My wife and I adopted two female cats at the same time, Sweety-Pie and Lopsy. Though they looked alike, and got along well, they were not related, and were both female strays from different cities in western Washington. They were both around four years old. On the drive home we changed their names to “Pie” and “Lorena”, and a few minutes after that, we started calling Lorena “Larry”. Pie was the bossier of the two, and instigator of wrestling matches and generally more of a trouble-maker.
Pie was a very rare coloring called tortico: half tortoise-shell and half calico. Tortoise shell cats are known to be a little aloof, and Pie was that, but also affectionate in her own time, as calicos are known to be. I grew to be very fond of her rare but enthusiastic snuggle sessions. When I brought home Iggy, our bullmastiff, a few months later, Larry was a little scared at first, but Pie walked right up to him and bopped him in the noise. We would occasionally find a single little droplet of blood atop Iggy’s snout, and we knew that meant he had been investigating Pie a little too closely. Her confidence fascinated me.
We have always kept our cats mostly indoors, though we allow them to explore the backyard, and if they hop the fence into our side yard, we do not panic. They always come around to the front to be let in, or hop back over the fence. They sleep inside, and never go out in the dark or in bad weather. Pie, however, would fling herself against the door and yowl if she didn’t get to go out once a day. Even right after using her litter box sometimes, she just had to go out and smell the rain, or whatever it is that cats do.
Pie loved to be near me, and would pester me endlessly while I worked at my computer. Finally, I realized I was approaching the problem all wrong (I had been moving her away from the desk altogether), and I brought home a small cat mat and placed it on top of my printer. She did not much like working on tricks or behaviors, but she learned a pretty good stay. The cat bed became a favorite spot for her, and I rewarded her for staying on it, which she would do for hours while I worked at my desk.
Our animal family kept growing. We adopted a neighborhood cat, Dahlia, which had been abandoned by its family when they moved. Pie and she knew each other from the back yard, and tolerated each other. We adopted another dog, Frankie the rat terrier-mix, and Pie explained to him whose house this was (hers) and they got along pretty well, too. A friend lived with us for awhile, and brought along her cat, Simon. Pie didn’t really like Simon, but she didn’t hate him, either.
One day, about two years after we first brought Pie home, she disappeared. We had, at that time, two dogs, four cats (including her), and three adult people living in our little house. I am ashamed, but I admit I didn’t notice she was gone the first night. The next morning, my wife called me at work and asked when the last time I had seen Pie was. It had been the previous afternoon. Pie had a microchip, and the information was properly registered to me. I called the company to double-check and they confirmed what my records showed. She had a collar and a tag, with my home and cell numbers on it. I had never seen her go further than our neighbor’s yard, but over the next week, I put up posters around the neighborhood offering a $100 reward. I checked the local animal shelter, and put up ads on Craig’s List every day, offering $100.
I hired a lady who advertised that her dog could sniff out lost pets, and I paid her $100.00 up front, but I never heard from her again, and she never returned any of my calls. I am pretty sure she was a scam, though I know there are legitimate services that do search for lost pets. After a couple months, I pulled down the signs and stopped posting the Craig’s List ads.
I decided Pie was either dead or had lost her collar and been found by someone not savvy enough to check for a microchip. We have raccoons in the neighborhood. Perhaps she had been the victim of a raccoon, or a vicious dog. I fantasized that I would get a call and someone would have finally taken her to the vet, and her micro-chip would be found. Mostly, I felt terrible guilt for not providing a good enough home for her, for causing her to run away to wherever she had gone. Surely she would have come home that same afternoon if she hadn’t decided to go far away from that huge household of mammals.
During the year that passed since the day Pie didn’t come home, I wrestled with my guilt. I never should have let her out of the house at all, yowling be damned. I should have done something about those raccoons. I shouldn’t have let our friend move in with her cat. I should have worked more with Pie so she would have been more tolerant. I should have put up more posters, placed more ads, offered a higher reward, something… where the hell was my cat???
Last week a man called and spoke to my wife while I was at work. He was a plumber working on the 3-year reconstruction of Whatcom Middle School, just on the other side of our block. While working on the furnace/ boiler system, he found Pie’s mummified body, and called the number on her tag. The man said she was probably overcome by the exhaust and fumes of the furnace. He found her curled up in a corner, but not in any obvious distress. From our back fence to the edge of Whatcom Middle School is approximately 200 feet. Pie had not run away. She had apparently wandered where she should not have wandered, fell asleep in a warm spot, and died of gaseous asphyxiation.
I have cried a lot this last week, because now I know I will not get the call I had hoped to get, from a shelter worker or a veterinarian who found Pie’s chip. There will be no call from a kindly old lady who finds Pie on the other side of town living in a field off of mice and voles, who finally gets close enough to get my number off her tag. None of my fantasies about Pie’s return can come true, but none of my worst fears about her demise are true, either. She was not eaten alive by raccoons, or stolen and sold to a research facility. I feel guilty, of course, for letting her out at all, and I wonder why she was exploring the school, but I am relieved to know she died peacefully. I miss her terribly, but it is better to know.