Peter Chianca: When your cat goes astray

Peter Chianca More Content Now

We are horrible cat owners. I say that because we routinely go against the American Humane Association’s explicit instructions not to let our cats go outside. If Betty White came to our house and whupped us within an inch of our lives, we would deserve it.

I know it’s a myth that indoor cats are depressed being stuck inside, but you have to admit the outdoor cats seem so HAPPY out there -- romping and climbing and making friends with little moles and chipmunks, whom they then assassinate and leave on the porch.

Now, you may remember our cat Autumn, whom I’ve mentioned before in this space for her unlikely friendship with one of our golden retrievers, Sally. Her preferred sleeping spot is perched on Sally’s head, but during the summer Autumn enjoys the sunlit lounging afforded by our backyard, so that’s where she spends most of her time.

At least until about a month ago, when we found the yard conspicuously empty. And then she didn’t come home that night. And then the next. And so on until days became a week, then two, then three.

“Where is my Autumn?” my wife, Theresa, would ask, presumably hypothetically. And my son Tim, 13 and a realist, would respond, “Autumn is dead, Mom.” Tim is not a big believer in sugar-coating.

Soon my daughter Jackie, 15 and not quite as much of a realist as Timmy, had to get on board with his assessment. “Autumn is not coming back,” she said, sugar-coating a little, but not much.

Personally, I held out hope until we got a call from a neighbor asking if we’d seen THEIR cat, who was also missing. Clearly something that didn’t like cats -- or that liked them too much, as in for dinner -- was prowling the neighborhood. In my mind, Autumn’s odds of returning were strictly in long-shot territory after that.

The saddest part of having your cat disappear, of course, is that there’s no closure -- you can’t shake the nagging feeling that she’s out there, somewhere. For instance, maybe she accidentally stowed away on a tractor trailer to the Midwest and is currently making her way slowly home, like the cast of “Homeward Bound.” That’s a lot more attractive a concept than what I mentioned previously about dinner.

My wife was the one hit hardest by Autumn’s disappearance. It felt weird to type without something furry and drooly between her and the keyboard. She had no one to call “My sister!” when her little calico head popped up next to the bed. And as Autumn had been our only cat chill enough to stake out a regular space on the mattress, satisfying naps became next to impossible.

As for me, I couldn’t help but miss that yowl she’d let out when she spotted me through the glass from the front porch, where she’d wait every day after her early-morning sojourn. It was my job to feed her, and over this past month I’d missed not having a job.

Which is why I thought I must be imagining things last week when I got stopped in my tracks a few steps past the front door by a loud, unmistakable yowl.

I scooted back and sure enough, there she was. And not only that, but she looked better than ever -- if cats could look tan and well-rested, that’s how Autum looked that morning, a month since we’d last seen her. I shouted to Theresa to get downstairs.


As you might imagine, Autumn’s return caused quite a hubbub: Theresa scooped her up and cried, Jackie marveled incredulously from the top of the stairs, and I got all up in Tim’s grill and said, “Autumn is alive! IN YOUR FACE!” Which in retrospect was probably not the best way to express that sentiment, parenting-wise, but it was an emotional moment.

So that afternoon, Theresa finally got a decent nap, Tim and Jackie learned why you should keep hope alive, and I started my campaign to stop letting our cats out in the yard, no matter how much they yowl.

I think Betty White would back me up on that, not to mention the moles.

A version of this column was posted on Pete’s Pop Culture, Parenting & Pets Blog at Follow Peter Chianca on Twitter at @pchianca.