We planned a weekend at Avatan where we were looking forward to meeting up with Debbie and Jack, Dick and Frankie, Becki and Herb and several others from our winter park in South Texas. Jack is the drummer in the band in Texas and Debbie and Judy and I practice yoga together. We anticipated a really fun weekend, after which we planned to head to Waterloo, Iowa for some bike trails and dinner at Galleria de Paco to celebrate my birthday month.
After a short drive from Pine River we headed for our primo spot in the park. Jim was driving and I was backing him in when a guy from the park just had to come over and tell me how to direct him into the spot. I just kept backing him in and the guy continued to tell me what to do. I finally turned to him and said “We do this all the time.”
We got parked just fine, thank you, and headed off to Happy Hour with Debbie and Jack and new friends. We had a fine time catching up.
When we got back to the bus we found Carmella, the orange cat outside! WTH? We figured she must have gotten past us when we went out the door but we are very careful about that since we don’t want the heavy bus door to crush the cat. We got her back in and were relieved that she stuck around. We hadn’t had much to drink but for some reason we didn’t think to look for Astrid, the very shy and timid black cat.
The next morning I said “Where’s Astrid this morning?” I usually get up before Jim and she carefully climbs in my lap atop her blanket and rubs her face against my iPad while I read the paper. It is one of my favorite times of the day. We looked through the bus in all her favorite hiding places. No Astrid. That was when we discovered that the driver’s side window screen was open! That was how Carmella got out and apparently Astrid did too. Oh. My. God.
We immediately started walking the park and calling her. Someone told us they had seen a black cat on our site the night before but they didn’t know us or our cat. If only we had known. The park is fairly small but there are a million places to hide, under decks, porches, under trailers, in open sheds. And we had just arrived so it wasn’t like it was familiar territory for her. Plus, she is so very skittish. She would never come to another person. The park is surrounded by deep woods with dense brush, tall trees and lots of mosquitoes. And predators…
We spent that entire day in a panic, looking high and low for her. No sign of her, no squeaks, no sightings. We figured our best bet was to continue to look and call for her but she was going to have to come back to the bus or reveal herself on her own. We put out food and water and left the bus door open so she could get back in. That meant that Carmella, the good kitty, had to be on her leash all the time, even when inside. And Astrid didn’t have her harness and tags on since they normally don’t wear them while in the bus, just when they go outside. She is microchipped though and we made sure all that information was up to date. We had to do something.
Naturally, internet research commenced in earnest. We signed up with a couple of lost pet services that alert shelters and vets in the area. I put a posting with her picture on Craigslist. I made a LOST CAT poster and Frankie printed out a bunch for us and Paul and Jack and I went around and put them up. It is a very rural area. Jim traipsed all through the woods, calling for her. We walked miles around the park over and over calling her. I am certain I called Astrid’s name many more times in those first days than I have in the twelve years we have had her. The research said that a displaced cat could hunker down for a week without food or water. That meant that Astrid, being as skittish as she is, would hunker down for two weeks. Great. And we were just staying the weekend. When Debbie asked me what we were going to do when we had to leave, I said “I’m not leaving without the cat.”
In the late afternoon of July 28, a neighbor, Bob, came by in his golf cart and said “Get in! I saw her!” I jumped in the cart and we went to where he had seen her run between two trailers. There was no sign of her but at least there was some hope. We were invited to a big dinner party that night but told Debbie and Jack we felt we should stay at the bus. We were both a sobbing mess of emotions by then and wouldn’t be a whole lot of fun anyway. Even Carmella, normally an active, prancing, tail-up cat, was acting depressed. She knew she was looking for Astrid. We adopted them together almost 12 years to the day she went missing.
The news of the lost Astrid spread like wildfire and everybody in the park was so caring and nice. We were pretty much beside ourselves and really appreciated all the concern and good will. I actually said to several people, “If good will can bring her back, we will get her back.” We got lots of sincere and heartfelt hugs from people and that just made us cry even harder. Bob and Sandy drove their golf cart very slowly and quietly around the park looking everywhere for her. I heard Paul walking along softly calling “Astrid, kitty kitty kitty.” There is a whole lotta love here and we felt it and it helped. A few curmudgeon types said stuff like, “Well, that cat has probably found a good new home by now.” Thanks.
I have to add here that we also really do have perspective, just like with Tikita, whose demise we had experienced just a month before. After the first few days of the missing cat, I found out that a friend of mine had been diagnosed with Stage Four breast cancer that had spread to her bones, shoulder, hip, ribs and skull. And she’s like 45 years old. And a friend here in the park, a wonderful woman with two beautiful rag doll kitties of her own, had a heart attack and was told by the doctors that she had a 99% blockage in an artery and was lucky to be alive. Dear God, Astrid, you’re a cat. Please come back.
We negotiated an extra day with Frankie and determined to find her. Frankie also came by to tell us that for as long as we needed to stay, we would have a reduced rate. More tears. Jim sat out in the woods for hours calling her. I started sleeping outside and several people suggested a live trap. A guy in the park had one and he brought it over but the minute I saw it, I knew it was too small for Astrid. He said he knew another guy who had a bigger one but he was gone. The next day, he brought the trap by and Jim set it and baited it where Bob had last seen her. They say to put an item of clothing in it so we put some smelly socks in it. You also have to bait it really carefully so they get all the way in the trap before the door is tripped. It all sounded like a pipe dream to me. At one point, after several more days Jim Said, “I actually think the trap is our best bet now.” I thought, we’re screwed. It’s not looking good.
All the research also said stuff like, stay calm, be optimistic, think like a cat. But Astrid is no average cat. She’s a wild child and always has been. We also invoked our friends Connie and Andrew’s mantra Trust the Loving Universe, which we actually do all the time. I reached out to Connie and she said there is also transformation through grief. URK. We’d had enough of that with Tikita. Debbie said “Whatever God you pray to, keep the prayers coming. The yoga teacher, Karen, came over and did a Find the Cat meditation with us. We sobbed the entire time. North Dakota Sandy brought us corn from their garden and broccoli and cukes. Too bad we had no appetite but Jim made dinner every night and made me eat.. I certainly didn’t feel like eating. My diet was Xanex and vodka. I would go to bed at night and when I woke up I remembered that Astrid was still missing. So I got up, took my chair into the woods and walked another million miles trying to find her. We were getting exhausted.
Jack and Debbie were going through their own grief at the same time. Their 17 year old dog, Gizmo, was at end-of-life and they were just as sad as we were. The second Saturday we were there, I went to check on Jack and Gizmo since Debbie had flown back to Texas to see her mom and some girlfriends. She had called Jack and said “If you think it’s time (which it was), do it.” And he did. Poor Gizmo! Poor Debbie and Jack.
And the poor kitty! Here she was, all by herself, out in the park or the woods, nothing to eat and most likely terrified. There were rabbits and squirrels around and she is a good hunter. But Avatan is busy and noisy on the weekends with lots of people, parties, music and oh yeah, fireworks. Astrid’s favorite.
After the first weekend, the park quieted down and we thought there was a much better chance that she would make her way back to the bus with fewer people there. We also had a couple of good old Midwestern thunderstorms which I thought would make her more likely to return. Nope.
After about five days in, we had a pattern. Knowing Jim and how thorough he is, I knew if anybody could find her, he could. Not to mention that he felt terrible for leaving the screen open in the first place. After the first weekend we were afraid that maybe somebody had left a shed open when she escaped, then closed and locked it when they left. We searched all the unlocked sheds and Jim put notes on the locked ones to see if they had been there the weekend before. Frankie sent an email to all the people who may have locked a shed.
Nanette heard a cat fight one night and told us the next day so Jim moved and rebaited the trap. This time we added a stinky bike jersey of mine to try to attract her. Sandy and Bob loaned us a super powerful flashlight to poke around under the decks and porches.
More searching. More Xanex. Hey, it worked with shingles… Then Frankie told us that somebody had booked our site starting August 16 and we would have to move. The possibility of leaving without her loomed dark and heavy. It is starting to look really bleak. Jim had a map of the park and he systematically went over and over each spot he checked. And he checked them all.
On the morning of August 7, Lucy came over to tell us she had seen the cat come out of the woods at New York Nancy’s trailer at six o’clock in the morning. This was eleven days after she went AWOL. Jim moved the trap again and this time I didn’t lay eyes on it but knew where he had set it. It had my stinky bike shirt in it and a towel over it to get her to go in and then soothe her once she was caught. By this time, Carmella had given up looking for Astrid under trailers and decks and she was just sticking around our site. On her leash. We were all wrung out, depressed and not very hopeful.
On August 8 I woke up and once again remembered the cat was gone. It must be like when you lose your partner and every day you wake up and the loss is new and raw. I have several friends who have described that feeling and the misery is real. And I know, it’s just a cat. Our twelve year old cat. Our family.
What to do? I couldn’t sleep so I went walking down by where Jim said he had set the trap. As I stood at the edge of the woods and called and called her, I heard what I thought was a bird very high up in a tall tree. A very squawky bird that didn’t fly off or move around. That was the first hopeful sign. But the tree was so tall and the first branches so high off the ground! If it was Astrid up there, how would we get her down?
The squawking continued in a raspy and desperate manner. I was calling and calling for Astrid. I looked down and at my feet was the trap covered with the towel. I pulled the towel aside; it’s not a certainty that the animal you caught is the one you want. I saw her yellow eyes and her little black face and I couldn’t believe it. When I lifted the trap and moved it into the sunlight, I saw her chocolate highlights and I knew. IT WAS HER!
We had already discussed how to handle things if she got trapped. No opening the trap outside; no hugging her to our chest and carrying her. She probably would have clawed us to death anyway. I picked up the trap and carried it back to the bus. She was making a lot of noise but her voice was very raspy and rough, so still not completely sure it was her. When I approached the bus, which was about 200 yards away, Jim saw me carrying it toward the bus. I closed the door for the first time in 12 days, brought the trap inside and we opened it. It really was her! She ran out and into her cubbyhole hiding place under the bed. Dear God, I couldn’t believe it.
We still weren’t sure what condition she was in, but when she emerged not too long after for some food we looked her over. She had a small abrasion on her lip and super raspy voice but otherwise seemed to be OK except for her matted fur and obvious freaked-outed-ness. OH. MY. GOD. It really was a miracle.
As soon as we got her settled down, I headed over to Debbie and Jack’s. They had told us to let them know even if it was 3:00 AM that we got the cat back. It was 7:45 AM. They came to the door and saw me with tears streaming down my face and Jack immediately thought something really bad had happened. I said, “I know it’s not 3:00 AM but you said to tell you and WE FOUND HER! Debbie said “Gizmo’s Angel helped bring her back.” And she was right. Dear Gizmo had to leave the earth for Astrid to return to us.
The next day she seemed OK and we planned to pull out on Monday, August 13 and take her to a vet then. We contacted the vet where Gizmo went for her final journey and we managed to get in Friday afternoon. Jim thought the sooner the better and he was right. Jack graciously let us use their car and we took Astrid to get checked out. The abrasion on her lip turned out to be an abscess from being in a fight with another cat. The one Nanette heard, most likely. They did bloodwork because the vet said when they are lost for several days and don’t eat they can quickly develop fatty liver disease. The bloodwork was done in office. The results were in in 10 minutes. The blood work was perfect. She was fine.
On Friday, Jack and Debbie threw a big party. Some other friends from Sandpipers, Cindy and Jim, had arrived, Sandy was recovering from her heart attack with a stent and monitor and Astrid was back, thanks to Gizmo’s Angel. And the day we got her back was International Cat Day. And two days before she and Carmella were adopted 12 years ago. We really managed to dodge a bullet.
The news that she was back also spread like wildfire. North Dakota Sandy was so thrilled for us and Sandy and Bob and Paul and Sandy were too. Frankie was so instrumental in helping us through the logistics, Denise was sweet and supportive. We thank everybody so very much.
Oh, and the morning I found her, somebody spotted a black bear in the park. I asked Astrid if she saw the bear but she wouldn’t talk about it. Another interesting fact; when she was found so many people who were being so supportive the whole time were amazed that she was actually found and OK. So many things could have happened. We knew that but decided to take the optimistic route. Thanks to all who contributed their good energy and love. Trust the Loving Universe.
We moved on to Rochester, Minnesota today and are comfortably parked at Walmart with both cats safe and sound. Tomorrow is Waterloo, Iowa for more bike trails and dinner at Galleria de Paco. We are finally celebrating my birthday month. But I already got the best present ever. Thank you Universe.