Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Fool me once, shame on you ...

... but needless to say, fool me twice and it's shame on me. By these lights, our cat Buddy (a.k.a. the Wascally Wabbit) succeeded in shaming us the other day.

Perhaps 3 years ago, we had a period when we would occasionally let him go out into our small, fence-surrounded backyard. For a while, he just patrolled, sniffed things, and so forth, but one day, while someone's back was turned, he hopped over the fence and we didn't see him for five whole days. Since he didn't have a collar, this was a pretty big problem. We papered the neighborhood with photos and so forth. Finally one day I spotted him on someone else's second-floor terrace. He meowed at me though it was several houses down, and we were able to retrieve him.

He looked pretty good - well-fed and well-groomed, rather than in the least bit bedraggled. We were curious how he had lived those 5 days - and, for that matter, how he had gotten onto a terrace that was seemingly inaccessible, even to a cat, from the ground (nor had the neighbors seen him in their house). But he wasn't talking. I am confident that he will take those secrets to the grave (though not for many years yet - he is only about 4 and we also have a 19-year old cat).

This led to a policy of not letting him out, ever. But the years pass and one's policies loosen up. He's been so desperately eager to get outside that, over the last few days, we let him out a few times, albeit while very closely watched. Since cats are usually deliberate in their movements in territories they don't know well, we figured we would be able to grab him if he got ideas, as no doubt he eventually would. We also blocked the easiest escape routes.

Then two days ago, he was calmly sitting in the middle of the yard looking around, when suddenly he saw another cat on one of the fences between the different yards. In a quarter of a second if not less (it seemed), he (a) shot across the yard, (b) jumped to the top of a fence that's about 6 feet high (scrabbling along the side on the way up, as cats do when the jump is too high to do all at once), and (c) raced along the top of the connected fences (a functional catwalk) at least thirty feet down, and well out of our yard, in pursuit of the other cat.

You had to see it to believe it, though it was so fast that I barely did. Truly the peewee version of the Hound of the Baskervilles racing down the moor in pursuit of fresh game.

By five seconds later, we couldn't tell where he was - there were perhaps 20 possible backyards, many of them in small apartment buildings. And we didn't entirely (or perhaps at all) trust him to return. Our relations are very cordial but less intense than with our other two cats (he is very sweet but, if he were a person, we'd say he's in his own head). The saying "You can never really own a cat," is true of him, though not of all cats. Also, we don't feed him enough, by his lights, because if we did (as we used to) he'd be extremely overweight.

But the story has a happy ending. A neighbor on the other side, not previously known to us, heard us calling his name and asked if everything was okay. A fellow cat-owner, she volunteered to call her cat-owning neighbors to see if Buddy had shown up in any of their yards. He had, and I went to fetch him. When I got to the yard in question, Buddy had left, apparently startled by the stranger who had gone out to check on him.

But good old bribery did the trick. I had shown up with "greenies," a small cat treat that, in our house, he likes to chase and bat around before gobbling down. I called out to him and he looked at me, but that alone didn't seem to count for much. But when I started rattling the greenie container and actually took one out, he calmly walked over and let me grab him.

Fool me three times and ... well, we don't plan ever to let him out again, but we're also ordering a collar with contact information.

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