The last few years I have gone to some trouble to take my cat, a big yellow tom named Mr. Chitters, with me to the Cabin. When he came to live with me, he was already well over 11 lbs and I thought he was full grown. Today he is closer to 20lbs (an extra pound or two this winter due to our wretched cold temperatures keeping him indoors.) Though declawed as a kitten (NOT my doing!!) he was already an outdoor kitty and a highly successful hunter by the time I got him. He loves to go for walks (like a dog) so after my first trip with him I let him out of his carrier and carried him to the trail head where I set him down and began the hike to the Cabin. He often disappears briefly off the trail so I learned to be patient and keep walking and calling him to come along. Once at the Cabin he settles in fairly quickly. Sounds easy right?
Last summer, things were a little different. My arrival at the camp was a little earlier in the day than usual and kids were hooting and hollering all over the place. The swimming area was in full swing and youngsters were dashing back and forth from the camp buildings to the shore. As a result, I carried Chitters a little farther than usual down the trail before releasing him. Actually, I would have carried him even further, but he was a bit freaked out and squirmed away, taking off up the hill. Believing that he would follow me as he had on previous trips, I walked on down the trail, calling him, forcing myself to keep going and not feed his fear with any panic on my part. I got halfway and still hadn’t heard or seen him behind me, so I dropped my backpack on the trail and headed back toward the camp.
I spent the rest of that evening walking back and forth on that trail, convinced that he was holed up somewhere close by and would eventually meow a response to my constant calling. My friend who has a cabin several miles up the highway, came to help me look for awhile. Every trip I brought another load of gear back to the cabin from my car so that by the end of the next day I only had a couple of large water jugs and some tile for a flooring project to haul by boat. I stayed for the whole ten day vacation, walking all the trails between camp and Cabin at least once every single day, rain or shine. Most days I went out at dawn and again after the camp had settled down for the night. I tried to think like a cat, finding likely hiding spots and then planting myself there for awhile to call and listen. By the time it was time to go back to Anchorage, I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
The very next weekend I was back. I was armed with a can of cat treats to shake and signs to tape up on my car window and anywhere that I thought the camp director wouldn’t object. I began expanding my search into the camp itself, walking the network of dirt roads between the residential area, the recreational buildings and the bunkhouses.
Back at home, I haunted the shelters and posted repeatedly on Craigslist. I made up a poster with several photos and contact information and distributed it around the camp in person during my next weekend trip. I knocked on doors throughout the residential area of the community and taped the poster to any that didn’t answer. Two people thought they might have seen him, but their descriptions were iffy. Still I went back to Anchorage Sunday afternoon with a feeling of real hope.
That night at 11:30pm I got a call. “I just saw your cat. Do you want me to try to call him?” Jubilation! Her name was Carrie and she wasn’t able to catch him, but I thanked her for trying and got information from her on where she lived and where he had been spotted. Thursday couldn’t come soon enough! I packed my car Wednesday night, went to a meeting after work and left from there to make the drive back to the camp. It was 10pm when I left Anchorage and the sun was just setting. As I got into the mountains, the rain began and quickly became a torrent. When I pulled into the camp road, the sound of the rain on my car deafened me to all other sounds. It was close to midnight and I couldn’t go shouting over the rain in a residential neighborhood, so I decided to sleep in my car in a gravel lot near Carrie’s house. By sunrise (about 4:30am) the rain had mostly stopped and I was up, tiptoeing around the neighborhood, calling softly and plinking the pull-tab on a can of cat food. Nothing. I walked the length of the camp road – about a mile – and bushwacked through some empty property behind Carrie’s house, getting well and truly soaked by the wet grass. When I finally felt it was an acceptable hour to knock, I went to her door and introduced myself. She stepped out and pointed to where she had seen him. “I know he’s eating, because my outdoor cat’s food is disappearing!” I got her permission to poke around the property. A pile of lumber and tires covered by a blue tarp was the first thing I checked. Still plinking the cat food can, I lifted the tarp and called “Chitters?” A little mew and a nose pressed against my hand.
I can’t describe the feeling. Relief? Yes of course. That and so much more. Who knew a little creature could inspire so much effort and emotion? I knocked on Carrie’s door one last time with Chitters squirming in my arms, thanked her profusely for her help, and left for home. I never even went to my Cabin which meant that the cat carrier I had left up there wasn’t in my car. I broke a personal rule, driving all the way home with him on my lap, in my arms, meowing and purring by turns.
This summer, I am taking him in the old-fashioned way, in his carrier every step!