This post is neither here nor there. It simply needed to be written. I think I’ve been deliberately not writing it, desperately hoping that if I just waited a little longer, the outcome would be different. More Disney, than reality. And although I’m a cynic and relish a a bubble being burst every now and then, I’m also a romantic and could have used a prerequisite happy ending this month.
Five weeks ago, our cat disappeared. And it’s safe to say he’s not coming back. More specifically, it’s safe to say he’s dead.
And as heartwarming as it is to hear encouragement from the eternal optimists who say, “I’m not giving up hope,” and “you never know, animals wander away for all kinds of reasons and end up coming back,” I know better. Because I know my cat, and I know the context in which he disappeared. His name was Mose (aka Kitty Mose or Mose Kitty) and he was a ridiculously bitchin’ cat.
The myth of the “Lost Cat”
For those who don’t share their lives with cats, and are more accustomed to dogs getting loose, getting lost and being found; cats are a little different, particularly when they’re indoor-outdoor cats, which ours was.
Cats don’t get lost. They roam. They wander. They hunt. They get hunted. They get stolen. They get poisoned by Audubon Society fanatics. They pass away. They go missing. But they don’t get lost.
Which is why it’s so bizarre to report your cat missing and have it labeled as “Lost Cat.” He ain’t lost, folks. And I didn’t lose him. Something happened to him. And after over three years of roaming our property, using the dog door as he pleases, sleeping in our beds, snoozing in our laps, stealing roast chicken off our counters, cuddling with our dogs, slaughtering wooded creatures in our 3-season room and manipulating me into letting him in’n’out and in’n’out at all hours of the day and night, he’s not going to suddenly forget which way is home.
I should mention here that I have zero interest in delving into the debate over indoor-only vs. indoor/outdoor cats. I’m aware of all the pros and cons, and I don’t believe that one is healthier or better or safer or more humane than the other. And I certainly don’t believe that all would be well right now “if only I’d kept him inside.” I’ve lived with cats my whole life and you never really know what might spell the end of one cat versus another.
All you can do is make decisions based on the individual animal in question and based on the context in which they will be living and provide them the highest quality of care within your power. And yes, our cat was neutered, microchipped, fully vaccinated and given monthly preventatives.
Our last cat–the original Kitty–we’d had for nine years, eight of which he spent as an indoor-outdoor cat roaming the canals of Venice, California; the tree-laden suburbs of Ann Arbor; the alleyways off Manchester Blvd near LAX; and the lush greenery of Chelsea, Michigan. And ya know what took him down in the end? Congenital heart failure. He died in our home, in the middle of the night, right in front of me on our kitchen floor, after receiving a clean bill of health from the vet just a couple of months before. That’s life.
The Original “Kitty”
Living with small tigers
It’s funny to think about that cat in light of this situation because our first Kitty did disappear for a time when he was younger. We didn’t start letting him go outdoors until he was around a year old, and a few months after that he took off for 8 days. My husband was devastated and assumed he was gone. But based on his age, how recently he started going outdoors and my experience with cats growing up, I expected he’d be back. And he was. Popped right back in through the dog door in the middle of the night, whining for food, and unscathed. That’s how cats roll. And that’s why I love having them in my life.
Cats inhabit that elusive and wistful space between the domestic and the wild that is likely what propels so many of us humans into the desert on “vision quests” or into the wilderness to live “off the grid” in hopes of escaping the comfort and conformity offered by four walls, a working washer and dryer and a nearby Starbucks. Or at the very least, maybe that’s why so many of us occasionally get drunk or high and go running naked through the streets. Sometimes it’s a real bummer to be so hopelessly domesticated.
As Temple Grandin often likes to remind us, today’s “housecat is a lot closer to a wild cat than a dog is to a wolf.”
Cats and dogs living together
Kitty Mose came into our lives two months after our previous cat passed away. I went to the humane society specifically looking for an adult cat who might be less likely to be adopted, and who would thrive (NOT just survive) living in a home with four active dogs.
While most of the other cats at the shelter remained wary and aloof when I approached, this scrawny black cat with cruddy eyes and patchy tail lolled about in his cage, pressing his head against the bars and reaching his paws out to grab whatever walked by, chattering up a storm as though engaged in conversation. We took him into the visitation room where he immediately climbed all over us, lounged in our laps, purred up a storm and trotted off to the window periodically to watch with keen interest as rowdy shelter dogs bounded down the hallway. At which point we said, “Yeah, we’ll take this one.”
Since I’d only had the experience of introducing dogs into a home with a cat, and not the other way around, I assumed I’d have to spend several days letting Mose get comfortable in his own room in the house and then gradually introduce him to each of the dogs. Yeah, that was totally unnecessary. After saying hello to each of the dogs individually through a dog gate, he promptly hopped the gate, galloped around the house unconcerned with the four canines following him and parked himself in the corner of the couch, where shortly after he was butt-to-butt with Buster, our youngest dog.
Mose and Buster frequently went to the vet for check-ups together, where Mose happily played with Buster’s tail while waiting for the doctor.
Lover, Terrorist and Pit Bull Soulmate
Most of our friends and family are familiar with the many faces of Mose Kitty. There was the Lover, who routinely sought out any warm body in the house–human or dog–and made himself as comfortable as possible, whether it was comfortable for you or not.
We often found him lounging with the two other black animals in the house, and used those opportunities to accuse him of racism.
There was also the Terrorist, who made a habit of dragging his prey in through the dog door and using our 3-season room as a kill room and chamber of death. If you’ve ever watched episodes of Dexter, the only things missing in our episodes were the knives, plastic drop cloths and a killer who cleaned up his own mess afterwords. I’ve always loved the idea of maintaining a small rabbit sanctuary on our property. Mose squelched that silly fantasy years ago.
And then there was Peaches’ Soulmate. Okay, so there were two reasons we decided to adopt a new cat: 1) We love having a cat around, and 2) We have a little female “pit bull” with a Glenn Close style cat obsession. And Mose was the lucky beau who fit that bill for Peaches. Peaches was madly in love with our last cat too, but Mose was a considerably more willing participant in her feline-focused inclinations.
Cruel Twist of Fate
After Mose failed to reappear after a few days, I reported him missing with the microchip company, the local humane societies and nearby vet offices and pet stores. I also handed out detailed color posters to all our neighbors with bordering and nearby properties and to our mail carrier (who, bless her heart, keeps leaving hand written messages with our mail, asking about him and mentioning other neighbors who have black cats). I combed our 10-acre property repeatedly for several weeks and got permission to wander around neighboring properties as well.
Three weeks after he disappeared, I got a call from a woman living four miles away from us (with several lakes and major recreation areas in between) who said she’d seen my poster at the pet store and had a little black cat who’d been hanging around her house for the last two weeks. I called her back, ignored her mention of him running away every time she tried to say hello to him (Mose would never do that), and drove to her home at NASCAR speed, absolutely convinced that I was about to be reunited with my cat.
After 30 minutes of wandering around a stranger’s home and property, desperately calling Mose and tapping a can of wet food (either of which would have sent him running towards me from hundreds of yards away), I went back inside, wondering if this was my cat they’d seen. Sure enough, once I stayed inside and quiet for a couple of minutes, a little black cat who looked almost identical to him crept around the front walkway. I looked through the window, said his name and called him, and the cat looked right at me and bolted. No way on Earth that was our cat. In the brief moment I saw him, it was also obvious that the coat was a couple of shades lighter than his and the eyes were a touch different. That didn’t stop me from waiting for another 15 minutes in the hopes of seeing him one more time just to be sure.
I profusely thanked the woman for calling me and for caring, left her some wet food for the other cat, got back in my car, pulled out of her driveway, and sobbed uncontrollably as I drove back home.
I grew up with lots of pets, lots of cats, all of whom have long since died either naturally or because they met an early death from cancer, cars, cat fights or coyotes. So it’s hard to figure out why the loss of this particular cat has affected me as much as it has. And I think it has to do with control, and with closure.
When a pet dies or is euthanized, however painful or gut-wrenching the experience may be, you at least get some sense of closure through your knowledge of that animal’s death. There is, on the other hand, something profoundly unsettling about not knowing what happened to one of your animals, and having to accept the fact that you’ll probably never know. I am a worrier and a control freak. And I’ve found this experience of not knowing to be remarkably unbearable.
Given where we lived and his long history of successfully navigating our property for years, never leaving for more than several hours at a time, it’s hard to imagine he would suddenly fall victim to a coyote or willingly choose another home over ours.
Which leaves two likely outcomes: 1) He met his end while out and about either naturally or through a fatal bout with another cat or wild animal, or 2) there was human intervention. And by human intervention I mean he was either wounded or killed by someone out of spite or for sport; or some clueless, bleeding-heart loony toon forced him indoors and now has him in their home because they saw a poor little kitty who they didn’t think should be outside . . . never mind their obligation to take him to the vet to scan for a microchip or check with the humane society first.
Heartworm in Cats
Mose was one of two Heartworm-positive cats at the shelter when we went in to adopt. I was familiar with heartworm in dogs, but had no idea what it meant for cats. As it turns out, heartworm in cats is not necessarily the health catastrophe and death sentence that it is in dogs. But it’s also incurable in cats, so the only way to beat it is for the worm to die and for the cat to survive that event. You can have them surgically removed, but that’s a pretty risky move itself.
At the time of adoption, the shelter told me he would have a shorter lifespan and that I couldn’t give him heartworm preventatives, neither of which is entirely accurate, although can be the case in certain scenarios. I consulted with a cardiologist who specialized in heartworm in cats and who showed me the one or two adult worms that showed up on the echocardiogram. I asked him a ton of questions and here’s the gist of what he told me:
- Living with heartworm is most likely not affecting his physical comfort or quality of life.
- You do not have to keep a heartworm-positive cat calm and indoors. Their activity level will not affect what happens with the worms.
- The life span of a heartworm in a cat is 3-4 years (much less than the 5-7 years in dogs), mostly because cats are a far less hospitable host for them.
- The danger of heartworms in cats is when the worm finally dies. It will pass through the lungs, which are incredibly sensitive in cats and most likely cause its immune system to attack itself. At which point every cat’s reaction is different. Some survive, or can survive if brought to a vet during an attack, while some don’t make it.
- Keeping him indoors only or letting him going outside is not going to impact what happens with the heartworm one way or the other.
- And since there did not appear to be any baby worms present, just an adult (maybe two), it was okay to put him on preventatives to keep him from contracting additional worms.
In an attempt to gain some minute peace of mind, and since this is around the time when one of those heartworms would have died, I’ve chosen to believe that he did in fact pass a worm while roaming around somewhere and didn’t survive the experience. I don’t know for sure if that’s what happened, but it’s what I’m choosing to believe.
The Magic of Mose
Once we brought Mose home and I realized that, 1) all he wanted to do was go run around outside with the dogs and hunt critters, and 2) that he might not live more than another 3-4 years, I decided there was no way I was going to force him to be an indoor cat. And even now, I’m glad I made that decision.
Most people were never sure how to pronounce Mose’s name, and thought it was weird. For the record, Mose (sounds like “hose”) is named after Dwight’s weird and rarely seen cousin, Mose who lives on his beet farm with him in the tv show, The Office. My husband and I are pretty big television addicts and have a habit of naming animals after characters in comedy series. Our oldest dog, Charlie Murphy, got his name from the Rick James bits on the Chappelle Show.
Mose purred, played and napped while undergoing vet examinations. He preferred to drink water from drinking glasses placed around the kitchen counter. He was obsessive about roast chicken, and frequently stormed the kitchen to steal it while I was trying to stuff it in Kongs for the dogs. He ate twice as much food as our previous cat and yet was 3-4 lbs. smaller. He clawed the shit out of our couch corners, and I totally didn’t care.
He’d lick his butt on clean placemats I’d just put on the kitchen table. He loved to attack the dogs from underneath the couch. He’d go for walks on our back property with us, running and exploring with the dogs along the way. He’d come running from whatever corner of the yard he happened to be in when he heard you call him. He left multiple dead chipmunks in our home, and knew exactly which window to go sit under and cry when he wanted in, depending on what time of the day or night it was.
And he had this incredible habit of climbing onto your chest, nuzzling your face and purring right before you were ready to get up from the chair you were sitting in. I think it’s gonna be a while before we adopt another cat. Because he really was something else.
p.s. For those friends and family who know that we moved recently and are wondering if the two events are connected, they are not. Mose disappeared more than a week before we had moved or changed a single thing in our home or routine. We’d only just decided to move the day before he went missing.