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I was dead asleep in the middle of an extra-warm summer night in 2010. My husband ran up the stairs hollering, "Sweetie, we have a problem!" I bolted upright, thinking our house was on fire. "The painters took the screen off the window in your office and never put it back," he said. "Gracie, Oscar, and Petey are all missing!"
I couldn’t believe it. I’ve had cats for nearly 30 years, and I’ve kept them inside, protected from speeding cars, predatory animals, and the elements. I’ve dreamed our cats have escaped — running out the door behind me, or squeezing through a window — but those were just dreams. This was a nightmare, yet very real: Our precious pets had disappeared into the dark San Francisco night.
My husband and I immediately called emergency vets to see whether any cats had been brought in for care. We made signs on my computer and walked our neighborhood hours before sunrise, calling and looking for our kitties. Within an hour, we’d found our tuxedo cat Petey, scared but OK, in our backyard. The next night, a friend who runs an animal rescue group helped us locate our orange tabby, Oscar, who was underneath a pickup truck parked in front of our house. Oscar was dirty and petrified but OK. (Sammie, our elderly, grey tabby, hadn’t left — maybe he knew he would not survive long without his daily insulin injection.)
Still missing was Gracie — our quirky, funny, and friendly FIV-positive kitty. We had adopted Gracie from a friend three years earlier and quickly fell in love with her. It broke our hearts to think she was in danger or maybe even dead. We live a block away from a busy boulevard, and the thought of her tiny gray form crossing the street brought tears to my eyes. I knew that even a careful driver would have a hard time seeing her in the dark.
Grief and worry powered our search. Though I was recovering from minor surgery, we gathered with friends and family each day and evening to look for Gracie. We posted signs on telephone poles several blocks in each direction. We talked to neighbors, searched abandoned yards and houses, and called her name until we were hoarse and tired beyond belief. But we wouldn’t stop looking for Gracie until we knew she was either OK or gone forever.
One of the hardest parts was the daily visit to the animal shelter. I had to look through the dead cat book, a binder containing photos and descriptions of cats found dead and whose owners could not be located. I also looked through cage after cage of lost and abandoned animals. If I had to work late, my husband went in my place. We couldn’t take a chance Gracie was at the shelter and we didn’t know about it. On top of the grief I was already feeling, seeing these animals was overwhelming. I have never cried as much as I did while visiting the shelter.
Five days after Gracie disappeared I had my 47th birthday. I couldn’t bear to celebrate while our girl was missing. Instead of going out for dinner or having friends over, we made more signs and hit the streets once again looking for our lost kitty. This is what we did, every day, for two weeks.
By that time, hope of finding our little girl dimmed. If Gracie had been deprived of water for that long, she would surely be dead. If she hadn’t had food she might be alive but in very bad condition. Not knowing what had happened to her was torture. I tried to picture her happy in someone else’s home where she was getting food and love on a regular basis, but I knew that was just as likely as her being stuck in a sewer, trapped in a garage, or attacked by a larger cat or dog. Also, I just plain missed our little cat. She’s a wonderful companion, snuggly and sweet natured. There was a big hole in our lives while Gracie was gone.
Then early one morning, Gracie returned.
I was in our upstairs bathroom putting on my makeup before work, and I heard yowling. I went to the back window and heard the sound again but saw nothing. Meanwhile, my husband was returning from working a graveyard shift. I ran downstairs in my pajamas and asked him to open the back door to investigate the noise. As soon as he did, Gracie ran into the house and right up to her food dish, where she gobbled down wet food. We stood over her, marveling at her surprise return. Tears streamed down my face — tears of relief, and joy, and delight at seeing our little cat again. Once she had finished eating I picked her up and examined her for injuries but found nothing except a patch of fur missing from her neck. Her collar was also missing, and she had a few fleas. Otherwise she was OK. We took her to the vet, who confirmed that Gracie was fine after her big adventure. Then we had her microchipped.
The joy of having our Gracie home put a smile on my face for weeks, and Gracie was happy to see us, too. She followed us around for the next few days, never letting us out of her sight. We took picture after picture of her, fawning over her and ensuring her comfort at every turn. We will always wonder where she was for that awful two weeks, but she isn’t telling. She remains a funny and bright little cat, and we are grateful every minute to have her home.
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