Sir Rufus the Bold trotted forth, his golden plume of a tail held high. He loved how snow transformed his world. The previous day, he'd discovered that he actually could swim through the two feet of powder in the neighbor's yard. Maybe today he would slay a snow dragon! But Rufus did not come home that night.
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He wasn't asleep on the bed the next morning, and he'd never been gone overnight. His sister, the Princess, sat on the doorstep, scanning the air with her whiskers. Their person posted a "lost cat" sign by the condo mailboxes and checked the absentee's favorite hangouts.
Then it was time to mobilize friends. With the mercury in single digits and the Taku wind-chill factor, it was minus 30 degrees. Friends canvassed the neighborhood, knowing that if he was hurt, Rufus wouldn't last another night.
The next day, his person did the most important thing the owner of a missing cat can do. She called Animal Control, 789-6997, and filed a lost cat report.
"I felt so much better after I'd talked to the lady there," Rufus's person said. "She checked the records and assured me that no orange cat had been brought in injured or dead. That had been my greatest fear. Then she made sure there wasn't a cat in the shelter that might be him and reassured me they would keep watching for him." Identification would be easy because Rufus had a microchip, an I.D. tag the size of a grain of rice implanted beneath his skin.
Animal Control keeps a cat for at least five days while trying to find the person to whom he belongs. That is required by the city of Juneau municipal code. Afterwards, an unclaimed animal "may be disposed of by the Humane Society by adoption, sale or destruction by humane means." That's why it's so important to file a lost cat report within five days. (Don't forget to call back with the good news when the lost is found - cause for rejoicing at both ends of the line.)
Cats are territorial and spend their outdoor time in one area. Concentrating on his turf, Rufus's searchers posted signs wherever people pause: near mailboxes, at crosswalks, bus stops and stop signs. Rufus was from Douglas, so posters went up at the local post office and restaurants. And because many people who live in Douglas stop at the Alaskan & Proud market on their way home, posters went there.
Sometimes a cat is chased or frightened into running beyond his range. Getting back may take him a while, but cats have an innate ability to home in. Remember the song that goes, "The very next day, the cat came back?" Trust your cat to do his part.
Rufus's person sent "lost cat" announcements to local radio stations. "The people there were wonderful," she said. "On the air, they elaborated on my suggestion that people look in garages and storage sheds where he might accidentally be shut in."
That was the hope to which she clung. Rufus had disappeared on a Saturday when people were taking out snow shovels, skis and Christmas lights. A cat can go several days without water and for weeks without food, and she dared to think that the following weekend, someone might return to their storage place and find an unexpected guest.
Saturday and Sunday came and went. Sunday evening, the woman was sitting sadly with the Princess on her lap. The cat door squeaked. Princess and Mom looked at each other, then the Princess flew for the door with Mom in close formation behind.
"Prrrrp?" asked Rufus. Translation: "What's for dinner?"
He wasn't hurt, dirty or wet. He wasn't any colder than normal for being outside. Where had Rufus been? His person probably won't ever know, but she'd done everything she could to help bring him home.
Linda Daniel has spent her life in the company of cats, most of whom simply showed up at her door. She's a believer in spaying and neutering to reduce the number of homeless cats.
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