It was a Thursday night at the height of summer so we left a couple of windows open when we headed off to the local village pub where my husband was running his Open Mic night.
We returned home about 11pm to find only one of our two cats – Fred, the Maine Coon – indoors. No sign of our 11 year old moggie, Oliver.
Not overly concerned, I retired to bed and Hub left the windows open while he wound down with a cuppa and a snack. Oli was probably out surveying. He never went far from home and he never stayed out for long but he still wasn’t in by the time Hub came up to bed.
Next morning, I woke early, expecting to see both cats commandeering bed space, relegating the humans to the far reaches of the mattress. But there was only Fred.
And so began the search.
We started with the neighbours. That’s when we were heard about the horrible screeches that signified a cat fight around 9.30pm the previous night. So perhaps he was injured. Maybe he ran far and, spurred on by the adrenaline coursing through his veins, has ended up outside his regular territory and can’t find his way home. Or has he been chased up a tree so we ought to direct our search upwards?
As befitting the modern world, I first turned my efforts online. I checked the contact details were up-to-date on his microchip and registered him missing with Petlog. I listed his description and photos on some animal search websites. I posted on Facebook and shared it to local community groups.
On seeing the A4 posters I’d printed off, Hub suggested perhaps it was a little early for such measures. Undeterred, I stuffed them all in a bag with tape and a stapler and headed out to search.
But where? A little cat has an Access All Areas pass. Humans, less so. In England, you can’t just go traipsing through people’s gardens, or even across open fields, without being aware you might be challenged for trespassing. So all I could do was follow the roads and designated footpaths, calling – loudly!
I posted flyers through doors, stuck some on gateposts, telegraph poles, bus stops. I put them on the noticeboard in the pub and on the wall in our local curry restaurant. Anywhere they’d be seen.
Saturday was spent searching in another direction, to no avail. That evening I was singing in a hotel 15 miles away and Hub was out gigging, too. Our good friend, Ann, came to cat-sit – or rather to man the house and catch him if he made an appearance. Whilst singing, I left my phone on silent beside me in case any info came through. And it did!
I had a missed call so I took a break and tried to listen to the voicemail. It was barely audible but I caught the words “your cat,” so I eagerly returned the call. A chap had seen my poster and thought he’d spotted Oliver on a path that would have been almost a mile away, as the crow flies. I called Ann and she dashed out in her car, cat carrier in tow, to the place the caller described.
I went back to singing, waiting for positive news. Eventually, a message flashed up on my phone: “A sweet little cat but not Oliver.”
Hopes raised… and dashed. But this was just the beginning of the emotional roller-coaster.
When your pet goes missing, it’s the not-knowing that’s the best AND the worst part. As long as you don’t know where they are, there’s hope but precisely because you don’t know, your imagination runs riot.
And people say things. “He’s probably locked in somewhere” “Maybe a fox got him… or a badger” “I hope he hasn’t been run over.” You get regaled with stories of other people’s experiences of missing pets. With tales of cats being found hundreds of miles away and of pets just walking in one day several years later. None of the stories helped, because it’s the not-knowing… and it’s the hope.
I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I just wanted to keep searching or at least be at home for when he just strolled in as if nothing had happened, rolling over to demand a tummy rub or running over to head-butt me.
But, of course, life goes on. Ironically, on the Sunday morning a friend and I had volunteered to carry out face-painting at the Cat’s Protection League Charity’s Fund-Raising Open Day. Emma collected me just after 9am and we were due to finish at 1pm.
Throughout the morning, I regularly checked my phone, especially the comments on my social media posts, desperate for news of any sightings.
A little before noon, a comment appeared. A cat fitting Oliver’s description had been seen by the road at the opposite end of the village. The message did not raise our spirits, ending as it did with the words “I’m sorry if this is your cat.”
I phoned Hub, who was due to leave for a gig in 30 minutes. He dutifully drove out to the location described.
Ten minutes later, he called me back. The choke in his voice confirmed the cat was Oliver. He’d brought him home in a bag.
Driven back by Emma, who shared my grief on the journey back, and with Hub off to his gig (such awful circumstances under which to try and entertain people), friend, Ann, came round and we diluted our coffee with salty tears.
I hadn’t looked at Oliver in the bag and was tempted to just bury him without looking but, on seeing Fred, I thought he should see Oliver. He’d definitely been missing his brother since last Thursday.
So, with a heavy heart, I retrieved the bag containing the little body. It was already smelling bad and attracting flies. Who knew how long he’d been lying on the grass verge after being hit?
Steeling myself, I opened the bag… and did a double-take. “This isn’t Oliver” I said to Ann. Ann dashed over. “No, it’s not” she confirmed. And even though we could see it wasn’t him – this poor soul’s face was solid black, lacking Oliver’s distinctive markings – she searched Oliver’s photos on her phone, because we couldn’t believe what we were seeing.
We managed to contact Hub before he started playing so he could go onstage in shock rather than in grief.
So we’d gone from the incredible sadness of losing a pet and being told “Well at least now you know” (because not knowing is the worst thing) through the elation of finding the dead cat wasn’t Oliver after all, to guilt because somebody’s cat was still dead, even though not mine, back to the awful limbo of not knowing.
On hearing the story, Emma commented: “I can’t believe he brought home some random, dead cat!” It was a fair observation that provided some much-needed, if dark, levity to the situation.
We bundled up the poor dead cat so the flies couldn’t get at him and we set off around the country lanes with renewed determination, more flyers and the cat carrier.
That afternoon, Ann and I walked over 5 miles and shouted ourselves hoarse, but there was still no response.
Each night since his disappearance, we’d left the window open in case he returned. I woke every morning at 5am, hoping the first thing I’d see would be a small, silky black & white cat. Monday morning was no exception.
First thing, we dropped poor dead cat at the vet in the hope they could read a microchip. Sadly, there wasn’t one and nobody had responded to my social media post. We comforted ourselves that he’d been cared for in the end. When he was found, someone had laid a flower over him. Someone cared enough to search social media and find my post. We cared enough to take him to the vet and the vet cared enough to receive him. Poor puss.
About lunchtime, my sister-in-law visited. As a committed cat lover, she shared my upset so we grabbed the ever-present cat carrier and strode out in another direction. On returning to the house, we scoured the grounds, calling and shaking the cat treat tin.
We were now four days into his disappearance. I was worried that he’d die of dehydration if he was shut in somewhere in the very hot weather we’d been having. There’d been no further sightings and my hope was fading fast.
Nothing felt right. Hub commented that it felt as if the world had shifted on its axis. That things just seemed “off.” Such was the impact caused by the disappearance of a 4kg ball of fluff.
Tuesday morning, I again woke at 5am. I went downstairs to find no sign of him. I went back to bed but, as usual, my mind tortured me with all the made-up, awful scenarios it could muster.
At 6:15am I decided to get up and make a coffee. I went downstairs again and there – sitting by the living room door – was Oliver!
I scooped him up and flew back upstairs, almost throwing him onto the bed, waking Hub in the process. The first thing he saw was Oliver’s beautiful, furry face.
The joy was indescribable. We must have almost stroked him bald!
He had three drying scabs – evidence of the fight our neighbours heard, I guess – and was a little thinner. Other than that, he had an air of “what’s all the fuss about.”
Of course, he was grounded for the rest of the day. I was delighted to inform everyone of the return of the little darling, to update social media and the websites and to walk around removing the ‘LOST CAT’ posters. It was a pleasure to do so.
The following day was his 12th birthday. Spoilt? What do you think?
So what do we learn from experiences like this? Personally, I think it’s a lesson in empathy. The sharing of grief at his disappearance and, conversely, joy on his return, was palpable. Telling friends of his homecoming delighted me immensely. The comments we received, even from strangers in community groups, were clearly heartfelt. In a divided world, it’s common emotions that unite us.
It also makes us appreciate what we have. Never again will I absent-mindedly push Oliver away when he tries to sit on the book I’m reading. After all, what’s more important? If Oliver wants a cuddle, the book can wait.
When Oliver was gone, I couldn’t focus on reading. It wasn’t important. All I wanted was my kitty home. The book will still be there long after Oliver’s gone.
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