Did you ever lose a pet? No, not to illness or an accident; but actually lose him, and more so, while at your very own home? We experienced a loss like this very recently, living out a pet owner’s worst nightmare. It was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, a moment in our lives we will never forget. Fortunately for us, the ending took an unexpected turn, recapturing in our minds the love we have for our furry children.
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Ozzy, Zelda and Miles are our three cats. All three are special, but Ozzy will always hold a special place in the heart of my fiancée, Lucy. In 1996, Lucy lost her mother to cancer. If you’ve lost a parent, you will understand the void that is created when a parent is taken from our lives prematurely.
Lucy’s life was again forever changed when Ozzy arrived in 2001. He is more than a cat; he is a son to Lucy, and now to me as well. Like a “first born,” he is special. Ozzy warmed Lucy’s heart, and helped solidify the healing following her mom’s passing. The bond has been unbreakable ever since. Ozzy is Lucy’s first true love. If I had to be second to anyone in Lucy’s life, I too would choose to be runner-up to Ozzy.
Lucy and I recently began the move to our new home. It is a simply amazing residence representing a culmination of our hard work and the dedication to our dreams we continue to forge as a couple during our ongoing courtship. There it stands, at a “T” shaped intersection of two old country roads, now the arteries of suburban traffic in its present juxtaposition.
It is a wooded area. A bucolic setting, the location is a gentle reminder of Bucks County, Pennsylvania’s rural past. The neighboring homes are set apart with great space, helping to maintain the rural feel of this area. The space here lends itself to a feeling of welcome seclusion.
It is an ideal location for our human children as well. There is a feeling of safety here; as if no one else could stumble upon us in this location. There are open spaces and woodlands to explore, where mythical creatures appear from the shadows and disappear into the night.
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We did our best to remove as much stress from the move as possible. It’s still tough, adjusting to a new place. The move, though welcomed, was not only an adjustment for our three girls, but also our three feline children.
In anticipation of the move, we dedicated a room in the basement to the cats, aptly nicknaming this space “The Lion’s Den.” An old, abandoned door on in the corner served its part: I used it to elevate the litter boxes from the floor, and covered it with remnant linoleum from our previous residence. The room was furnished with their cat castles, toys and blankets bearing our scent.
I did my part to make it look and feel like home. Proud of this achievement, I handed it off to Lucy for inspection. Ozzy, Zelda and Miles were her children; any pet owner would understand her affections. Deservedly, they receive the best we can offer them. Lucy was warmed by the room and the thoughts of the cats finally having their own space, along with the litter box removed from ours! There was but a small punch-list of items to follow-up on, but the room was ready, like a nursery is to the expectant mother, as we forged ahead with our move.
The meticulous planning, packing and labeling culminated in that recent Sunday afternoon we were to move. We took Ozzy, Zelda and Miles to inspect and “approve” their new digs. We placed them into the Lion’s Den, laying out a buffet of kibble, assorted wet foods and fresh water. The litter boxes, like a new snowfall, awaited their footsteps.
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The Lion’s Den is sealed off from the rest of the basement. It has only two access points: a locked door in the basement and a chute located in a closet floor on the main level, through which only the cats can fit. A makeshift stairway leads to their private space, illuminated by a large, new window by day and a sensor-activated light by night. We were certain that the cats could not make their way out of this seemingly secure area.
No, we do not wish to imprison the cats! But, Ozzy, Zelda and Miles have never been outside. They are not declawed, but still, we’re sure that Mother Nature would have their way with them if she could. The hawk feeding on the bunny in the driveway earlier in the week made that clear to us.
We tend to the cats’ security just like we do for our children. It’s a parent’s duty to monitor their young ones, and it’s no different with our cats. We simply wouldn’t allow them to run amok on their own, to be hurt, lost or even worse.
Feeling confident with the peace of mind in the cats’ new space, moving day began in earnest. We closed the closet door upstairs leading to the Lion’s Den to ensure the cats wouldn’t venture outside as we began to move our belongings into our new home. In a short while, our driveway would host an armada of pick-up trucks burdened with our life’s possessions.
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Anticipating the frenzy of activity that was about to overcome us, Lucy and I hurriedly unloaded our cars which were teeming with boxes. Passing the basement window of the Lion’s Den as we moved to and fro, we caught glimpses of our furry children watching us in bewilderment.
As we neared the end of this last-minute rush, Lucy grabbed my arm, exclaiming, “The cats are upstairs!” We knew they would figure out how to get upstairs, but thought it would take much longer for them to assimilate into their new surroundings. We rushed upstairs, threw open the closet door and gazed inside.
Empty. The closet was empty, not a living thing stirred within. Perhaps they made their way back down to the Lion’s Den. Lucy stayed upstairs to call the cats and encourage them to come up as I made my way down below to coax them along. The cats always came when Lucy called; after all, she was Mother Cat!
I entered the Lion’s Den. Only Zelda remained. A sea of emotions overcame me, wondering what could have happened to Ozzy and Miles. It was as if they had vanished. Not a trace of their presence could be found. They were gone!
I called up to Lucy to see if, by chance, they were with her. They were not. Lucy rushed down, in disbelief as to what I had reported to her. She had to experience it to make sure it was true. It was. Ozzy and Miles were gone.
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The world stopped. Everything planned for that day was on hold. We had to find them. Lucy’s calls to Ozzy and Miles went unanswered. They always responded to her. Ozzy was always at Lucy’s side; she regretted ever complaining about tripping over him as she moved throughout the house.
It was intriguing. Zelda, too never went anywhere without Ozzy. He was the big brother, and she would yowl incessantly for him whenever they were apart. His presence brought her comfort. Oddly, Zelda paced the Lion’s Den, as if nothing had happened. How was it that they vanished, seemingly into thin air?
“Catnapped!” I spun around at the exclamation from Lucy, her only response to the disconcerting situation now at hand. In a brief moment, two of the most precious members of our lives had vanished.
Catnapped? How, I wondered. True, the cats were secured in their room, with no noticeable egress to the outside. How could someone have come into our basement and made off with Ozzy and Miles? I set out to search the property. I feared for their safety. The roads seemed full of traffic all of a sudden as I feared for the worst. Would I find them in time? Every brush pile, hedgerow and thicket yielded nothing. Not even a clump of their fine fur was to be found. The trail had gone cold.
Like Lady Macbeth, Lucy wandered the property. “Ozzy, Miles!” Still, there was no response. Her calls went from emphatic to crazed and emotional. Lucy appeared to be on the verge of a psychotic break. In my ever-widening circle from the house, I heard her. Nearly a quarter-mile away, her throes of sobbing called me back like a siren’s song.
The sight that greeted me caught me off-guard, even though it shouldn’t have. Lucy had been reduced to a heap on the floor. Huddled in the fetal position and trembling like an over-medicated manic-depressive, she lay on the floor. She was in shock. The only words, slurred by emotion, which reached her lips: “They’re gone. Gone. Gone . . .”
It was a turning point. Time was precious, if we were to find them. I did my best to scoop her off the floor and give her hope. “I’ll find them,” I reassured her, the tears welling up in both my eyes and in my voice. I brought Lucy back to the Lion’s Den to sit with Zelda as I prepared to set out again. “You’re the only one left, Zelda” Lucy admitted through her quiet sobs, the tears streaming down her face.
Losing all hope, I focused my attention on Zelda and her peculiar behavior. Why was she so calm? Why wasn’t she crying out for Ozzy? She repeatedly circled the old door propping up the litter box. Was there a hole behind that door that led to the outside?
Call it instinct or just a last-ditch effort to keep hope alive, I grabbed hold of the door and knocked it out of position. There they were. In the three inch space between the floor and the door, huddled up to the wall, were Ozzy and Miles. Safe and intact, they showed the signs of distress caused by the move.
I swept Ozzy and Miles from the floor in one arm, and spun them around to Lucy, who had seemingly risen from the dead. Reunited! I placed them in her arms, and we held them close between us. Tears of joy flowed, beading on their soft fur. “My pusscats! Mommy loves you!” exclaimed Lucy. We couldn’t be mad at them for not responding to our calls, even if we had tried.
Gone for what seemed like an eternity, they were missing only thirty minutes. Lucy held her three furry children tightly to her chest. Emotionally drained, they collapsed to the floor as one, and retired from the chaos of the move. Mother Cat was again watching over her pride, with an ever-vigilant eye.
We love our new home, as do the cats and the girls. After two weeks, we’ve all acclimated well. A few boxes remain to be unpacked, or placed into the basement to be forgotten. Our new home is full of love and life, humming with activity. That Sunday was a true reminder of what really makes a house a home.
Whenever people ask what happens, I tell the story. Lucy still can’t bear to relive the drama of that day, the events too fresh in her mind’s eye. I feign emotional dearth, as a man, when recounting the drama, trying to be strong, stifling the flood of grief that surrounded us when Ozzy and Miles were gone.