Friday, June 03, 2005

The Case of the Voluntary Cat

On the same day the world found out about Mark Felt, our cat Phoebe who had been lost for roughly two months returned unexpectedly. We first got Phoebe from the animal shelter about six months ago. A few weeks later, she apparently followed some passerbys right out of our neighborhood and disappeared. My daughter was distraught. She photoshopped several missing cat signs and had me help her staple them to all the telephone poles near our block. Every few days she pushed my wife to drive her to various animal shelters to see if someone might have found her. Two months passed and we became so certain that we’d seen the last of Phoebe laying on the green chair with the hole in the bottom, that we even got a new kitten from the shelter, Luna.

One day, our veterinarian left a message on our answering machine. “We may have found your cat,” they told us.
When you claim an animal from the shelter these days, they stick an identification chip between its fur and neck. If someone brings the animal in, the vet can use a device similar to a supermarket scanner and retrieve the necessary information to contact the owner. I’m not sure about the moral implications of all this, but it meant that the vet could say that the black and white cat was definitely our black and white cat. There was just one problem, the 81 year old woman who had found Phoebe didn’t want to give her back. The vet had to call her three times to negotiate the return of the cat.

The lady lived a little less than a mile from us and apparently loved to take in stray cats. She had sixteen of them. She had renamed our cat “Patches” because of the two black continents on her white fur, and had decided that Patches was a special cat out of all the many cats she had taken in over the years. She sent us a five page handwritten letter explaining that special connection before she returned Phoebe to hour house. A few days later, she appeared at our front door because she wanted to visit with “Patches”. She even brought along a peice of string that she told us Patches loved to play with. In other words, one day I found myself with an 81 year old woman in my living room who had come to specifically visit our cat and call her by the alternate name she had chosen for the animal. It was one of those life moments that are both touching and strange all at once to see how strong this woman's feelings wer for our cat as she petted the animal and chased away tears at the same time.

Two weeks later, Phoebe disappeared again. The first place we checked was with the woman who loved Patches so much. She was a little indignant that we would even suggest that she wouldn’t call us if the cat had reappeared at her door. A little girl on the same street then told my wife that a cat matching the description had been coming to her door and eating. There’s an open space on that block that fronts a public school. Apparently it’s a haven for stray cats. We came back to check with the little girl a couple times, but she informed us that the cat with black spots had stopped coming by. Honestly, we wondered if the old woman had simply taken our cat in a second time. Once again, we decided to assume that Phoebe had left for good.

Two months later, which means that since we got Phoebe she had spent more time away from us than with us, I was in my regular Tuesday night basketball game which happens to be at the public school just below Phoebe’s alternate address. I stepped out of the multi-room, we play on the astro-turfed floor of the school’s multi-purpose room, to find one of the guys petting a white and black cat.
“Oh my god, I think that’s my cat,” I said.

“You think it’s your cat?”

“Well she ran off and it’s been a while.”

It’s more than little embarrassing to admit that you can’t recognize your own cat, but you have to understand that my wife and daughter have a habit of rescuing cats from shelters. I’m not sure they believed me, but ultimately someone let me use the cellphone to call my wife and daughter. Actually, he called and talked on the cellphone while I held the animal which I may or not have been my cat. This was the dilemma. I ride my bicycle to my basketball game. I would have had to carry the cat in one hand and push my bike with the other, walk home, appear at the door, and tell my wife...
“Gee, I’m so excited, I found the cat.”

“Dear, are you crazy? That’s not our cat, where did you find that thing?”

Cats don't do especially well in cars, even I knew that they do less well on bicycles. I think because they don't have the opposable thumbs necessary to shift gears and few bicylce seats are designed to accomodate tails. I have seen a number of chimpanzees ride bicycles and occasionally circus people train dogs to ride them as well. With the Ed Sullivan show a memory for less than half of America, I doubt that anyone is training this generation of cats to ride bicycles. Also, cats no longer have owners trying to pose them like that "Hang in There" poster.

I also had decided to keep playing basketball that night. We did the only thing that made sense. We locked the cat in the teachers’ work room adjoining the basketball court and I finished the game. Eventually, my wife drove up and I brought the cat to her. Immediately, she said, “Phoebe, where have you been all this time? You’ve lost so much weight.”

I’m not sure why Phoebe the cat decided to appear to me, of all members of the family, once again in the parking lot in front of my basketball game. It amazes me that she apparently had chosen to live more or less feral in an open space less than a mile from our house all this time. the first night she hopped right on to her favorite green chair. The second night she slipped onto our bed to go to sleep as if she never forgot that she lived with us. I normally hate finding the cats in our bed, but for some reason this made me feel good. Otherwise, I might have obsessed, Howard Hughes like, about all the strange fleas and parasites this semi-wild cat must have been sharing with us. A few days later, my wife left the door open and Phoebe wandered out once again only to reappear at our front door several minutes later. Perhaps one day, she’ll take off again for good. Perhaps she'll stay for the rest of her life. Cats, apparently, can survive perfectly well without humans. Occasionally, they just choose to hang out with us.

In the meantime, I’m left to contemplate this semi-miracle of our high tech stray cat that refuses to stay either lost or found. I ask my wife if maybe we should turn Phoebe over to the lady who wants to call her Patches and feeds her string. My wife says “Absolutely not. Phoebe is our cat for as long as she wants to be our cat.”

I wonder what her next adventure will be. Perhaps she takes off, becase as a shelter cat she never developed a sense of home. Perhaps, she has some form of cat schizophrenia. Perhaps, she's simply a free spirit that took cat form. I will admit this. It's the first time I've ever considered the possibility that cats might actually be interesting.



At 6/06/2005 03:07:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite the saga re your /string lady's/pasture's cat. Of course cats are the quintessence of creation. I always feel not unhappily lesser when I'm around cats because so obviously their maserati design (whether by darwin or some exquisitely intelligent pagan deity) comes after & up Le Ladder from clunky us. One can imagine, as a thought experiment, the big cranky Christian god fellow inventing dogs. But cats!? clearly a pagan act.

At 6/06/2005 05:01:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I know the Eygptians thought quite highly of cats, which is why we tried a pyramid shaped cat box for a while.

There is something called the Book of Kells....a version of the gospel illustrated with cats.


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