Just where do they go?
This is a question that perplexes many a cat lover when their furry loved ones go missing. Are they ill? Have they been hurt in an accident? Or, horrifically, stolen for their fur?
Or, if they have actually decided to leave of their own volition, then why? Is it me? Is it them? Was it the cat food? Or was it just because I refused them that second saucer of roast chicken?
The questions gnaw at your brain like rats. Did I really not serve them in the manner they expected? Did I not satisfy their every need and whim? Pet and stroke and cuddle them, and did they not purr? Did they not roll over and purr their perfect pleasure at being happy at home? Was their wish not my command? Did I not love them, worship them, adore them?
And yet, and yet – moggie has done a runner. Why?
These are the guilty questions that scamper like mice through owners’ minds as they stand lonely in the garden at midnight calling cat names to the owls and the moon, rattling boxes of biscuits, offering any bribe they can, if only little Tiddles, Tiger or Little Tommy Truculent would just come back home!
One November afternoon, three months after we had collected our two new female rescue cats Honey and Bumble from Cats Protection, one went AWOL. It had to be Bumble, the semi-longhaired black cat who had form – a history of wandering with his former owner – and who would boldly go where no cat of ours had gone before. (Bumble actually behaves so much like the boldest of aggressive toms that we even call her ‘he’ – but that’s another story!)
I had refused him more cat food in the afternoon, gone upstairs to work, and when I came downstairs again at around 4pm, there was no sign. He didn’t come back that evening either.
What to do? Our other cat, Honey, is far more timid and quiet. Having suffered the noise and stress of a police raid (her previous owner was a drug dealer), she was very traumatised when she came to us, hiding away for two days under the stairs. Therefore, no worries about her going missing. We knew she had never been outside at all in her previous home anyway, so why should she now?
So I took the cover off the cat flap. I had been trying to teach our cats to use it for a month without success, but I thought if Bumble does come back during the night, at least he can get back in and not think that somehow we have rejected him. No worries with timid little Honey Cat going through it and wandering off. The best laid plans...
Two days later, Honey went missing too, off in the night through the cat flap she had previously refused to use! Now, both cats were gone. Oh how I cursed myself that I had left the cover off the cat flap that night, that I had not fed Bumble more food when he demanded, that I had not got round to putting collars and ID tags on our new cats, though they were both micro-chipped.
The house suddenly seemed very empty as my guilt echoed through its rooms.
What to do? Well, I printed off some leaflets I designed on my laptop, with details and photos of the cats plus our phone number and delivered them to surrounding houses. Nothing. So I delivered more leaflets.
Then a phone call – from someone who thought she might have seen Honey (a pretty torti-tabby cross) near the main road. I delivered more leaflets in that specific area.
The next day, another phone call: a local lady had seen a cat fitting Honey’s description sitting on a wooden post on the waste-ground bordering her garden, and happily sunning herself. Bizarrely, this lady also owned an old cat called Honey with very similar colouring to our younger version, also from Cats Protection (Relative? Mother? Grandmama?) I paid a visit – no sign of any cats anywhere.
However, there was now hope – where before there had nearly been no hope. At least someone had seen her.
Then, one day, Bumble sauntered into the kitchen and miaowed. He had been away for precisely two weeks, almost to the hour. He looked well fed, in fact rather too much so – I think he had actually put on weight, though with semi-longhaired cats the puff-ball fluff can make it hard to tell. Of course, his healthy plumpity did not stop him enjoying a very large saucer of roast chicken...
So, one cat back, one to go. It was reassuring to get the phone call about the sighting of Honey, and that she seemed well-fed, healthy and happy. Maybe she was one of those dark horse cats? Maybe she wasn’t so timid after all and preferred the wild wandering life? Maybe she had found a better home than the one we could provide?
And then, one perishing cold November evening, when I was preparing dinner in the kitchen, a persistent yowling miaow came from outside the back door. I opened it and in ran Honey, looking well, and sniffing around for food. I stroked her fur. It was sticky. I smelt the stickiness. Chocolate! Evidence surely of children’s sticky fingers someone out there in another home unknown?
Who knows where they had been? Perhaps Honey and Bumble had been in separate homes shut in against their will, and then escaped? Or perhaps they just wandered into someone else’s home and, as they were offered food and cuddles, thought ‘why not stay for a bit?’ Perhaps the leaflets had worked and their new ‘owners’ had seen they were much loved at another home, so pushed them out the door with instructions to return whence they came?
Who knows? And in a way, who cares? Honey and Bumble certainly don’t, and they’re saying nothing! The person who had called me saw a cat resembling Honey’s description after we had her back home, and not let out, so maybe that sighting was a false trail after all – she is probably not the only pretty torti-tabby in the neighbourhood.
Anyway, all’s well that ends well, and Honey and Bumble – now with collars and tags – haven’t gone missing again, (though their collars have...) though we keep the cat flap cover on at all times now.
I used this experience and the line ‘missing, presumed fed’ in my book A Cat Called Dog – a gag later praised by no less than David Nobbs (writer of Reggie Perrin) as ‘brilliant!’ in an email he sent to me.
I think it does rather sum up the situation with absent cats – the fact is, they are almost always fine, warm and purring in someone else’s home. Some may even have two on the go, getting second helpings at another address from someone else who thinks their cat has gone missing whenever they’re with you!
The thing is, despite all the worry this causes you, all those sleepless nights when the gravest fears enter your guilty heart, all those dread scenarios that play over and over in your fretful head, missing cats almost always come back.
And when they do eventually amble nonchalantly through your door and squeak a miaow to announce their presence, they will then give you that look – the one that says:
‘What on earth are you getting hysterical about, oh miaow-less member of the inferior two-legs species? I am a cat. Therefore, I was never lost and knew where I was all the time. Now, about that second saucer of roast chicken...’
Jem Vanston is the author of the cat lovers’ novel A Cat Called Dog.