Monday, May 20, 2013

Thirty Hours of H - E - Double Hockey Sticks

This weekend we had a big scare with Hecate, Alex's cat. Per her usual routine, she takes a nap between 12:30pm-2:30pm, goes outside for playtime, and always returns around 5pm. It's like clockwork. 

Hecate- the Early Years

Friday she went outside like every other day around 2:30pm, but didn't come home. 7pm rolled around, and Alex was hoarse from calling for her, and in tears. 

We sat down and talked about a cat's nature to roam and that cats often disappear to have adventures, but they usually come back home. I was all too aware of the reality that she could have been hurt by a car or mean kids or taken by a well-meaning passerby who thought she was a stray. But I focused on the positive. I thought if she wasn't home in the next few days I would talk with Alex about those possibilities. I never lie to Alex, ever. If there is something I don't want to talk about or he's not old enough to be privy to I say so. But I won't lie to him. For now I didn't see any reason to worry him and me both for nothing, because it was more likely she would be back than not. And the truth is he's old enough now he probably had all the same thoughts I did. 

Hecate just a few weeks old, new to our family.

I also shared with him a story of two cats I had many years ago, before he was born and before I developed allergies, who ran away together and didn't come back for 3 months. We would see them playing and romping in the woods behind our home during those months, but they wanted to be free. When they were ready, they came home, but they were changed cats from then on. We talked about how it must feel to be an animal to always be cooped up inside a house and not be in charge of their lives. We've had this discussion a couple times, especially when we talk about zoo animals, but also pets. 

Right from the start Hecate chose Alex as her human.

Dogs are a little different, they crave humans more than just about anything else. If they have a human who loves them and gives them attention, and takes them out for walks, even if it's on a leash, most dogs are fulfilled by having those basic needs met. But cats aren't as easy. They really need to be able to be in the sun, play in the grass and hide in bushes. They have more wildness in them. They need to stalk real birds and run from their shadow. Yes, we run the risk of something happening. But so do people, every time we leave the safety of our home. We don't stay home because there are dangers, and my feeling is that it isn't reasonable to expect an animal with such a strong drive to romp and roam to be forced to stay indoors all the time just for our pleasure. So we knew before we got our kitties this was a possibility, and one we were willing to accept. Still, it is hard when something like this happens. It is no less painful. But our attitude has always been that our pets are not ours- they choose to live with us until they don't want to anymore.  

Hecate (right) and Ostara napping.

After we talked, Alex seemed OK. He went off to do other things and popped in and out of the dining room to check the door, but he wasn't upset anymore. He said he had hope, and as long as he had hope he would be OK. I was really in awe of his ability to work through his feelings so well and at the same time be rational about it. To him, once he got past his fear and realized it wasn't productive to obsess over the 'what if's' and worst case scenarios, he could choose to have hope and focus on positive outcomes instead. 

Hecate hiding behind a stack of pull ups.

His hope wasn't unrealistic, either. He knew there could be a worst case scenario at the end of this, and he seemed prepared to face that if it came down to it. In fact, later on he came to me and said, "I just want her back home. Whether she's alive or dead. I just want to know one way or the other." He knew exactly what the worst case scenario was, and I was proud of him for facing it without letting it crumble him. I certainly wasn't handling it as well as him, at least not internally. On the outside I kept the brave face and positive attitude for him. Inside I was sure she was dead or being tortured or fallen down a well or some sinister neighbor had snatched her up to make a coat out of her. But that is my mom brain working. It's times like this I am thankful we don't have telepathy.  

Hecate as a baby cuddled up with the stuffed animals. 

We continued waiting, coming up with new reasons to have hope as each hour passed. 'Since it is daylight longer now maybe she doesn't know what time it is and she's waiting until dark'. 

When it got dark, we still waited. Periodically we went out and called for her. Around midnight I went out with a flashlight and walked up and down the nearby streets and called to her. Nothing. Ostara went out, seemingly to look for her sister. I let her. I figured if anyone could find Hecate it was her. Images of Milo and Otis and Old Yeller floated through my head. 

Hecate grooming her sister.

Ostara had been pacing and clearly anxious. She and her sister have never been apart for more than an hour or two. Ostara knew something was different, or wrong. My constant thought was that Hecate would never willingly leave Alex. She is highly attached to him. She looks for him when she can't see him, and calls for him at the door every morning until he wakes up. I couldn't imagine her leaving her favorite human.  

Hecate in kitty jail, at least that was the game she and Alex were playing as he built it around her. 

We stayed up until 1am waiting for her. Finally, exhausted  we went to bed, but we left the back door open for her in case she came home while we were sleeping. With Karma out in the main room I wasn't worried about someone coming in the house. We even joked that we would probably wake up to find all the neighborhood cats asleep in our house. 

Alex slept like a baby, maybe more so as a way to shut down for a while. I didn't sleep well. I was worried about Alex's cat and how he would handle this if she didn't come home. No parent wants their child to experience grief or loss, and I was sure I would be trying to comfort a bereft child in the near future because by midnight I was more sure we wouldn't see Hecate again than I was that we would.


I was back up at 5am, checking to see if Hecate had come in during the night. Ostara was sleeping in the sewing basket. She had come back while we were asleep. She climbed out of her basket, weary, like she had a huge weight on her. We both walked to the back door and stared out, sharing our worries in silence. Hecate had not returned. The sun was rising. The first day we had started without her since we brought them home as just weaned kittens a year ago. Ostara's first night and morning without her sister in her whole life. Only someone who has been through it can understand that emptiness you feel when you lose a loved pet. I imagine to others it all seems overly dramatic and silly. After all, there are wars and poverty and famine and disease in the world. 

Ostara in less anxious times with no worries (except maybe falling off this stool while asleep)

I started early, posting lost notices online, putting up pictures of Hecate and calling the animal shelter when they opened. She wasn't there. I'm not one to sit around when I'm worried. I need to DO something and that is how I cope. Next I drew up flyers and sent them to the printers. Then I called the printers to expedite the order. When Alex woke up, I had already accomplished quite a bit. We got dressed and started canvassing the neighborhood. The night before Alex had checked with the usual neighbors where Hecate plays, since they have kitties there she is friends with. So we spread out and knocked on doors all over. The neighborhood kids joined us  and helped in the search, calling for her, looking in between houses and the backyards of vacant homes, and knocking on doors with us. Between us we had quite a posse and it made the search go much faster. We could cover a street in no time with so many helpers.

Hecate watching Alex (he's behind the camera taking this pic)

We didn't find Hecate that morning, but I did learn that many people in our neighborhood have black cats. We counted 8 within just one block of our house. We also learned how lovely our neighbors are. Everyone was so nice, so helpful and so eager to learn as much about our cat as possible so they could keep an eye open for her. I learned we live in a very pet loving community. My immediate neighbors know us, and our animals, and we theirs, so if any were out past their usual times we call each other and let the other know we have their pet so they don't worry. I found out most streets here have the same system for keeping pets safe and getting them home. Lots of pets are escape artists, and without caring neighbors who know each other and their pets some might not make it back home with as much regularity. I was so thankful for being a part of this wonderful community.  

Hecate loves pretending she's Catzilla.

Our next step was to pick up the flyers at the printers. I left a note on our front door directing anyone who might find Hecate to use the side gate and go through the side garage door if they wanted to leave her. I left the side door unlocked for the neighbors, and the back door open in case she came back on her own. She always uses the back door, so if she was coming back that would be the door she would use. 

So Alex and I went off to the printers. Knowing almost all of our neighbors knew about our missing kitty, I asked Alex if he'd like to get something to eat and see a movie before we headed back home. He did. I was glad he agreed. I wanted to get his mind off of things (and mine, too) for a bit, before having to return to our gloom.

Hecate leaping down from the plant shelf and cabinet tops, her favorite lurking spot.

After the movie we came home and put up the flyers. Still no Hecate. It started getting dark again. Still no Hecate. 

I was in my room putting away laundry when I heard Alex say, "Hecate" in an almost whisper. I rushed out. Hecate was home. It was 9pm. 

Hecate saying hello to Karma.

We had moved the food bowl to the back door the day before hoping it would draw her home, and of course the door was still left open for her. Alex had heard someone drinking water but saw Ostara in front of him. When he turned there she was. Home again. 

She was very hungry and ate for about a half hour. She had been gone for a little over 30 hours and I have no idea whether she ate anything or not. Alex immediately picked her up and checked her over. She wasn't hurt and she didn't look any worse for the wear. 

Hecate (right) not appreciating being woken up for a photo shoot.

Alex was so happy. Our vigil was over. I was so relieved. We took the signs down the next morning and updated my posts online. Hecate ran to her sister and loved on her, licking the 'outside' world off of her. 

Of course we have no way of knowing what happened to Hecate during that time. The first night back she didn't speak at all. That was very unusual. She is a very vocal cat. The silence was noticeable. The next day she started using her voice again, but it sounded different. Hoarse, scratchy and quiet. It made me wonder if she had been calling for Alex the same way he had been calling for her. I can't imagine where she could have gone where she couldn't get back home. I made myself stop. It didn't matter. She was OK and alive. The rest would have to be a mystery. It is enough that she is home and Alex is happy. Yay!

Hecate sitting pretty. Alex took this and it's my favorite picture of her!

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