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Human/Animal Bond

The Great Escape
August 3, 2015 (published)
Laura Hedden, editor of VIN This Week


Lily. Photo by Laura Hedden

I’m not a morning person. Actually, that’s not quite fair to say. I’m just not a “jolted-from-sleep-at-6 a.m.-on-SUNDAY” morning person.

This particular Sunday was a beautiful, sunny morning. I woke up just enough to remember that it was Sunday and I didn’t have to get up yet and then I went right back to sleep.

“Babe!”

Sorry, it’s Sunday and it’s 6 A.M. One ‘babe’ is not going to cut it.

“BABE!”

This time the panic in Brad’s voice cut through my peaceful, drooling slumber.

Lifting my head from the soggy corner of my pillow, I managed to mutter “Huh? Wuh?”

“Lily got out!”

“What!?” I thought I must have heard wrong. My brain wasn’t even out of park yet.

“LILY GOT OUT!” He turned and hurried back down the hallway toward the front door.

Lily is our spoiled, pampered, indoor-only, possibly-a-substitute-for-a-human-child cat. She’s not allowed outside, but there are three semi-feral cats who live in our backyard and she is beyond desperate to get up close and personal with them. We’re not sure if she has lethal intentions or just wants to sniff their butts.

I wrestled with the covers for a few maddening seconds, finally managed to extricate myself, and staggered out of the bedroom into the hall. As I lurched down the hall, still barely upright and listing dangerously to port, my mind was racing with all the possible scenarios. Did we leave the patio door or a window open overnight and she ripped out the screen in pursuit of one of the other cats? Has she been practicing opening doors while we’re at work? Did someone break in while we were sleeping and let her out? Trying to navigate the right turn at the end of the hall with my sense of balance not yet fully engaged, I narrowly avoided crashing into the hall tree. Sounding like a dyslexic owl, I kept asking “How? How?”

Given the circumstances, Brad was understandably too flustered to answer at the moment. Together, we ran outside and started calling for Lily. She was nowhere in sight.

I went down the front walkway alongside the garage to the driveway, crossed the driveway, bent down to look under the cars - and suddenly remembered that I was not appropriately dressed for this mission.

My vision no longer clouded with sleep fuzz, I looked at Brad. He appeared to be wearing the smelly, oil smeared garage blanket he puts down when he’s working underneath a car as a robe. I also noticed that the outside garage door was raised up about two feet from the ground. Aha! Most likely this was the escape route, but I didn’t have time to worry about the whys and hows just yet.

I sent Brad back inside to put some actual clothes on while I tried to stay partially hidden by the cars in the driveway. I scanned the neighbors’ yards and continued calling to Lily. It seemed important that one of us stay outside in case she suddenly decided to obey a command from a lowly human and ‘come back here right this minute!’

Not surprisingly, she remained on the loose.

Once we were both more appropriately clothed, our search strategy consisted of frantically pacing from the front yard to the backyard, then back to the front again, repeatedly passing each other in the garage, calling our fugitive cat’s name.

We’ve had Lily barely a year and although she’s gotten out once before (three days after we brought her home!) the unfamiliar territory of the front yard slowed her down just enough for me to catch up to her quickly. Now that she was really on the loose, we weren’t sure how far away she would go or how long she’d stay gone. In the past 11 months we’ve learned that she’s not afraid of much, and that didn’t bode well for a swift return.

We checked underneath the small fishing boat leaning against the fence in the side yard.

We checked underneath Brad’s pickup truck parked in the opposite side yard.

We shined a flashlight under the car in the garage, behind the washer and dryer, up in the rafters where our camping equipment gathers dust.

No Lily.

The mesh grates leading to the space underneath the house were intact.

We would have beaten the bushes in the backyard, but the drought in California has reduced most of them to bundles of twigs unsuitable for concealing a full-grown house-cat.

She wasn’t in either of the neighbor’s yards, or under any of their cars, or up on either roof. I couldn’t imagine her going much farther than next door and didn’t even want to think about her crossing the street.

We searched the inside of our house just in case she decided to stroll back in while we searched outside, plunk herself down, and take a nap amidst the chaos, which would be so very Lily-like. No such luck.

Finally I resorted to the universally known cat-luring method of banging on a can of cat food with a spoon. Up and down the front sidewalk, in the garage, on the back patio - I banged away. I managed to attract the three semi-feral cats who were lounging in the backyard, but they were not able to clue me in to Lily’s current whereabouts.

Then it occurred to me that those cats were way too calm.

"Look, if she were back here I think these girls would be all over her," I told Brad, "checking her out. She can’t be here. She has to be out front!”

So we headed back to the front yard to start the search over, and shortly learn how wrong I was.

While we retraced our steps, I finally learned how this great escape had happened in the first place, and why Brad was using the greasy garage blanket for a robe.

He woke up thirsty at about 6 a.m. and went to the kitchen for a drink of water, wearing only his usual sleeping attire - his birthday suit. In the kitchen, he found Lily with her nose jammed in the gap at the bottom of the interior garage door. He didn’t think much of it at the moment. Sometime she does weird stuff.

Then he heard a faint, sad, meow and realized it hadn’t come from Lily, but from out in the garage.
While he’s working in the garage, he leaves the doors wide open and two of the three feral cats like to visit with him.

Certain he had accidentally locked one of them in the garage overnight - where there is no food, water, or litter box - he tore open the door and rushed out to release her.

Right away, but still far too late to avoid our present predicament, he realized that he had somehow forgotten to close the large, outer garage door all the way the night before, which was how the semi-feral kitty we call So-So managed to be inside the garage at 6 a.m.

Lily and So-So had probably been chatting through the door all night long and Lily was apparently ready for some face-time.

When Brad opened the interior door to rescue So-So, Lily was ready. She rocketed out the door into the garage, where So-So promptly turned tail and dashed beneath the outer door into the driveway. Lily was literally right on her tail.

Not being able to follow the cats through the two-foot gap at the bottom of the big garage door, Brad was forced to go back into the house and use the front door.

Not wanting to run around the front yard chasing cats in his sleeping attire, he was forced to grab whatever covering was handy on the way to the front door. This turned out to be the greasy garage blanket.

Opening the front door, he saw Lily and So-So streak across the front yard, around the tree in the middle of the grass, then make a beeline for the side yard.

Swaddled in the greasy garage blanket he shuffled out the door and commanded Lily to stop. As if. Both cats vanished over the fence and into the back yard at warp speed.

At that point he decided this was shaping up to be more than a one-man-in-a-blanket operation, so he came to wake me. He might be occasionally forgetful, but as a recently converted cat person he knows his cat-wrangling limits.

As it turns out I wasn’t any more effective at persuading Lily to come back inside. She was lost to the call of the wild; tempted away from her cozy, pampered indoor life by that remorseless killer of cats - curiosity.

Mystery solved. While I was sure it would amuse me more when I retold the story at the next family barbecue, it didn’t help me figure out where to look next. We were out of ideas since we’d already covered all the nearby options a few times over. I was about to set up camp in the front yard jingling her favorite toy, holding an open can of tuna in front of an oscillating fan, and wait her out.

Even though she’d only been out for about 20 minutes so far, I couldn’t help thinking of all the trouble she could be getting into or causing. I felt relieved and thankful that we listened to our veterinarian when she told us that vaccinations, as well as flea control and other preventives, are important even for strictly indoor cats. We never intended to ‘let’ her out, but these things happen and I was glad she at least had some protection.

I decided to make one more sweep and started at the side of the house. I peeked into the backyard through a small gap in the fence, staying quiet, thinking maybe Lily would show herself if she thought I had given up. As if she were lurking nearby, observing our frantic search and strategizing a way to remain free (at least until dinner time).

Looking down the side of the house, past the fishing boat, I could see one of the ferals, Penny, sunning herself in patch of dirt beside the old aluminum shed.

I heard a faint noise that sounded like someone leaned against one of the flimsy aluminum panels on the side of the shed. Penny turned and stared intently up toward the top of the shed.

It had to be Lily.

“She’s in the backyard! On top of the shed! Penny ratted her out!” I hollered to Brad. I hadn’t actually seen her yet, but I was sure it was her.

We scrambled to the backyard and scared the heck out of Penny and the other ferals as we came charging down the path.

And there was Lily, in all her fugitive glory, perched at the top of the shed. Her eyes were as big as silver dollars and her fur was standing up all over a la Albert Einstein, but not in a ‘I’m-terrified’ kind of way, more like a ‘Wow-what-a-rush!’ kind of way. She looked pretty pleased with her furry self. When she saw us she started meowing excitedly, telling us all about her unauthorized excursion.

Brad climbed up on an old end table next to the shed and stretched his arm as far as it would reach. Of course, Lily held back just about a quarter inch from his fingertips and went on meowing about her adventure. Finally she came within his reach and he was just barely able to scruff her and hand her down to me.

We hustled her back into the house and I could swear all three of those semi-feral cats shrugged and shook their heads at us as we passed. I held Lily tight while Brad went around shutting all the doors we’d left wide open in case she decided to come back on her own during the search.

Of course we scolded her, told her how worried we’d been, forbid her from ever scaring us like that again, and showered her with kisses before I put her down.

In true cat-fashion, she remains completely unapologetic.

1 Comment

Bobbi Mercouri
August 3, 2015

I could picture every movement. So funny and refreshing read. great article.



 
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