A Mabel’s Way Home
By: Sarah Javier | January 11, 2019
According to the ASPCA, 15% of pet households will experience a missing pet. Minimize the risk you will lose your furry friend forever by being proactive and spaying/neutering, microchipping, posting flyers, and dabbling in witchcraft.
February 14th, 2018, I came home from work and greeted my pets. My border collie (Betty), my FIV+ black domestic shorthair (Dipper), my medium haired perfect calico (Mabel), and our sweet FIV+ foster (George).
Betty, Dipper, George.
My cats are strictly indoors. Sometimes they bury themselves in my hoard of clothes or get accidentally locked in a closet. Mabel has a nearly silent meow – so the prospect that she was trapped somewhere in the apartment was not absurd. However, she was a known door dasher. Usually she’d slip past me and trot down the back steps, then wait in the yard to be captured.
Today, though, I hadn’t noticed her escape. To this day, I have no explanation for how Mabel went missing but after I’d torn apart all 1000 square feet of my apartment I had to face facts: Mabel was gone.
What follows is a 6 day ordeal where I tried absolutely anything and everything:
Mabel was not adopted, per se. While building a ramp in East St Louis for a previous nonprofit employer, I stumbled across a feral cat colony. The colony was mostly Siamese adult cats – and two kittens who I clocked to be between 5 and 7 months. This was generally beyond the age of taming but I was a young and inexperienced volunteer. When I trapped both kittens in the same trap (and when the colony caretaker explained she loved the adults and disliked the kittens), I took them home. (Note: this is basically never a good idea because cats are fickle creatures. It is impossible to guess if a kitten over 12 weeks will tame – let alone a pair of 6+ month old ferals).
I set Mabel & Dipper up in a crate in my kitchen. They hid in a box for a month. And then something amazing happened – Dipper let me pet his head while he ate. He started to meow (generally, feral cats do not meow – this is a tactic to manipulate humans for more food). Mabel escaped the crate and didn’t hide. Cautiously, I let the two of them out of the kitchen crate. Nearly immediately after release, Mabel demanded to be carried like a baby. Dipper decided he wanted endless kisses and pets. Anyway what I’m saying is I foster failed hard for these two.
The upshot: I microchipped both cats to me. Because they took a month to tame, both cats have notches in their left ears (a universal sign of community cats & sterilization).
When Mabel went missing, I contacted her chip company and was connected with a human nearly immediately. The operator was sympathetic. She said Mabel was officially flagged as missing in the system.
Known associate of mine and big Mabel fan, Megan, immediately designed and printed a million MISSING flyers. We disseminated them to the major cultural hubs: the Starbucks on Grand, the Starbucks on Kingshighway, the Starbucks off the 64, and every light post in Tower Grove South.
We posted a digital version of the flyer on our neighborhood Facebook page. My wide circle of cat rescue friends signal boosted Mabel’s missing face endlessly. We straight up spammed Next Door.
I knocked on doors and left flyers in my neighborhood. During one cold afternoon, a girl noticed me methodically visiting every door on a street. She was a dog walker and a member of the social media site, Reddit. She offered to help. She took one side of the street and boosted my flyer on the St Louis sub-Reddit. Hey Jessica: thanks for being a bro. Every person with eyes or an internet connection in Tower Grove knew Mabel was missing.
3) Tips for Missing Cats
Some suggestions I received (and followed): leave Mabel’s litterbox outside, leave blankets outside, set a trap for her in your backyard. I upped the ante on this last suggestion: I set two traps in my backyard (courtesy of St Louis Feral Cat Outreach). I rigged a trap up in my dog’s house with a circular mp3 file of Mabel’s bonded brother, Dipper, meowing.
The Dipper clip was not difficult to get: he’d grown very needy since Mabel’s disappearance. He’d taken to wandering the halls of our small apartment, crying his heart out. I recorded one of these calls and borrowed a friend’s wireless speaker. I reasoned that if Mabel heard Dipper calling her, she might come home.
Friend and resident tech wizard, Katherine, lent me her NEST cam. I positioned it in my kitchen window and monitored it obsessively from my smartphone.
But my favorite suggestion was this: spend some time outside at 3am. Cats are more likely to come out when it’s dark and quiet. Don’t use the cat’s name, the suggestion continues, because cats hear their names and grow more afraid. They’ll think you’re drawing too much attention to them – and they will only hunker down more.
Every single night after Mabel went missing, I set an alarm for 3am. I am naturally adverse to winter clothes so I’d only pull on my puffy coat over my night dress and set up camp in my backyard. Bare legged and cell phone screen glowing bright in the winter air, I began to read. Most nights I landed on a website about history (r/AskHistorians).
It was, indeed, very quiet. It felt wrong to be making such a ruckus in my silent neighborhood but night after night, I picked a thread and projected into the darkness.
Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, was a member of the most powerful dynasty in Europe….
Newton didn’t discover gravity, but unified a variety of other disparate issues, especially the movement of heavenly and earthly bodies, within a new systematic physics…
The Aztecs had different ways of welcoming a new child based on their gender…
Occasionally a figure or another would walk past me on the sidewalk, but no one ever bothered me. From a few yards away, Dipper’s recorded voice yowled on a loop.
4) Less Orthodox Methods
When you cry for six days straight, funny things happen to your brain. I felt tired all the time – listless but also restless. Although a comparatively short trauma, six days of near constant, breathless worry left me loopy. I was dehydrated from tears. I spent hours in the bathtub, trying to soak my cells back to life. Lonely Dipper lay on my shoulder, his tail swishing in the water.
Although most people seemed to fall into the “look at night and shine your flashlight under cars to see if you can spot the reflection in her eyes” camp, there were some notable exceptions.
One friend told me about a pet psychic who reunited a friend and her dog. I got her contact info.
Another friend and sometimes witch, Charlotte, suggested I purchase a spell from a new age witchcraft store. We visited the shop and I told the woman behind the counter, “I can’t find my cat.” She recommended a bottle of oil emblazoned with the words “Bring My Lost Love Back To Me.“
The liquid inside was bright pink and presumably a spell to bring back a wayward boyfriend. I hoped it could do something even more important: bring back my cat.
The package instructed I place the oil on anything that might serve as a beacon back home for Mabel. I smeared it on my hands, her cat tree, and the back corners of her missing posters. I gingerly swiped some on my phone case.
5) End Game
On February 20th, I created a Facebook event to search for Mabel. Many friends and volunteers enthusiastically agreed to come out the following weekend and fan out in a grid search.
My friend and aforementioned feral expert, Terri, accompanied me to the Humane Society, the APA, and the city shelter. No Mabel – but we did leave flyers.
I came home and resolved to take a nap. I put on my pjs and my phone rang with an unknown caller. I was answering any strange number that rang through, thinking any minute now it would be someone who found Mabel. I’d received tips from a couple off Baden, a woman in the hill, and other places in the city. Although I knew these were all long shots (cats are most likely to be only a few blocks from where they were last seen), I diligently tracked each one down.
This tip was different.
“I posted about this on Facebook,” the woman, Alison, told me on the phone. “But the more I think about it, the more I really think I saw your cat just a few minutes ago. She had the notch in her ear. I saw her on Connecticut. I’m a dog walker so I couldn’t stop because I didn’t want the dogs to scare her off but I wanted you to know.”
Connecticut was only a block from me.
I did not change out of my pjs.
This woman had found my cat, I was sure of it.
I snatched a cat carrier and raced over to the address on Connecticut. I got out of my car and prowled around to the side of the house.
There, sitting in the bushes, was Mabel. At first I did not recognize her. She was too puffy and a different color than I remembered. Although Mabel is a very distinct cat, memory is a strange, slippery thing – and so is panic.
Mabel took one look at me and bolted through a broken window and into the basement of the vacant home behind her. I climbed through the brush and peered down into the pitch black room. I called Terri, screaming incoherently.
“I can see her but I can’t get to her!” I shouted, finally, after Terri gave up trying to ascertain if I was perhaps in the process of being murdered.
“What tools do we need?” asked Terri, the pragmatist. A catch pole? Gloves? A ladder? The jaws of life?
I remembered the tip about a cat’s name causing fear. So: I didn’t say her name. “It’s me!” I pleaded to Mabel. “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me!” I wailed. Mabel peaked her head through the basement window. Without hesitation I scruffed her and placed her in the carrier, panting. Mabel stared through the bars, shaking violently. I sat on my car’s bumper and blubbered. “I got her!” I said to Terri, and then I called Alison back. I cried so hard I could barely speak. Alison was crying too.
“I always keep an eye out,” she told me, “I was hoping I’d find her.”
I called my boyfriend, and then told my mother, and Megan, and all of Facebook. I took the world’s most unflattering selfie and, in the interest of full accuracy, posted it online with the caption “MABEL IS HOME.” I called the microchip number with the good news. The operator was thrilled. Mabel was officially marked found in the system.
Back home, Mabel slept in my lap for hours. When my boyfriend got home she jumped all over him, climbing his shoulders and then leaping into his lap, over and over. The other animals regarded her coolly. “Ah, there you are,” Dipper seemed to say.
Last year, the APA reports the following statistics about lost pets:
182 pets were returned to their families from the APA
Of those, 28 were found through APA postings on STL LOST PETS.
2 were returned to their owners when good Samaritans returned them to the APA – wearing tags.
23 families visited the shelter and found their lost pet waiting here, patiently, for them.
27 were reunited through the web in some other way than the missing pets page.
7, like Mabel, were returned through the power of Facebook.
25 owners called and described their pet – and were successfully reunited by phone.
If your pet goes missing, no one strategy is a guarantee to bring her back home. Microchip her now so that if the time ever comes, you are prepared.