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Monday, April 14, 2008

The Facts in the Case of Maximillian

It had been a hectic Friday at the hospital where I work. I was a bit more exhausted than usual at the end of this week because I also happened to be on duty for the weekend. As it was now the end of my shift, I was looking forward to getting home and relaxing a little bit before the weekend began.

The practice consists of two buildings separated by a covered walkway. There is an exercise courtyard between the two buildings which is completely fenced in from the outside. I was heading through the back door of the front building on my way to the back when two things happened at once.

The first was Debbie, who was inside, asked me a question as I opened the door. And the second thing was that I noticed, with detached curiosity, that there was a grey and black tabby cat sitting in the corner of the yard.

Normally, there is no cat there.

That is, unless it is our clinic cat Tabitha, who is a white and grey tabby. This was not her and this little guy was just sitting there happily grooming himself as if he owned the place. He was rather plump and had a healthy glow to him, so he certainly seemed to have an owner. Given that there is a plank ramp on one side of the building for Tabitha to use to get into and out of the back yard when the clinic is closed, it was not at all shocking to think there could be a strange cat lounging in our backyard. This cat certainly didn't seem distressed or up to no good, but still I was briefly taken aback at seeing him there.

I suppose that the combination of my mild surprise at our feline interloper, Debbie's distracting question and my heading into the back to do something else - all occurring at the end of a day when my mind is tired and distracted and thinking of home - is why I didn't speak up like I wanted to and say, "Huh, that's interesting - there's a strange cat in the yard!" to Debbie.

I was being too polite to interrupt her as she was in another room and could not see me or the cat, and I was also too scatterbrained (more than usual) to remember to mention this cat's presence to her in another minute or two.

So it was that I went into the back, did whatever I had gone to do, came back up front, ditched the stethoscope and lab coat, grabbed my car keys and headed for the door... and completely forgot to mention to Debbie about the cat being out there.

That's when she said it.

"There's a cat missing from the cattery," Debbie said quietly, her face evincing much concern.

I stopped dead, instantly consumed with a mix of emotions. Exasperation, as I was immediately certain that the grey tabby from a few moments ago was the very one who had now obviously made his escape. Irritation, as I realized that I could have caught the little bugger had I not been so absentminded. Chagrin, as I realized this is certainly one of a pet owner's worst nightmares whenever they have to leave a beloved pet behind in the care of others. Panic, as I realized that we were these 'others' who had now misplaced one fat and happy housecat. Anger, as I realized that whoever had left the cattery door open was neither Debbie nor myself and their weekend of luxurious relaxation had already begun!

"What do you mean... 'missing'?" I asked, stalling for time and trying to get a grip on my emotions.

As if somehow, Debbie would then say, "Oh, Brandon, I was just pulling your leg! He's just gone home is all. Have a great weekend! Haha."

Eh, nope, not exactly.

Debbie then went on to explain how his cattery door was wide open (and these cattery doors are nigh-impossible for even the cleverest and most persistent of cats to jimmy open), the cat in question was nowhere to be seen (well sorta, heh), and all three doors in the cattery meant to be closed and at least keep escapees inside were also left wide open.

These were truly bizarre circumstances - and vexing as hell.

After trying to get in touch with the owner (unsuccessfully - she was in Australia but due back in town the very next day) we searched around the yards and the clinic, and then continued searching the neighbouring streets but without any luck. It was so aggravating to be looking for this poor cat who not five minutes ago was a few strides away from me but had now melted into his surroundings.

As it was, there was a rather sick kitty in the hospital with us at the time, so I had already planned to come back to the hospital later on that night to check on him and administer some more treatment. So I'd have an extra chance to maybe see our escapee come wandering back, looking for his dinner. It was a thin hope, at best, as there were lots of houses in the vicinity and as most New Zealand cat owners let them freely go outdoors, it was likely there were also plenty of cat food bowls in nearby yards of which our fugitive could avail himself.

So that night, around eleven, I returned, did a brief scouting around, treated my patient, and began to lock up. With no sign of the unintentionally stray boarder, I shut the lights inside the back building and began to walk down the darkened hallway to the security panel.

Just as I hit the lights and took a step, there was a sudden loud crash from the courtyard outside. I froze in my tracks, waiting for my heart to stop pounding so I could listen for any more noises.

There were none, so I cautiously made my way to the panel, activated it, then stepped out into the darkened courtyard. The only sounds were the now-muffled mechanical beeps of the security panel behind me, menacingly ticking off the seconds until the alarm would become 'Full On'.

My eyes had now adjusted to the darkness and I could just make out a tiny little silhouette at the back door to the front building.

I flicked on the courtyard light to see who this was, not allowing my hopes to get up too high that it might be our dear missing boarder.

Recognition came instantly: It was Tabitha! Our clinic cat, she of the rapidly-fattening belly, was sitting at the door shooting me expectant and pleading glances to let her inside.

The little gremlin had crashed over the gate into the courtyard and onto one of the rubbish bins, toppling it over and creating the ruckus that made me think it was curtains for me.

Realizing that I've been watching too much television, I walked over to Tabitha, patted her and noticed that the outside food dish of hers was still half-full. I realized she was much more keen on a good night's sleep on her favourite chair inside, but we just can't have her setting off the motion detectors so it was to be the outdoor enclosed cat bed for her.

As for me, I went home, facing the uneasy prospect of trying to get some sleep while wondering what in the world we were going to tell this missing cat's owner in the morning...

What's this? A cattery without a cat? A night without any sleep? How will this story end?

Tune in next time, same cat-time, same cat-channel!


Blogger Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

OK, you got me. Post soon. OK?

11:44 PM  

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