LOST AND FOUND
In 2010, my mother passed away from ovarian cancer. Then, on the day of her funeral, my cat, Slinky, somehow snuck out the back door, adding insult to injury for an already grieving family.
Not that Slinky was a delicate hot-house flower, mind you. For many years, in New York State she had been an indoor/outdoor cat, a formidable huntress who would either bring in mice and birds or who would get in to scraps with other cats or raccoons during the night, wearing the bloody battle scars to prove it.
But, when I moved to an urban apartment, I could no longer permit Slinky to go outside. Concerned with her weight gain and loss of vigor, I reluctantly flew my cat down to live with my parents in Florida. Having plenty of room indoors and a screened pool enclosure to allow her to feel outdoors, Slinky eased in to a typical retired Florida lifestyle, never again longing to force her way to the actual outdoors.
Thus, when she "escaped" before my Mom's funeral, I thought, "Well, she'll certainly find her way back home in a few hours," just as she had so often done during her "wild oats" days. Alas, that wasn't to be. The night came: no Slinky. The morning arrived: still no Slinky. And, in an environment of snakes and alligators, I quickly began to panic that we would never see my sweet little demon ever again. I worried how my newly-widowered father would handle this additional loss of our furry family member just days after the loss of his wife. It was just too much!
Well, here's what we did to search for Slinky, and I hope this gives some guidance to anyone whose kitty has gone missing, in whatever manner that they're missing:
1. Check everywhere inside the house
We searched the house top to bottom, using a flashlight to see if she was hiding in some crevice of a closet, inside the garage, within any recliner sofa seats, or inside any box springs (as my cat so often found a way to do!)
2. Hit the pavement
Once we were sure she was not in the house, my family and I walked the neighborhood calling out her name and looking and listening carefully to see if we might notice her somewhere in the neighbor's bushes or in the grass. When seeing other folks in the neighborhood, we gave them Slinky's description and told them to call us if they saw her.
3. Post flyers
After combing the streets for hours, I created flyers with a nice, clear picture of Slinky and tabs at the bottom with my phone number on it for people to tear off. With a stack of flyers in hand, I walked the neighborhood anew and stapled my notice to every tree and sign-post I passed.
4. Enlist the help of others
Thankfully, I had many family members who had traveled south for my Mom's funeral, and they were so supportive and helpful in trying to locate Slinky. But we also asked the neighbors to keep an eye out. In fact, one night, while driving home, my father's neighbor thought she saw Slinky's eyes glimmering at the side of the road. She stopped to beckon the cat to get in her car, only to realize that it was a raccoon upon closer inspection!
5. Call animal services and the local animal shelters
Oftentimes, people will report a stray cat in their neighborhood to the local animal control services, and your kitty might end up in a municipal shelter. If your pet is micro-chipped and you maintain the chip subscription, shelters can trace the cat back to you, and that can be a happy day! Unfortunately, Slinky wasn't microchipped, and the animal services hadn't come across any gray tabbies in our area.
6. Contact a pet psychic
Between the back-and-forth to the funeral home and the various treks through the neighborhood calling "Slinky" like a bunch of deranged Hasbro ad execs, my cousin Nancy called a pet psychic she knew back home in Vermont. She relayed the story of how Slinky had gotten loose and how we had searched and searched to no avail. The pet psychic told Nancy that the cat was within 300 yards of the house, hiding out in what seemed like a culvert to him. This gave me such hope, in spite of the fact that there were no culverts near my father's home. I wondered if he meant she was hiding in a street stormwater drain, so I focused my energies on looking inside every one on the block. Still nothing.
Five or six days went by with no sign of Slinky, and the time had come for me to return to New York and to attend to my business and my life back there. I left my Dad with one last piece of advice:
7. Leave food and water out
My Dad resolved to leave the back screen door open every night, placing down a bowl of fresh food and fresh water, in the hopes that Slinky would sniff her way back home. With a lake behind my Dad's home, Slinky could easily find enough to drink, and they say that cats can go for several weeks without any food, so long as they have access to water. It was worth a try, although I worried that gators might find an open door as an invitation.
I was working late in my office one week later, and my Dad called me to say, "Guess who just walked in?" He was so elated and relieved, and so was I! After being gone for ten days, my little Slinkydink had returned home, meowing a blue streak all night to my Dad, as if to recount all the things she had seen and experienced on her journey.
Slinky passed away in 2013, and I've been thinking about her a lot lately. I'd like to believe that her ten-day disappearing act was her feline way of mourning my Mother's passing. I'd also like to believe that Slinky has found my Mom in that higher plane, and that she is still yelling at Slinky to get off the furniture.
Many thanks to our friend, Faye Lapp, for providing the inspiration for this article