The Return of the Walkabout Cat

Shakir gazes at garden

Shakir gazes at garden

When last we left our story, our indoor-only cat Shakir had escaped and was so freaked out, he no longer recognized us. After spotting him several times in our yard, we decided to try to trap him. To this end, we borrowed a raccoon-sized humane trap and set it out with a dish of extra-palatable food nearby. Each night, the food was eaten. We braced the trap open and placed the food halfway inside. Finally we set the trap with the food all the way inside, so that the cat would trigger the trap.

And the next morning the food was untouched. The most likely reason was that earlier in the day, I had been sitting on the porch, enjoying the beautiful weather and view of our garden as I wrote. In the process, I also moved several cardboard boxes at the far end of the porch. Apparently, Shakir found these changes intolerably threatening.

The next night, we set the food outside the trap, thinking that by backtracking and making the setup less threatening we could tempt him. For the second night in a row, the meal was not eaten. At this point, we began to wonder if Shakir had somehow gotten out of the yard. Our chain-link fence is 6 feet high and there aren’t many gaps underneath. It would be possible for a determined mountain lion to scale the fence, and also for a determined dog (or cat) to dig underneath it, although we saw no evidence either had happened.

I watched myself begin to grieve again., only this time with more acceptance. It had been two weeks since we lost our cat, and that is a long time, especially in these mountains.

My husband, however, did not give up. The next night, he set the food down by the place we thought the cat was hiding. And presto! the next morning, the plate was licked clean. We had no way of knowing who had eaten it, whether it was our cat, a raccoon or skunk, or a neighbor’s cat that had somehow gotten into the yard. We continued to leave out food and to move it closer to the porch and the trap. Again we reached the point leaving food halfway inside the trap and having it gone the next morning. Our patience seemed to be in a contest with our sense of urgency, because the longer a cat is missing, the lesser the chances of ever finding it.

Now came the test: we set the trap and left the food at the back. I went to bed thinking, This is it — either there will be a miracle and our cat will be in the trap tomorrow morning, or we will be back to square one, perhaps without any hope of seeing him again. If we did catch him, would he be completely feral, not to mention covered with fleas and ticks?

I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of OW! OW! OWWW!! I dashed into the living room. My husband had brought the trap inside and there was our cat, fur all puffed up, expressing his extreme displeasure. My husband opened the trap and, just as we had expected, the cat dashed out, belly low to the floor, and headed for the nearest hiding place, underneath the sofa.

Our fears about Shakir forgetting all about us and his life as a house cat turned out to be unfounded. Within five minutes he had come out from underneath the sofa and was exploring his old home. He showed no fear when I approached him, and he allowed me to stroke him. He had lost weight but he was not starving. He had been mildly obese to begin with, and he’d had some food, although not in the quantities he was accustomed to. His coat was rough, although that might have been partially because he was still puffed up with excitement. Later we discovered that although he did not seem to have picked up any fleas, he had several ticks in one ear. These fell off within a couple of days after we applied a topical prevention for fleas, ticks, and heartworm.

Thinking that the best thing for Shakir was to let him settle on his own, undisturbed, we went back to bed. Almost immediately, he jumped on the bed, curled up between me and my husband, and began purring ferociously. It had been almost three weeks, and our sweet boy kitty was clearly beside himself with delight to be home again.

Shakir on his back, Tajji

Shakir on his back, Tajji

Over the next few days, the cat followed us around wherever we went, begging for attention. He not only remembered where the food and litter box were, he remembered the other animals in the household, especially the dog. Purring, he rubbed up against her and cuddled with her, even more than he had before his adventure. He even remembered the tricks that I taught him: standing on his hind legs to touch his nose to mine when I bent over, and turning around in circles.

It has now been a little over a week since Shakir’s return. His coat, which was dull and rough, has resumed its previous glossy smoothness. As I write this, he and the dog are playing tag. To say that we are thrilled to have him back is an understatement, although now we remember all the ways he is annoying. That is life!



The Return of the Walkabout Cat — 14 Comments

  1. I love a happy ending! And I do wonder how the cat himself thinks of this. I see it as kind of Biblical — I was wandering in the desert! Forty years in the wilderness, eating locust and the occasional manna (this would be the food you set out). A mysterious translation that he doesn’t understand, and then wow! Paradise at last!

  2. I’m glad he’s home safe, and that he’s so happy to be back!
    Did your other cat accept his return as quickly as Taiji, or was she miffed with her straying housemate?

    • She was miffed because he wanted HIS place (as in the basket overlooking the garden) back. Fortunately, Gayatri adores our older daughter, who has been living with us since August and is a real cat person, so she (both shes) gets plenty of attention.

      The two cats have never achieved more than tolerance for one another, unlike Shakir and Tajji. She was 1.5 years and he was 10 months when we adopted them from the shelter, although not at the same time. I suspect each of them would do fine as an only cat. We humans, however, prefer to have a better cat to person ratio.

  3. Oh! I’m so glad he returned and everything is back to normal so swiftly!

  4. Thank you, all! We had heard such discouraging comments, all along the lines of your cat is now a snack for a mountain lion to nobody gets their cat back after a couple of weeks, that I wanted to share a tale of hope.

    Granted, we had several advantages, the biggest one being a fenced yard that discouraged him from wandering too far. And a generous neighbor who lent us the trap (although we have since learned the county animal services will lend one, with a deposit).

    So if your cat goes walkabout, do not lose hope!