(…I used to blog? Shut up.)
I know we’re supposed to be acknowledging another anniversary lately and distilling down to the fraction of an approval rating what Obama has done for us lately (plenty, but that’s a blog post for another day), but at our house we’re honoring another day of infamy. On November 2, 2008, my cat Henry was stolen from in front of my home by a well-meaning but misguided soul and taken to live in Chicopee.
Two weeks later, the call came in that would eventually lead to Henry’s return home. Here is the reprise from November 2008:
“I know where your cat is,” the woman’s voice on the other end of the phone said.
“Where?”, I asked.
“That’s not my cat,” I replied, disappointment settling in my stomach, beating out the hope that shot up a moment ago. “Henry went missing in Northampton.”
“I know! He got picked up in a parking lot in Easthampton,” the voice explained.
“Easthampton?” Well, we do live along the bike path that follows the railroad. Maybe Henry worked his way down route 5 over the course of the last two weeks, crossed over it, went scavenging along the riverbank for a few days before turning up in Big E’s parking lot…”Easthampton? I don’t know.”
“I’m sure it’s him. He’s pretty distinctive looking. I saw the photos you posted on Craig’s List,” the voice was getting rather animated now. In between drags on a cigarette she said her name was Linda and had just delivered some cat food to a woman in Chicopee who has a lot of cats, twelve of them, make that thirteen with the arrival of the latest cat. From here on in, we’ll refer to her as CCL, Crazy Cat Lady.
“He’s got the black nose and the black mark on his head and everything. But listen, her daughter-in-law took him to the vet and spent about three hundred bucks on shots for him.”
“Henry has all of his shots. He doesn’t need any. Did the vet scan him? Because Henry has a microchip.”
“No! That’s the thing! The vet didn’t scan ‘im! I’d be pissed if I were you.”
OK – cut to the chase. Linda told me she was going back over to CCL’s house to get a better look at the new cat and she’d call me back then. Me? I get in the River van and hurtle back towards Northampton to pick up Jaime and be ready to go to Chicopee. Time was of the essence, not only did I want Henry back as soon as possible, but I had to be in Ashfield that night for a performance of Irma Vep. I had an hour and a half to drive to Chicopee, ID Henry, bring him home, and then drive to Ashfield. Just enough.
On the drive down Bay Road, the phone rings again. It’s Linda calling from CCL’s house.
“Does he have a black spot on his right hind leg?”
“I don’t know. What color are his eyes?”
“They’re kind of yellow-gold. And there’s a speck of brown in one of ‘em.”
“That’s Henry!!! That’s him!” The vet had shown me how Henry’s eye was changing slightly with age at his last check-up.
“Here, you should talk to Diane (CCL), she can tell you how to get here to see for yourself.”
An even more tobacco jerked voice gets on the phone, “My daughter-in-law is gonna be so upset! She loves this cat. She found him in a parking lot in Northampton.”
“Northampton? She found him in Northampton?”
“Yeah. But here’s the thing, she spent about three hundred bucks on him because I won’t take any strays that don’t have their shots! I have twelve cats and can’t risk one of ‘em gettin’ sick.”
“Yeah, Linda told me about that. How about I split it with her if it’s really Henry?”
“I hate to ask, but could you do the whole thing? We’re really tight.”
At this point, I just wanted my cat back so I said I’d bring along a check.
“Oh, a check? Not that I don’t trust you. I do. But could you bring cash? I have the receipt right here in front of me. It’s for $256.20 at the Easthampton Animal Hospital.”
“OK, if it’s Henry, I’ll give you the cash.” She tells me how to find her house in Chicopee and then Linda gets back on. “If you get lost, call my cell phone.”
With more assurance it was him, I sped just a touch over 35mph towards home.
I dropped off the van at the station where Jaime was waiting for me in our car. It was 4:37pm. I have to be in Ashfield at six. We set off for Chicopee. On the way, Jaime calls her mom, who we live with, to tell her the tentative good news and the price tag attached. She doesn’t think we should pay it, but she’s not with us in the car to come along as our heavy so she doesn’t get a vote.
We pull up to CCL’s house and Linda’s outside waiting for us along with the daughter-in-law Jennifer. They escort us inside where the first three of the thirteen cats welcome us. I immediately notice the surprising lack of litterbox smell in a house with so many cats.
“Your house sure doesn’t smell like a Crazy Cat Lady house,” I report.
“No, no. I’m very, very good to them and keep it all very clean,” CCL proudly proclaims. She’s petite and perched on a straight-back chair in her dining room across from a table with three different bowls of fanciful fake fruit on display and two cats sitting on opposite ends cleaning themselves.
“This is Morris,” she says, introducing a, yes, orange tabby cat who was butting his head against my hip. Next to CCL’s chair is a closet door that’s open and inside, crouched way, way down is…my Henry!!!
“Henry!!! Oh, Henry!” Jaime and I exclaim.
“Where did you find him?” I ask.
Jennifer, the daughter-in-law, pipes up, “You know the parking lot on King Street? Near the Dunkin’ Donuts? There near the dumpster.”
“On the Dunkin’ Donuts side of King Street?”
“No, the other side. He just walked right up to me. And it was raining. I felt so bad for him.”
I think to myself that the parking lot she referred to is the one that’s no more than 35-feet from our house but since I just want to get out of there with my cat, Jaime and no trouble, I nod and smile, “Oh, I see.”
CCL reprimands me from the chair, “Don’t let him out! Cats shouldn’t go outside. Promise me that you’ll never let him out again!”
Again, I nod and smile and do a little “Well, gee, it’s hard, you know, Henry loves being outside” duck and cover.
“I don’t care! He’s gonna get hit by a car! None of mine go out. I don’t care if he has a collar on next time. If she sees him, she’s gonna take him!”
This last declaration sets off the panic alarm in my tummy and Jaime’s as well because she immediately reaches in and picks Henry up and starts heading for the door.
“Wait! Take a carrier! You’ll need a carrier!” CCL is up off her chair now and heading to the porch. “But bring it back soon because I need it.”
I really didn’t want to take the carrier but figured if I didn’t, the final chapter of Henry’s return would include a scene of me screaming in pain with a yowling cat attached to the side of my face and Jaime covering her face in her hands as we careen off the I-91 connector.
“OK, thanks. We’ll take the carrier.”
“Of course, you will! And remember, don’t let him out!”
“Heh, heh. We’ll try. Heh. Jaime, get the door.”
So to make a short story long, Henry’s home!!! Picked up, some might say stolen, from within sight of our house, by a well-intentioned, good-hearted yet misguided soul.
Oh, and she picked him up, some still might say stole him, on the day he went missing. So he was in Chicopee with his dozen tabby brethren and sistren for a full two weeks.
Now as an epilogue, I did call Easthampton Animal Hospital asking about the stray that came in on November 3rd. The woman who answered remembered him, “Was his name Oreo?” she inquired.
“Yes, they named him Oreo. But his name is really Henry. Does Easthampton Animal Hospital have the equipment to scan for a microchip?” I politely ask.
“Yes,” she said.
“Why didn’t Henry get scanned?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I just sit at the front desk.”
Now I know, every person with a backbone would have said, “Well, may I please speak with the person who might know?” But I don’t really have one of those, freak accident in high school. Horrible story. So I said, “Oh, okay.” And hung up the phone.
Now Henry still spends his days indoors and out but now has his fancy new collar and bright shiny medallion that reads his name, my phone number, and our address.
But please, just because a friendly uncollared kitty approaches you doesn’t mean he’s a stray. Remember, all who wander are not lost.
EPILOGUE: One year later, Henry has been through three collars. Every time he comes home without it, I run right out to Dave’s Soda and Pet Food City(!) for another one. Because every week, seriously – every week, I get a phone call from a well-meaning yet misguided soul saying, “I have your cat out here on the bike path,” to which I respond, “Yes, thank you. Our house is right on the bike path. Henry enjoys spending his afternoons there.” If he didn’t have his collar, he’d be taken on a weekly basis. I’m thinking of posting fliers that read, “NOT LOST” with a photo of Henry.