Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Cat Burglar


You've heard stories of dogs traveling thousands of miles across the continent to find their families who moved to another state. I even had a cat that once left our new house & crossed two very busy streets to return to his old hunting grounds after I was evicted from my first apartment (ironically, it was for having a forbidden feline).  There's even the famous story of Charles the Cat, who ran away from his home in New Mexico while his owner was gone for a few weeks, and showed up in Chicago eight months later.

And then there's Lint.

Lint is my dad's cat. She's about eight months old, a black domestic short hair who was fostered by one of my sister's friends as a teeny kitten before being adopted by my dad. She's a fabulously interesting cat. Not very well behaved, but I attribute that to my dad's parenting style, which is to bellow from his seat on the couch. That's how he disciplined me & my sister when we were teens, and that's how he has disciplined the cat. So, just like me, she's a rebel. She jumps up on the counter tops, she does whatever the hell she wants and leaves a mess of popsicle sticks, candy wrappers and knocked over plants in her wake. Occasionally she draws blood while sharpening her claws on my father's pant legs, and every once in awhile she stays out all night. Just like me when I was a teenager.

What I'm about to tell you about my dad's parenting style (regarding the cat) is not going to make him very popular with you, and I almost considered leaving it out of the story altogether. But I think it's important to know this information, so I'm not gonna pussyfoot around it. But please, try to hold your judgment until I'm through, and bear in mind a couple of things:
  • My dad is 86, and can barely get around. He's got bad hips and bursitis. So yelling at the cat is pretty much all he can muster up these days.
  • My mom was hit by a car in August, and has spent the past 4 months in rehab.
  • My dad is a rocket scientist. Kind of a mad genius. He's also a tinkerer & an inventor.
  • My dad loves his cat. Photographic evidence below, but as my father's friends have become fewer and fewer during these last sunset years, this cat has provided a lonely man some much needed companionship and both of my parents hours of laughter and joy as they are constantly humored by Lint's constant antics.
Mom finally came home from rehab in December. My husband and I traveled up to Oregon to help her transition back home.We had already spent countless hours on our last trip to my folk's the week prior cleaning, organizing and moving furniture around to accommodate my mother's limited mobility and her new walker. When we arrived at the house with mom, a young caregiver provided by an agency was already there, waiting with my dad and the cat. 

I walked into the kitchen and noticed a cheap wooden mouse trap -set- on the counter. And another by the fruit bowl. And another on the kitchen table. I confronted my dad, wanting to know why he would set mouse traps out in the open, where a human finger or a cat's paw could easily get broken, and he yelled, "That's exactly what the trap is for...the cat!"

I know. I was just as horrified as you are. I've got a lot of crazy cat lady friends who are probably tearing their hair out right now. I thought my dad was totally losing it, even though he explained - in rather rude terms - that this was the plan he'd devised to train the cat to stay off the dining room table, and off the kitchen counters. I told my dad that it wasn't cool, not cool at all, and Eddie and I went around and set off all the traps and collected them in a pile. 

What my dad didn't tell me was that he had altered the mouse traps so that they wouldn't really do any damage to the cat, just make a lot of noise and scare it, with the eventual goal of deterring it from venturing onto the counter and creating more chaos. He didn't tell me this, he didn't tell my mom, he didn't tell my husband, and he didn't tell the young caregiver. I wish he had. It might have saved a lot of drama.

Turns out, the caregiver - let's call her Jane - loves animals. Jane had animals of her own, she said, and she was somehow connected to a pet boarding facility that also grooms animals. I know this because there was some discussion that afternoon about the idea of her taking Lint to that facility to have her nails buffed, so that my dad would quit springing leaks every time the cat got a wild hair and scrambled up his legs. Someone even went so far as to get the cat carrier (which Lint often sleeps in) and moved it near the sliding door in case she was able to get an appointment with the groomer. I wasn't around for this discussion, because I had to go to work that afternoon. But I remember seeing the cat carrier when I returned, and someone told me why it was sitting across the room from its usual place. That was when my dad told me that the cat had been let out earlier in the day while I was gone, and hadn't come back. Jane told me she was thinking about walking around the block to look for her, and I said, "No, I think you should focus on taking care of my mom. That's your priority. The cat will come back."

I was wrong about that.

That evening my husband and I left for a few hours to attend a talent show at my niece's elementary school. But when we returned, mom was asleep, the caregiver had left at the end of her shift, and Dad told us that the cat still hadn't returned. We thought maybe Dad shouldn't have set mouse traps. He thought maybe we shouldn't bring our dogs to visit (but contrary to my dad's thoughts on the matter, we believe Lint really likes my dogs. She follows them everywhere, and for the most part they ignore her).

This time we were all wrong.

My first real hint that there was something more going on than the cat pulling a disappearing act on its own was when we realized that the cat carrier was also missing. It took a family meeting to realize that none of us had moved it from its perch by the door, but yet it was gone. It was as if Lint had packed her bag and moved out.  

Over the weekend, we walked around the block calling her name. We reached out to all the neighbors and asked if any of them had seen her over the past few days. Nobody had. We started looking in places throughout the property where Lint might have become trapped. Closets. The garage. My dad's car. But we also never found the cat carrier.

My dad was devastated. The trusted companion who was by his side every day, gone. The cat that it had taken him more than a decade to convince my mom (who's slightly allergic to cats) to agree to let him have, had disappeared. Sure, she was a troublemaker. But she was his troublemaker. At first he blamed her distaste for my dogs. But that cat carrier didn't walk out the door on its own.

Slowly it dawned on everyone. The more we looked for the cat carrier, and the longer we waited for Lint to return, the more we became convinced that Jane the caretaker was an actual cat burglar. It was the simplest, and therefore most likely scenario, and I am a firm believer in Occam's Razor. That's the theory (which I first found out about in the Jodie Foster/Matthew McConaughey film 'Contact') that the simplest answer is usually the correct one. And since all the other theories depended on some pretty complicated concepts, I went with the simplest one. Jane.

Animal lover that Jane proclaimed to be, she probably thought she was removing the cat from an abusive situation and providing it with a more loving home. In reality, she was committing robbery, and depriving my dad of his best buddy. Setting aside the chaos of the day my mom came home from rehab and my dad's bad decision based on his inability to get around quickly enough to properly discipline the cat, there's a lot of love between these two. All the proof you need is in this photo, snapped while the two were catnapping:


So you can can see why my sister and I weren't about to let it go. My sister - being in closer proximity - called the agency that had supplied the caretaker to report that we suspected she had taken the cat. They were skeptical and couldn't believe we would make such an accusation...until we told them that the cat carrier had also gone missing. The agency interviewed Jane, didn't think her story completely added up, and suspended her from any future shifts until the catastrophe was sorted out. They also suggested that we call the police. And she did, but not until we called Jane herself to let her know we thought she might know where the cat was, and that we didn't want to go to the police, but that if we were unable to reunite my father and his cat, that we would continue our pursuit.  Jane denied everything, of course. And before contacting the police, my sister may or may not have paid a visit to the pet resort/grooming place, posing as a potential client, asking to tour the feline facilities.

The Craigslist Ad. I left out the part about the carrier.
Meanwhile, I created a Craigslist ad, checked the online listings for the local cat rescue organization, the Humane Society and the Animal Shelter (all totally different agencies), then called and asked questions about cats matching Lint's description, and sent my dad on an afternoon-long field trip to check out the cats for himself. Half-grown, female, all-black, short-haired domestic cats are everywhere. And there were a few dead-ringers, but my dad knew. None of them were Lint.

They say curiosity killed the cat, but I couldn't help myself. I wanted to arm myself with as much information as I could about Jane. So I did a bit of internet sleuthing. I found her Facebook profile, filled with nothing but funny cat and dog videos. I poked around a little further, and found what I believed to be her address. And within a few blocks, her mother's address. I didn't do anything with this information, but I admit that I harbored fantasies of sitting outside Jane's home late at night, waiting to see if Lint might make an appearance. But I didn't. But I thought about it.

Finally, enter the police. You might think that a case of suspected cat (& carrier) napping wouldn't be taken very seriously. But the police were on it. They interviewed Jane immediately, and I'm betting she was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs as she continued to deny any involvement in the disappearance. There wasn't a lot more the cops could do after that. Other than continue to monitor Craigslist and the shelters, neither could we.

And then the incredible happened. We got a phone call from the Humane Society. Lint had been found. The way we heard it,  within a day or two of the police interview, a black cat showed up in a woman's backyard, terrorizing her own cat, and demanding entry. But once the woman opened the door, the cat ran into the house, looking for some human love.  She definitely wasn't feral. The cat seemed in good condition, well fed, but was missing a collar (Lint was wearing a red collar with a bell the day she disappeared). The woman pulled out her own cat carrier, plopped the cat into it, and took it to the shelter to see if it belonged to anyone. They scanned her for a microchip, and within half an hour my father and his cat were reunited. Those microchips. They truly are the cat's meow.

The thing is, Lint wasn't found anywhere near my dad's house. The woman who's backyard Lint ended up in isn't even in the same city. Lint ended up fifteen miles away from my dad's house in the west side of Medford. Fifteen miles from my dad's house, but about a half mile away from Jane's.

Jane will probably never be collared for her four-legged crime, but I hope she'll think twice before taking it upon herself  to relocate someone else's beloved pet in the future.

As for Lint, my parents say she seems to be better behaved now. She doesn't jump up on the counter as much, and she spends more of her time purring and relaxing instead of sharpening her claws on my dad's pant leg and knocking cups off the counter. Its as if this whole experience has served as a catalyst to help Lint pull her fur together.

I was surprised at how many purrfect cat songs there were to choose from when putting together the playlist to go along with today's column. Hope you enjoy the Cat Burglar Playlist by clicking on the play arrow below, and if I've missed any good ones, feel free to list them in the comments section below.

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