Hi, I'm Calling About Your Cat, Again

January 22, 2013

A big orange cat appeared in my headlights one night. As I slowed and came to a stop he crouched there in the swath of brightness, staring off into space, showing no intention of moving. When I got out of the car to see what was wrong he trotted amiably towards me, then rushed at the open car door and jumped in. I watched him settle into the passenger seat. Then I watched him clean his fur. Then I got in and drove us home.

I tried everything. I bought food, which he ate. I filled a water dish, which he lapped vigorously. He wore a collar with his name and my phone number on it, and he slept in my bed. But at 3 AM he'd scream and scratch until I let him out into the night, and then he'd be gone for days while I imagined him being hit by trucks or wandering off to another town. Finally, one evening, I'd see him walking alongside a neighborhood couple or family, like a dog. As I talked to these people I learned he was spending time in their homes. A few days here, a few days there. It turned out everyone knew him and took care of him when he showed up. I was the only fool who thought he was mine.

That collar I'd given him had two consequences: I got phone calls from people who found him, and I got to give him a name. Half dignified and half a joke, I called him Mr. Bister. People used my voicemail to express both the happiness and the anxiety he brought to their lives. So many messages accumulated that I started saving them:

One day a neighbor told me she was moving to a farm with her parents. Given little Mr.'s nonchalance toward motor vehicles, I realized it might be best for all concerned if he went with her. Months later she told me his name was Muldoon and that he'd turned her father into a cat lover. He also refused to abide by the terms of the owner-pet relationship, having a tendency to disappear for weeks at a time while the family went door-to-door with flyers and photographs, called the local shelters, and generally didn't sleep until he wandered casually back, as if returning from a short walk. When, in a panic, she reported one of these episodes to me, I tried to reassure her. But I recalled his 3 AM fits of desperation and knew he'd only exasperate anyone who tried to hold him. As far as I know, he's out there still, a cat belonging only to himself.