Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reunited: A Heartwarming Tale!

I usually try to keep this blog glass-focused, but this is a really amazing story that happened to Andrea and I. It starts off really sad, though!

When we moved in to our summer sublet in June, we reclaimed our cat Alaska who had been living with my parents while we settled in. She HATED the noisy downtown apartment and cried constantly. Her restlessness led us to choose to take off her collar because the constant jangling was preventing us from sleeping, and the info was all for Winnipeg anyway. We'd tried to get her a new ID tag at the pet store and had been told we needed to go to City Hall for a license, which we intended to do the next week. After Alaska's first week with us, though, we woke up to find that she was missing, and that a corner of the decrepit screen in our second floor window had been pushed open. She must have squeezed onto the ledge, jumped to another ledge, and leaped down onto the dumpster and away into the night.

We immediately combed the bushes and alleyways looking for her, put up posters, and checked the shelters. No luck. The next day was the Ottawa earthquake, which didn't help, but we kept looking. After that they ripped up the pavement in front of the apartment. But we kept looking. We posted ads online, and enlisted everyone we knew to keep an eye out for her. We called for her in the streets and went to the shelter every three days, hoping that someone would bring her in.

Weeks passed, then months with no news, good or bad. We stopped calling in the streets but kept up our visits to the shelter, although we started to suspect that some sweet but internet-illiterate old lady had adopted her and was spoiling her with cat treats in a highrise somewhere. We hoped that was the case, because our baby was not a great hunter (she killed mice, but only by *accident*, and I don't think eating them even occured to her) and certainly not a great fighter. She had even been declawed on the front before we adopted her. We didn't think she would survive more than two weeks on the street.

At the end of August our sublet expired and we moved in with a friend for the next two and a half weeks until our house was ready. The route from work to her house took us past the shelter, so we kept checking. On Sept 10 we got possession of our house and spent a week refinishing the floors. After that we'd be in Vanier, and the shelter would be hard to get to (a 40-minute bike ride...).

On Monday the 13th I got an email from someone who had seen a white female cat at the shelter. I was able to make it in on Tuesday and there was indeed a female cat that looked painfully like our Alaska. Something about her face wasn't quite right though, and her eyes were the wrong shade. Still, I had the shelter staff check her front toes to be sure. She had claws, so she wasn't Alaska. Heartbroken, I left - around 5:45 or 6pm.

You need to check the shelter every three days to find your lost animal. That's how long they'll hold lost beasts before evaluating them for adoption, fostering, or euthanasia. You're supposed to post a lost notice at the shelter but the staff really don't have the resources to check, because so many cats come in every day. We'd tried very hard to be diligent, but we'd have a few gaps of 5 days during the transitions. Still, between Andrea, my mother and I we'd gone approximately 25 times to the shelter from June 22nd to September. Friday September 17th was my last bike ride from work to my friend's house, and it was going to be my last check in at the shelter.

It felt like a regular Humane Society shelter visit - the smell of disinfectant, the staff in scrubs, the usual police offers bringing in stray beasts, other teary-eyed petowners looking for their lost ones, and the squeaks of lonely animals. I signed into our lost cat report visit page (in the margins, because we'd already filled all the lines), checked the DOA list, checked the first wall of new arrival cages in the entryway. Each cage has a kitty litter box, food bowls, a floor mat and a little cardboard cat-cave. Usually one cat alone, sometimes siblings snuggled together or a mass of peeping kittens. You're not allowed to touch the cats because it might spread kennel cough.

There are two holding rooms of cages at the shelter, plus the entry-way and the overflow cages in the hallway. I checked the far room first, and found a flatter-faced white cat, definitely not Alaska. The hallway kitties weren't her. At least it's easy to check for a white cat...

The room closer to the entry had the door closed and a sign up about special hygiene measures to be taken. I asked the staff whether I was allowed to go in, and I must have gotten a volunteer first because she said she didn't think so, and I almost left. Luckily another staff member came along and said I could go in. I opened the door, stepped in the room and looked to my right - straight into Alaska's eyes.

I recognized her instantly, even though she was filthy, skinny and matted. I'm not sure whether I stepped forward or back - maybe both - but I know I started to cry. It had been 87 days since she ran away. I think I chirped at her and called to her through the cage door and she responded weakly. I knew it was her but I could hardly believe it. My eyes ran across her chart - "white female DMH, declawed (front), found downtown Sept 14". Finally I got the room door open again and called semi-coherently to a staff member "It's my cat...".

A staff person opened the cage door and said "Touch her.". I patted her skinny side and felt all her ribs through her long, greasy fur. She pushed her body against my hand. Then I had to leave her and do the paperwork to take her home. I paid for the vet treatment she received, the days at the shelter, a license and a microchip. They loaned me a carrier and gave me the number for the pet taxi (I left my bike there). I got some more of the story, too. Alaska had been brought in by someone who found her trapped in an underground garage at Cooper and Lyon - only a few blocks from where we'd been staying. She was brought in on Tuesday, just a half-hour after I'd left from my previous visit.

We were staying two more nights at our friend's house while the floor varnish cured. I called Andrea (who was in Vanier, in the middle of varnishing) and, still in tears, told her the unbelievable good news. The poor girl had to finish varnishing before she could do the 45 minute bike back to our friend's.

Our friend Lisa was incredible. She said of course I could bring my cat to her place. She fosters cats regularly for the Humane Society and had some tins of special recovery food which she gave to us. We spent most of Friday night snuggling with Alaska and most of Saturday trying to clean her up. On Sunday Lisa drive us home, all together.

It's been so amazing to have Alaska back. We'd dreamed about reuniting in time to move into our new house and it actually happened. It's hard to see her so weak and skinny, but she cleaned up nicely and has been recovering like a champ. She eats constantly and has been using her litter with no problems. I took her to our local vet for a follow-up and, other than mild anemia and a slightly raised white-blood cell count (within tolerances and completely expected considering her ordeal), she was given a clean bill of health - no parasites, no viruses, no organ damage, no injuries. She probably weighed under 5 pounds when she was brought in and she's 7 pounds now, which is at the low end of normal. She had to have the mats shaved off of her belly so she's still a bit naked but she's looking more normal every day. She's still resting a lot and not interested in playing yet but we're hoping that will come in time. She is snuggling, though!

She is only eight years old so we hope to have another 8 years with her. Not sure how many lives she lost this summer, but we'll appreciate every year we do have because every moment we have with her is a gift.

The lessons I take away from this experience are:

-never underestimate a stressed cat's ability to escape.
-even wussy cats are amazing survivors (maybe even better survivors than aggressive cats!)
-it may take 3 months for your lost cat to look crappy enough for someone to bring it in. I have heard this from many people. Don't give up!!!
-If you see a lost cat, at least call the shelter. They can check the lost listings. Also check Craigslist, Kijiji, UsedOttawa and other online listings.
-the Humane Society really does need more space. You can donate to their capital fund for the new space here: HS "Breaking Ground" fund
-the shelter desperately needs more animal fosterers like my awesome friend Lisa. It is a really sweet deal where you get to play with kittens, save them from weeks in a cage, and everything is paid for!


teaspoon said...

Could either of you call the Ottawa Sun today (Friday)? My name's Tony — I'm a reporter and we'd like to do a story. Please call the newsroom at 613-739-5127 if you have a few minutes. Thanks.

Hearts of Glass said...

Oops - Sorry Tony, I didn't see this message until Monday. However you weren't the only journalist interested in Alaska's story! I got an email from the Ottawa Citizen and they ran a Saturday story in the City section. I think I'm all interviewed out for now but thanks for being interested in sharing stories about how to reunite owners with lost cats.

Cassandra said...

It's so awesome that you found her! I was actually just randomly ran into your story--I know you guys are in Ottawa now, but we still love your work and check out your blog every now and then. I couldn't imagine one of our fur-children missing, it would truly be heartbreaking. So again, I'm so glad you were reunited and congratulations on finding a place and settling in in Ottawa.
Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!
Cheers from Winnipeg!
Cassandra, Melody & Baby

jodi (bloomingwriter) said...

Oh my gawd. I came to your site because I was drawn by an image of what you do with glass (and where can it be purchased???) but then I saw this post and had to read it. Gulp. I'm so glad you got your kitty back!

Hearts of Glass said...

Thanks Cassandra! I'm following your family's ongoing saga as well, on Facebook! So excited for you!

Jodi - Thanks! It was a dramatic reunion and I hope we never have to go through it again!
About our work, we have an Etsy store but it is on hiatus still from our cross-country move. I hope to get a few things up there after this show and then I'll put the links back up! It's if you'd like to bookmark it. If you're an Ottawa girl, you can check us out at the OGBA show this Friday and Saturday at the Hellenic Centre on Prince of Wales drive. :)