As a longtime indoor-cat mom, my worst fear is one of my cats escaping outside. It’s something I’ve always been paranoid about – my front vestibule is called “the kitty airlock,” and I watch visitors like a hawk when they open the back patio door to make sure no feline slips out.
About a month ago, my nightmare scenario became an awful reality.
When I was forced to leave my house with my three year-old tabby Sophie following an exterminator visit, street construction noise caused her to panic and throw herself repeatedly against the sides of her carrier. She literally broke the plastic door hinge, and it popped open. She immediately took off like an elite parkour athlete. I watched her dash down the street, darting into people’s open doors, through houses under renovation, onto balconies, and most horrifyingly, along narrow window ledges. I immediately dropped everything I was carrying and went after her, but I simply couldn’t catch up, and she disappeared. A neighbour came out to help, bringing cat treats as an enticement. Construction workers stared at me like I was an alien.
I was utterly devastated, filled with guilt that I’d failed her. I’ve had cats before, but Sophie and I have a special bond. She’s offered steadfast companionship and affection over the last year, always by my side as I’ve made my way through a difficult personal transition. And I’d let this happen to her. Many tears were shed.
I won’t keep you in suspense. Early one morning, Sophie sauntered in the door I’d been keeping open, after four days of outdoor adventuring – more likely four days of hiding, terrified, tucked away in some nook under a nearby neighbour’s deck or shed. More sobbing ensued as Sophie stared at me, looking perfectly fine, if a tad confused at my outburst.
The experience was a surreal and harrowing one, but it did spark several intense epiphanies that I can’t stop thinking about, and that’s really what compelled me to write this post.
Community of Caring
Over the course of the ordeal, I experienced the most unbelievable support from friends, family, and acquaintances. People brought food and drink – and reminded me to consume it, since I had no appetite. They went out searching nearby streets and alleys – early in the morning, in the scorching midday heat, and even taking a bus to my place at 3:00am, when a local vet said people tend to have the most luck finding missing cats. They made posters and put them up, talked to strangers and neighbours and shopkeepers. They brought flowers, hugged me tight, and rubbed my back while I cried. They slept on my couch so I wouldn’t wake up alone. People who couldn’t be with me in person sent heartfelt messages, checking in on and encouraging me, expressing their sadness at my loss, sharing their own stories of cats lost and found, telling me they’d be there if they were closer. They reminded me it wasn’t my fault, even though I felt I’d utterly failed a creature I love with an intensity that’s hard to describe.
The outpouring of support floored me, and I was and am so grateful. People I knew only casually stepped up to help in ways I never would have imagined. Their warmth and caring and hands-on efforts were the silver lining that helped me get through the devastation of losing Sophie. I am incredibly lucky to have these people in my life. Not everyone does, and I will try to never take it for granted.
To say I’m a worrier is an understatement of immense proportions. Anyone who knows me reasonably well would probably describe me as an anxious control freak. I worry about logistics, minute details, things I can’t control. Little things, mostly. But a lot of little things.
In the middle of the ordeal I felt two giant hands reach down and grab my shoulders. Although I was alone in the house, there was also a voice. And it said something like this:
Stop worrying about all this stuff! It’s not important and things will work out somehow. You’re wasting so much energy. Life is short!
The experience was a wake-up call, reminding me that I invest way too much energy in worrying about the little things, and that it sucks time and energy away from what’s really important. I knew this already, of course, but this was such a visceral experience, and it shook me.
Now that Sophie’s back, I’m trying to hold onto what she taught me by disappearing for four days. While I hope never to repeat the experience, the lessons learned will stay with me forever.
Appreciate my friends and family more. Talk to my neighbours more. Sweat the small stuff less. Yes.
Alley cat reveals a hiding spot
Early-morning alley adventures
Sophie comes home
Sophie with her poster