Don’t get me wrong, I like cats. No, love cats! When I was 5, I thought I was one.
Be that as it may, I have recently encountered one that made me absolutely insane. Hear me out. This shit gets real.
Drew‘s sister, Avery, came to visit two weeks before we moved from Washington state. She brought with her her friend’s mother’s cat. We’ll call the mother Maria and the cat Stacy (I don’t know if they want their names revealed, so I’m playing it safe). Maria and her cat were moving in with Maria’s boyfriend in Washington. Maria wouldn’t be arriving for a few weeks and her boyfriend hadn’t moved to a place where he could have cats yet. We said we could catsit in the meantime. We technically couldn’t have cats either, but we were almost out of there. And I love cats. So, no big deal, right? She’d be a welcomed companion!
Stacy was sweet, soft, pretty, stealthy, and not at all food motivated.
She didn’t eat at first. She managed to get in the back of a dresser. We found her after searching and had to wiggle her out as she had no interest in moving or interacting with us. We found her wedged between the drawer under the stove and the side of the stove. Twice. This cat was a contortionist… or had shrinking powers. Again, she was disinterested in moving or interacting with us. It took us a while to get her out of there. Each time, we had to resort to grabbing her by the scruff to get her out. She would not be coaxed. We kept her in the bathroom for a day or so to see if she’d relax. She hid at first, then would walk around. When she jumped at trying to get out, we let her.
Finally, she decided to warm up to us and jumped on Drew and my bed at around 5AM the next morning. I loved this and petted her. Drew hated it because he had to work in the morning and eventually put her in the living room with Avery.
The next morning, we didn’t see her. I wasn’t worried at this point as I knew she just wasn’t terribly social and was probably hiding somewhere. By the afternoon, we looked. She appeared to be… nowhere.
We ransacked our home looking in every nook and cranny. We made the apartment a mess searching but we kept looking. Then, we decided to try to pack more so there were fewer things she could hide in or around. We checked cabinets and behind appliances. We checked for holes. We checked everything we could.
That morning, before all this, Avery and I had left the house. We hadn’t seen her and found it highly unlikely that she would have left (she’d never been outside), but we started to get scared. We searched around the apartment outside. We looked in bushes, under cars, in random places I’d seen other cats hide. Nothing.
We called it quits for the night and hoped that wherever she was hiding, she’d come out and jump on the bed again at night. I really thought she would. We agreed that we’d put her in the bathroom again where we could definitely find her. But, she didn’t jump on the bed.
She hadn’t eaten much while we’d seen her, now we wondered even more what she might eat and if she would find food or just… die. We started to panic a bit and kept searching. Eventually, we were at a point where we knew we needed to call Maria. We did. That sucked.
Stacy was going to be picked up the next day and we had been planning to leave for a long weekend to see one of the greatest monuments to nature, Olympic National Park. Stacy couldn’t be picked up as she was missing and that vacation was off. We had to find her. Other than packing, our days were mostly colored by searching for this fancy, ocicat (apparently she was made by breeding an ocelot with a Siamese cat, giving her that cute, quiet meow that would prove to be a pain) that probably cost a bigillion dollars and Maria was in love with. It was the first time I began to really resent a cat. But I worried too.
We printed signs. I submitted notifications to the human society and like organizations. We widened our search.
There were so many places to hide being that our landlord kept a graveyard for old cars. I scooted on my belly under each that I could and tried to figure out if she’d jumped up into one of them.
We kept searching more bushes and hiding spots and so forth. I was losing hope.
We bought expensive organic tuna and fancy treats. The strays nearby seemed to like it. What if one of them had hurt her?
After exhausting everywhere we could look in our apartment, we started leaving the window open, sure she must’ve gotten outside, hoping she’d come back in. We left food on the window sill.
At the end of day 4 (I think), we were reading Who Was…? books with Avery when we heard a rustle. Avery and I went out to look. The first two times, we saw nothing but the bag of food knocked over.
The third time, there was no doubt. A tiny body and ringed tail had jumped up into… somewhere. Then, a head peaked down. It was her.
We looked to where we’d seen her and there, up above the ceiling where the top of the window hid (we lived in a very confusing basement apartment), was a small hole that none of us had found. And by small, I mean we could fit our hand and a cell phone in there and that’s it. We tried to coax her with food and love and kind words. She would not come.
That’s when the arguments began, disrupting our domestic bliss.
I wanted to take the long road. I wanted to leave the food and we could stay on watch, going in shifts throughout the night, until she came back down, and then we’d get her and bring her to the bathroom where she could stay until someone came and got her. Avery and Drew wanted to get her RIGHTNOW.
We looked for her with our phones shining their light, using the video app so we could see since our fat, human heads couldn’t get close to fitting in order to see. She was way back in what seemed like a crawlspace? For cats or rodents? Certainly not humans. We tried a little more with the food and the love, but she wasn’t interested, despite obviously being hungry.
If we weren’t going to stay on watch, I wanted to take down the ceiling tiles. Drew did not. We lived in an apartment, we were not supposed to have a cat there in the first place, and we’d be compromising our deposit by damaging the unit. I argued that if we wanted to get her out RIGHTNOW then we needed to take down the tiles because we simply couldn’t reach her. And obviously, we agreed, we couldn’t put the deposit over the cat. Drew tried unscrewing an old heater vent to look in that way. It was a good idea, but it didn’t lead to her. We perhaps could have tried coaxing her out if we’d had a flexible stick (glow rods maybe?) or something long enough to reach in the small hole we’d seen her in, but we didn’t have that.
Finally, we did take the tiles down, but they were glued to wood panels that we could barely get our hands through. We broke some tiles (they were cheap, not-wood tiles; I said I could glue them back together and could paint them). But, despite the boards, I could reach her. She came over and sniffed my hands. I pet her for a while and tried to get her to come over by herself, but eventually I tried to grab her scruff to pull her down. There were too many things she could grab onto. I was so scared I was hurting her but I almost got her. Then, she got away.
Using part of a curtain rod, we coaxed her over to the opening where Drew was waiting. He reached in and the cat let him pet her. I guided him to get his hand positioned in case he needed to grab her. He pet her for a little while but she wouldn’t come down and he got her scruff and tried to bring her down. She would not relent. He tried, but she prized her freedom over her beautiful coat and Drew just ended up with nothing but some fur in his hand.
She had disappeared. Again. Into the blackness of the back of that space. We didn’t know where, but we couldn’t see her anymore even with the light of the phone. There was clearly another exit.
At this point, Drew was frustrated and angry and I was upset. I started to cry. I was so scared that we’d hurt her. And we hadn’t even gotten her to make her safe again.
We suspected she’d jumped into The Garage.
The Garage was so called by us because it was a creepy place and it was not a place we were supposed to be. The fact that we had the combination to the lock was only because the landlord had asked us to switch the breakers at some point and the breaker boxes were in a room within The Garage. Fortunately, we had it typed into some notes. Drew did not like going in there one bit. I didn’t either, but what were we to do?
We went in. There was one light which we flipped on. We had our cell phone lights. Everything was filthy. There was an old Volkswagen bug parked there, rusty and broken tools, boards, and other unidentified crap. Overhanging the car was a ledge and two feet protruded. They were not people’s feet (praise goodness!). They were more like shoes connected to bars, presumably so that someone could help themselves walk. We searched around, mewing, and finding nothing. I climbed onto the car to see up between the joists. I did not find her, but I found 3 inch fish hooks and spider webs dangling between.
Drew really wanted to leave, scared we would get shot or arrested and I was doing something dangerous, climbing all over the place (he worries; he loves me). Because I was overwhelmed with all the places she could be, I went back to the apartment with Drew and Avery. Poor Avery: she kept mostly quiet and calm and looked where she could without really compromising her safety or getting in the way. She’s quite perceptive.
We sat in the bedroom. I thought we should go back in and keep searching. Drew did not. He did not want to go in The Garage at all. I asked how we were supposed to find her. Drew wanted another way. So, in a state of mental and emotional agony, we thought.
If she got through the hole, light would too. I announced that I was going back into The Garage and Drew could shine his cell phone light through the original hole we’d seen her head pop out of. Then, I’d be able to tell where the hole was and get a better idea of where we could search.
In The Garage, I saw a light flashing. It wasn’t exactly in The Garage… it was in this other room connected to The Garage. I wasn’t sure how to get there, but if there was hope, it would be by going through the room with the breaker boxes. I went exploring, Avery following, but not wanting to go into another creepy room. In the back of the breaker room and as I hoped, there was a door. I hoped against hope that we could go through that door. We had to get this cat. She just didn’t seem the kind of cat that could survive in the wild. And we were so close.
The door had an odd mechanism for opening it, but it was not locked. I went inside.
In this other room, there we haphazardly thrown about, aged medical equipment including a rusted wheel chair, crutches, and a large hospital bed mattress draping over what could have once been a walkway. There was no path into the room. Beyond the medical stuff, there was a ton of furniture stacked everywhere. This was clearly the room of a hoarder who could levitate.
Avery had followed and I told her to go tell Drew. Drew could hear me. The hole was pretty big. Way bigger than the one from our apartment. But this other room was also big. And completely full of stuff a cat could hide in. I began to climb to get toward the hole she would have jumped through. Over the mattress, onto a few feet of floor, then onto the unsteady furniture, until I was high enough that I could see through the hole and put my eyes on Drew’s cell phone. He could see me as well through the video app. The fact that we’d been able to hear each other was concerning. What other tenants could hear us?
There was no going back now. I explained the situation to Drew. I had to look. There was just… so… much. I had Avery’s cell phone light. I started by climbing down from the furniture and looking around. There was this Sweeny Todd-like oven thing. Rusty, bulbous, and intimidating. Under it’s base was open around the lower piping and I felt around, terrified of getting bitten by something as I couldn’t see all the way into it. I felt nothing. I was partly disappointed and partly relieved.
She was not visible on that side. I announced that I was going to climb back up and search on the other side of the furniture wall. So I did, shining the light between cabinets and coffee tables and chairs and night stands.
“Did you find her?” “There is so much here; I’m still looking.” “Be careful.” “I’m trying.”
I decided to climb further down on that side. Just as I was going to, I took a moment and looked around to see if there was a clue.
There, on top of the great drum of the Sweeny Todd oven, in the center, was a cat, sitting up straight like she’d always been queen of this crumbling abyss, presiding over her Helldom with claw and tooth.
I froze. “I see her. I’m looking right at her.”
I slowly reached out one hand. She sniffed it. For all that this cat was antisocial, she seemed to have a weird, inconsistent sort of trust for people anyway (maybe she smelled tuna on my hand from earlier). Or perhaps, as she seemed to be mistress of this territory, she felt safe somehow. Maybe she knew how to turn on that old metal beast she sat upon?
Whatever the case, I let her sniff me and then she let me pet her. I stood there, balanced on a partially standing set of drawers, just petting her for a long time. Then, I set the phone down and picked her up gently. At first, she seemed fine, but then quickly showed displeasure. I got some nice crimson slashes out of that. But I refused to let go. She was coming back with me and she was going home to her mom as soon as Maria made it to Washington and that was simply how it was going to be.
Climbing down with a thrashing cat, a phone, on unstable furniture was not a thing that would be easy. I held on tight and asked for Avery. I told her I knew that it was bad but that she wouldn’t get hurt and I really needed her to climb over the mattress and get close enough to me to take Stacy so I could climb down and then I’d take her again.
Avery gathered her bravery and did it without question. I handed down the little creature who’d been such trouble, climbed down, and took her back, claws stabbing into my chest.
I whispered to her that it would be OK, that this was almost over, that she would be safe.
We made it back to the apartment and I immediately put her into her cat carrier. We gave her food and water, but that’s where we agreed she would live until Maria’s boyfriend could come pick her up the next day. I asked that we put the carrier on the floor next to me as I laid on the bed. I really wanted to keep seeing her and know that she was there.
I would be on that bed for quite a while. She wasn’t happy about being in her carrier or in this situation, but I kept whispering to her that it’d be OK and she’d be so happy once she saw her mom again. That I was sorry she’d been through all this but it’d be fine.
Someone carried her away at some point, Drew called Maria to let her know we’d found Stacy and that she was fine. I don’t know at what point I fell asleep. The three of us might have talked longer, or I may have vacillated in and out of consciousness. At some point, I was asleep.
I woke up and remembered. She was there with us, safe. Tremendous relief flooded me again. Maria’s boyfriend came and got her and she was no longer our responsibility. I would get a wave of relief every morning and at random times in the day for several days more.
I repeated, “I’m so glad we found her.”
Avery would say, “I know.”