Where's Kitty? Missing the Family Cat
The writer's family grew attached to the cat with a big personality and now mourns her death
My cat disappeared.
I know that's a thing that happens. I've seen the posters on telephone poles and lampposts with a picture of a cute pet who went missing.
I couldn't have imagined the sorrow behind those signs until it happened to me.
Why did Kitty go? Where did she go? Would she come back home?
Kitty came into our life in the most unexpected way. Born in the wilds of Colorado, she was adopted by our younger daughter, Daniela. When Daniela came East to live with us for grad school, she had one pressing question: Could she bring Kitty?
In my heart, I knew she was gone — there was no way Kitty would abandon us unless she had met a terrible fate.
Our previous cat (who never really liked me) had died a few years earlier, and frankly my wife and I enjoyed the litter-box-free life. But how could we say no? So, we bought Kitty a plane ticket and a tranquilizer.
When Kitty entered our home, she hid out for a few days, then figured, well, I guess this is where I'll be living now. And she took over. She was a 12-pound orange tabby with soulful eyes and, we came to see, a very big personality.
She made herself at home in every corner of our house and enjoyed hanging with her people. In some ways, I'd say she was a dog-like cat: loyal, affectionate, drooling on us while she cuddled, grooming us with her sandpapery tongue.
She was proof that you can't define an animal by its species.
Daniela moved out after two years. Kitty stayed.
The Search for Kitty
Kitty was probably in her mid-teens when she vanished. Jumping up on the sofa was no longer easy for her. But she still stalked our backyard rabbits. And occasionally caught one. (Yes, she was an outdoor cat. Don't judge us – Kitty could not have lived a life confined in a house.)
One Saturday in March, Kitty sunned herself on our back porch. She didn't come in as she usually did that night. And she was nowhere to be found the next morning.
In my heart, I knew she was gone – there's no way Kitty would abandon us unless she had met a terrible fate. Yet I kept looking at the door to the back porch, thinking I'd see her little face peering inside as if to say, "Hey you, LET ME IN ALREADY!"
I posted the news of her disappearance on our town listserv. Neighbors offered advice. We decided not to hire a pet detective (who even knew there was such a thing?). Nor did we call animal shelters in case someone picked her up and turned her in (because she disappeared over a weekend, the odds of a shelter pickup seemed highly unlikely).
We combed our yard and neighboring yards. A friend suggested we put Kitty's dry cat food in a container and walk around the block, shaking it. Which we did.
No sign of Kitty.
Grieving Her Loss
As the days went by, my wife and I would break into tears unexpectedly -- at the sight of Kitty's water dish, her favorite spot on the sofa, her orange hair on one of our black sweaters.
I feel our cat's presence in every nook of our home. I even find myself talking to her.
I felt as if I had let Kitty down – what if she were still alive and injured or sick?
After 10 days, our next-door neighbor rang our doorbell. She had found our pet in a corner of her garage. As dying animals sometimes do, Kitty looked for a quiet, secluded corner to spend her final moments.
We considered various options about what to do with dear Kitty's body. Cremation? Pet cemetery? Once you start Googling "what to do with a deceased pet" you come up with some … surprising … possibilities. Like: Can I be buried with my pet?
We decided to do a backyard interment. We went for the cardboard box coffin (a recycled Amazon box, if you must know) and wrapped Kitty in a towel. Daniela came; her boyfriend and our nephew, too. We dug a hole and lay Kitty to rest in the backyard she grew to love during her seven years in Maryland. And said a little prayer.
She Knew We Needed Her
"Pets really are the heart of the family," a colleague at work told me. And she was right.
I feel our cat's presence in every nook of our home. I even find myself talking to her. During this year of pandemic isolation, Kitty provided comfort and joy by offering her love and companionship. It seems as if she knew we needed her more than ever.
In the last weeks of Kitty's life, she'd come into our bedroom at odd hours (4 a.m.!) and meow over and over. Usually the message was: I need food. Or water. Or: I wanna go out.
But sometimes, it was a mystery. I figured that she knew people make sounds to communicate. She was clearly trying to tell us something. She just hadn't mastered the vocabulary.
My wife and I are still in mourning. But when I look out back and see Kitty's final resting place, I feel a sense of calm, knowing she is at peace.
Then "Jeopardy" comes on and we sit on the couch to watch. And I can't help but look around and wonder, "Where's Kitty?"