there was a noise. (The automatic air freshener in the bathroom sent him running under the bed.)

Tomorrow he’ll go to the vet for a once over, but he appears to be okay – favoring one of his front paws a little (although it doesn’t appear to be broken/visibly injured), missing his collar, and probably dehydrated.


Before it’s asked:

1. Do you think that Ted wants to be an indoor/outdoor cat? No, not at all.  He never goes for the door when we come and go, and he’s so terrified by every sound right now that I think it’s clear he knows he’s not safe outside.  He came from the streets, remember?  I do think that, this time, when presented with an open window and a bug/bird/lizard he thought, “I’m going to pop out for a second to chase that.”  He didn’t expect our neighbor’s 50lb dog to show up and bound towards him.

2. The pet detective didn’t find Ted, was it still worth the money to hire her? 100%, absolutely, YES.  Deborah was very candid the first time we spoke with her last year that we most likely wouldn’t just happen upon Ted with the dogs and bring him home. (Unless it was worst case scenario.)  What the dogs could do is tell us where we needed to focus our search, and they would let us know if he was still alive to search for.

3. Are you still going to open windows? Only about two inches. We’re also going to invest in cat safe screens, and some window bars when we buy a house.  If we buy the house we’re in now, we’re going to construct a catio.

4. Did you really sleep in your garage?  Weren’t you scared? I did, and no.  Someone else’s cat came in and ate some of the Fancy Feast I had out the first night, but I grew up tent camping.  I wasn’t remotely worried.  Also, I had the pepper spray I take running with me.

5. So, he just walked in the door, why were you worried? That’s over simplifying it a bit.  Ted walked through the door late at night, while it was quiet, and without having someone stand there and open it for him.  When you have a pet that is skittish, even indoors at times with people he knows and loves, it’s not so simple as “waiting it out.”  You know your pet, you know what you’ll need to do to get them back inside.

6. Any new advice? Not really, but as soon as you know your pet is missing don’t waste any time.  Further, do whatever you can to get them back – don’t negate any “trick.”  We put our other cats in the bedroom, and locked the doors, in order to keep the slider door open so that Ted could come back indoors.  I slept in our garage.  The more you’re willing to do, the more likely it is you will get your pet back.

*Neighbor A told me that she was “mad” at me regarding the situation, since cats are meant to be outside, so they can climb trees and hunt. I refrained from jumping over her fence and physically assaulting her, but I gave you exhibits A, B, C, and You Get It. Neighbor B told me that he was sure his dog, who isn’t always leashed, wouldn’t hurt Ted, but that he had killed a cat before.
**“The dogs can still track him if he’s being carried.” “Oh, well, Ted won’t ever let a stranger pick h—Oh. Oh… oh.”

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