“Christmas can never go by without my remembering a certain little cat.“–The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot
This was the photo–the last one I ever took of our kitty, Chatpeau–which I posted in the online photography class I’m taking about “Impermanence”. The subject of the day was “loss” and a lot of us had photos of beloved pets. There were many consoling comments to my photo and soft words of comfort about how we will be forever connected to our cat. I knew I’d always remember this Christmas because of her…
I got a call from Don, while I was running errands in town yesterday. I had to pull off the road, sobbing, when he said he’d walked through the woods to the house next door, after being asked to check on something for the absent neighbor, and thought he heard a cat meowing in their garage. When he searched inside, their was evidence of old cat poop and urine, but no cat, and all was silent. He called our vet to see if a cat could live this long, in shelter from the bitter cold, but without food and water, and no one there really knew. Don told me he thought that, dreadfully, it may have been the crying out of an animal in its death throes.
When I got home, I bundled up against the eight degree temperature, prepared to sit on the stairs to the attic in their garage, until dark, listening and calling out for her. Don went with me and said that the food had not been touched, but as we talked, we heard the faint cry of a cat. I would talk, then be silent, and he would follow the quiet sound of her reply. We thought we had isolated the noise to one area, and that maybe if he tore out two wooden steps, we’d find her trapped behind them. He rushed home to call the homeowner for permission and to get tools. I sat on the stairs and began to sing to her, like I did when we found her and her brother as tiny kittens, left on our doorstep. She began to howl and it seemed she was getting closer. I went outside, to see if I could hear her through the outside wall, and when I came back in, I caught the glimpse of a black tail at the top of the stairs, and heard her eating the dry cat food Don had placed on the floor. It’s a mystery where she came from. I slowly slowly made my way up the steps, talking softly to her, and kept my distance when she saw me. When I heard Don again outside, I clutched her tiny, skinny body in my arms, and trudged us through the snowy woods for a homecoming in our warm garage with her brother, and food, and more importantly, a bowl of water. She drank and drank, and ate and ate, and the kitties rubbed against one another like they always had.
They are outdoor cats with cozy wool bedding over heating pads in a heated garage. But, I had to let her in when she came to the door, and she spent several hours cuddling and telling me all about her ordeal, trapped for nearly a month without food and water. Her brother came in for a little visit as well, and then we sent them outside. She protested at the door for a while before deciding the warm garage was better than protest.
It was -18 degrees when we awakened this morning, but everybody was happy when Don went up to the garage to check on them. Chateau followed him right back down the stone steps and weaseled her way into the house. She’s been sitting by my side on the bench in the breakfast nook all morning, as I type away on the computer. This indoor visiting can’t go on forever; they need to care for themselves when we travel. I don’t know what we’re going to do. The first lesson in my photography course was entitled “Live immediately”. Guess all I need to do, in this moment, is to cherish our own little Christmas Cat’s return.