Sunday, February 27, 2022

I lost my cat and it was the longest three days of my life.

San Francisco has an earthquake problem.

You already know this.  The thing you might not know, unless you live on a fault line, is that most earthquakes go unnoticed.  There's plenty of loud ones that shake the walls or roll the streets, but many more little ones that cause paintings to end up very slightly askew.

A recent earthquake shifted our door frame infinitesimally and created a major problem, which is that the latch on our front door became loose and would pop open every time the elevator for our floor came to our level. 

This was only a mild annoyance at first, but the situation quickly got worse.  You see, we have a corner unit.  This is great because we don't share any walls with anyone.  One side of the unit is the balcony that overlooks the street, and on the other side, where our one neighbor should be, there's a hallway that leads outside.  This side entrance has two doors, an exterior and an interior one, and both lock.  Secure, right?  

Not when the neighbors keep propping open the doors.

This brings me to the story of the day.  On Thursday night, our front door popped open, and we woke Friday to discover our front door very slightly ajar and the cat missing.

Our cat, Mabel Syrup, is probably best described as "pathetic."  An 8-year-old indoor cat with a perchance for excessive, anxious grooming, Mabel is very pretty but not very smart.  We found her as a kitten, when she was no bigger than a soda can, and until the move, she'd lived her whole life in the same house.

 She is not what you might call "street-smart."  Or smart at all, really.

Now she was lost in an unfamiliar environment, and I had no idea where she was or when she'd be back.

If you've ever lost a pet you know just how terrifying it is not knowing what's become of them.

We immediately went on a full search worthy of "Gone Girl."  (A movie, and a book, that would have been objectively better if there were a cat instead of a bunch of boring, shallow, problematic human characters.)

I printed up about 50 fliers and determined a reasonable search radius, praying that Mabel wasn't trying to pull a Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey on us.  Information on the internet varies, but Mabel, being a spayed, middle-aged cat with a milquetoast personality seemed like she wouldn't venture further than a 3-mile radius.  Just to be sure, I drew up a map of a 4-mile radius, which included the Rose Garden, a place I was sure a cat might be interested in visiting due to the wildlife and the running water in the fountains.

Mabel loves wildlife, by which I mean indoor wildlife.

I spent the morning on Friday panicking and trudging my way around the neighborhood, putting up a flier on every corner until I ran out of tape.  I covered over ten miles in concentric circles.  I shook bowls of food and called for her; I put out notices on every platform I could find, including NextDoor, and called up Oakland Animal Services, visiting the shelter to drop off a dossier.

This is the photo we used for the posters.

Mabel became the Grand Lake neighborhood Most Wanted.

The calls rolled in.  Someone saw a cat here, someone saw a cat there.  Some of the alerts were for cats who looked nothing like her.  Others looked worrying like her.  Over the weekend I got two different calls about dead cats that I had to go check; neither was her.  Every call prompted a desperate feeling of hope and then, when the cat turned out not to be Mabel, a crushing disappointment.

Because of the excessive efforts to find her, everyone in the area became invested in the story.  

"Have you found her?  Is this her?"  I heard these questions over a dozen times.  Every call was like a 911 call that had me grabbing my jacket and racing to go see if I could nab her, only to discover it was never her to begin with.

The house felt empty.  Having lost Carlisle and Seamus in the last two years, we were down to our last dog.  Mabel had helped it feel less empty, but with her missing, we were suddenly very aware of how few pets we had compared to our previous zoo.

We also lost Winibelle the rabbit in 2019, who was one of Mabel's best friends.

Then, finally, a match!

Someone called us to inform us that there was a cat hiding under their porch that had been there over two days and seemed distressed.  They had been sliding food and water under the deck but the cat wasn't eating, just crying occasionally.

I went down to discover that this was indeed Mabel.  

Home at last!

Before we had moved, I had made sure to get Mabel and Ruby new tags on their collars that would be easily read, but the tag hadn't mattered in the end.  It was the posters that did it.  

How far had Mabel ventured?  About 400 feet, only three lots down from our building.  She hadn't ever made it to the Rose Garden.  Her Incredible Journal had terminated within calling distance, but Mabel, lacking agency and not being the brightest crayon in the shed, had opted to just give herself up to death once faced with the inhospitable elements of California in the spring.

I dragged Mabel out, filled with relief, and took her home.  I then went on a trek to pull down all the fliers and to update all of the notices.  Mabel's return was met with delight from the neighborhood, but overlooked by my building's super, who called me Sunday night to inform me, with joy, that she'd found my cat in the laundry room.  She even sent a picture of a cat that matched Mabel's description almost perfectly.

Confused, I went up to the laundry room to retrieve the second cat.  Wedged into a crevice and crying pitifully, the cat was a dead ringer for Mabel, although easily twice her size, and male.  He had no collar.  We dubbed him Chonkers and brought him up, putting up a few "found" posters, which confused everyone who had invested themselves emotionally in the Mabel Saga.

Tony's Home For Wayward Mabel Doppelgangers was short-lived.  We had Chonkers for about two days before we discovered a Lost poster for him.  His name was Banzo, a Brazilian slang term for the lazy feeling one gets after eating a lot, which suited him about as much as "Chonkers."

Chonkers was picked up by his owner and, finally, all cats were home.  

From this story I learned two things.  
First, the absolute necessity of "Lost" posters for animals.  If you are a pet owner, do yourself a favor and make a poster now instead of trying to create one when you're in a state of panic over the lost animal.  Make sure you have a current picture to put on it.  Both Banzo's owner and I used color photos, which was instrumental in having people call us to return our pets.
Second, having endured three days as a "one pet" household (no offense to our many tanks of lizards), we realized we're probably ready to begin the process of getting a new dog or cat.  We were prepared and even eager to keep Banzo if no one claimed him.  Nothing can replace Seamus, but there's room in our hearts for a new family member, and a lot of dogs out there need homes.  We're in no rush but sooner rather than later, I think we'll start looking.
It's a shame we didn't get to keep Chonkers/Banzo, since Mabel and Ruby had just started to like him.

As for the building, we put in a service request and had our door fixed to prevent this from happening again, and I personally whipped out a screwdriver Tommy Pickles-style and removed the door stop from the side entrance so that people would stop propping it open.

For the folks who "hosted" Mabel under their deck for two-and-a-half days, I made good on the poster's promise of a reward, and dropped off a bottle of Dubonnet.

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