M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Saturday, January 01, 2005  

Phantom Come Home

Before this past Monday night, I’d never brought three cats to the vet’s office at the same time before. It’s not something I’ll be doing again if I can avoid it. To say it didn’t turn out well would be an understatement. In fact, that last sentence was an understatement. I could go on like that all day and not run out of understatements.

Once we got into the examination room, Phantom and Turtle gamely came out of their carrier to explore, and then wrestle with each other. Strat, on the other hand, after a year of blood-glucose tests and the loss of Orca, was so reluctant to come out of his box that we had to take the top off. And then, whenever possible, he curled up in the bottom half with his back to us as if he were actually enclosed. When they were all done and I opened the door to the kittens’ carrier, he darted into it. I rolled my eyes and said, “Fine,” and the vet and her assistant helped me put the other carrier back together and get Phantom and Turtle inside it. Turtle, of course, was sticking her paw out through the gap around the gate and through the small hole made by a missing panel in the top, trying to scratch everyone. She did get the vet tech while the assistant was shutting the gate. It was chaos. I put my gloves on before I picked the carriers up, so as not to get slashed and bleed out on the cats. I checked out, paid, got them all loaded into the car, and drove home.

I was walking from the car to the front door of our house with both carriers when one of the doors popped open. It was the one the vet tech had closed while Turtle tried to take off one of her fingers. In the excitement, I had failed to double-check that it was properly secured. But for now, all I knew was that for a split second, Phantom was out on the driveway. And then she was bolting across the front yard and around the other side of the house.

I put Strat and Turtle down at the front stoop (making sure Turtle was locked in tight this time), went in pursuit of Phantom, and called Trash on my cell phone to tell her to come out of the house and bring in the other two cats. Phantom was out in the open, in the middle of the back yard. Then she dashed behind our detached garage. I tried to follow, crashing through the underbrush in the narrow space between our garage and the neighbors’ fence. I could hear the dry leaves between the other neighbors’ garages rustle as Phantom sprinted through them, and then I couldn’t. I fumbled in the darkness through the bushes clogging the nonexistent alley, all the way to the end of the block. There was no sign of her.

This is a cat who, during her first week or so of living with us, could completely vanish from sight in our basement for as long as 24 hours. I didn’t think much of my chances of finding her outside, in the dark, in unfamiliar territory. And there was no snow on the ground, so she wasn’t leaving tracks. I wished for a flashlight. I would have called Trash to bring me one, but I figured that by the time she got her coat and shoes on and made her way to where I was, it would be just as quick to run back to the house and get it myself. As we learned over the next few days, it really wouldn’t have made much difference either way, even with a burglar-braining Maglite. Phantom was gone.

We were in a nightmare. We were in hell. We’d just lost our second cat in as many months. She’d only lived with us for a matter of weeks; would she find her way home? Did she even know where home was? Or would she take it into her fuzzy little head to try and Incredible Journey back to her old barn in Prior Lake, some thirty miles away?

Making things worse, and yet also somehow better, was the fact that we had old friends visiting from out of town. I haven’t seen them more than once or twice since they moved to New Mexico several years ago. They were in town with their two daughters, a four-year-old and an infant who just happens to have been born on the same day as M. Tiny (although full-term). This was not how we had planned to spend the evening of their visit.

Trash and one of our friends helped me look all over the neighborhood, while our other friend stayed in the house with her kids and M. Tiny. We came up with nothing, except a glimpse of a neighbor’s Siamese. They went inside. We opened cans of tuna and put one each in the front and the back of the house. After a while, I came inside too and sat and talked to our friends and tried to be charming and host-like while Trash changed M. Tiny’s diaper and I tried not to think of Phantom crossing Highway 494.

They left not long after that. At around 11:00, I was at a nearby Kinko’s printing up a bunch of lost cat posters (complete with color photo) when Trash called my cell phone. I could hear M. Tiny crying in the background.

“She’s here!” Trash told me. Phantom had just been eating the tuna in the back yard.

“Go get her!” I snapped.

Trash explained that she had tried to call to our kitty from the back door, but that only spooked her and she had disappeared behind the garage again. And she couldn’t very well leave the kid alone in the house. “Get home,” she told me.

I did. I confined my next search to a smaller area, now that I knew that Phantom was still in the neighborhood, but I came up empty again. She returned to the back yard once more at 2:30 a.m., and again vanished as soon as I stepped outside.

Strat has escaped any number of times. But when we find him, the search is over. “It’s a fair cop; I’ll go quietly” is his attitude every time we catch up with him. Sometimes he’ll even meow to let us know where he is, as with the time I found him up a tree at one in the morning. He’s even spent a night or two outside, but at six o’clock he was back on the front step whining to come in. I didn’t know how to retrieve a cat who disappeared into the bushes as soon as she saw a human. If this were Gilligan’s Island, I could fashion a trap out of bamboo shoots and palm fronds. But it’s residential Minneapolis in winter, and I have the mechanical aptitude of a yak. There was only one upside.

“She’s not going anywhere,” I told Trash. “To her, here equals tuna. If she were a stray, this would be home base for her by now. She’ll keep coming back, and eventually we’ll catch her. Somehow.”

We went to bed. I got up to feed M. Tiny and stare out the back window at 5:30, and didn’t go back to sleep. When the sun came up I went out and had another look, microwaved the now-frosty tuna and put it back out for the fourth time, and spent an hour or so putting the posters up around the neighborhood and slipping copies into every mailbox on the block before going to work.

Trash and I spent the day at our respective jobs, trying to come to terms with the prospect of having three cats: two indoor ones, and one that lived outside somewhere, allowing us an occasional glimpse of her and getting fat on our tuna. We dreaded telling Trash’s sister Lisa and the Vet-Friend: “Thanks for the cats, guys. Sorry we lost one.”

But if we hadn’t told them what had happened, we might not have gotten Phantom back.

More on that later.

Today’s best search phrase: Yeah, I’ve had enough searching for a little while.

posted by M. Giant 8:24 PM 5 comments


So, I take it you got her back?

By Blogger rayvyn2k, at January 1, 2005 at 9:41 PM  

Eagerly awaiting the conclusion of Phantom: The Return!

By Blogger sisyphus75, at January 2, 2005 at 12:48 PM  

Hey, don't freak out too much. I have a whole slew of kitties (there's five; we call them the Kitty Minions), and our senior lady cat is a mad keen escapologist. Schrodinger would have trouble with this cat. But she always gets home safe and in one piece, despite the fact that we live in a patch of Queensland, Aust. that is riddled with big snakes, spiders, huge whopping ass owls and little shits with air guns.

Cats have their own gods to watch over them. Mostly, it's because people ones aren't good enough.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 2, 2005 at 2:17 PM  

Damn you and your cliffhangers!

I'm dying to find out if you went with my first guess, which is using a live trap containing tuna.

- JeniMull

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 2, 2005 at 2:29 PM  

Oh Discordia! I know you were in hell...the Middle Kitty got out on moving day, which also happened to be Halloween, and there were a very tense 36 hours while the Rottie belonging to the roommates kept trying to show me where MK was, thus scaring him so bad I couldn't get him to come to me.

Glad to know the kitty's OK, even if you did torment us with the cliffhanger, best to the Velcrometer/M. Giant famiglia.

By Blogger parcequilfaut, at January 2, 2005 at 11:49 PM  

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