Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Our cat Zach is missing.
Zach went out early last Thursday morning and has not been seen since. Meg and I have scoured the woods and field around our house to no avail. It seems doubtful at this point that I’ll ever see him again.
My friend Chris asked me if Zach was the first cat I ever had. My first answer was “no” until I realized that Zach was the first cat that I ever had, by myself, as an adult. Meg gave Zach to me during the summer of 1994 as he was not getting along with Kitty, one of Meg’s other cats. Furthermore, I had spent quite a bit of time with Zach and it was clear that we got along very well.
Those years were spent on the bank of Lake Fairlee, where Zach would roam among the cornstalks of the nearby garden and along the bank of the lake. I remember calling Zach at night and hearing his little grunts and seeing his two eyes reflecting in the light of the outdoor light before the rest of him trotted into view and into the safety of the small cabin.
This was when I learned from Meg how dangerous it is for cats in Vermont to be ‘outside’ cats. It’s a lesson I should have learned growing up in Maine where of course the same is true (my first cat Susie conducted epics battles with raccoons upon her arrival in the Maine wilderness), but because Zach was my responsibility now, I gained a deeper understanding of it.
Meg kept her cats inside as much as possible; in fact she had had to break Kitty to make her an indoor cat. Kitty passed away a bit over a year ago at the age of eighteen.
So I learned some element of responsibility with Zach. When I moved into my first home on Barker Road, I was careful about letting Zach outside for fear that he would wonder off disoriented. I took some of the first pictures with my new camera of Zach exploring the area around the Barker Road house. He became very comfortable there, though I remember one episode early on where he stayed away too long. I was brewing beer in those days and I named a batch for Zachy’s return.
Then of course came the move to Santa Cruz. This was a turbulent time for me personally, changing jobs, moving across the country, and stressing my relationship with Meg to the hilt. Zach was the constant companion through all of that and he put up with a lot. He accompanied Dad and I as we drove across the country. He rode well but his pent up energy would come out at night, scratching endlessly in his litter box and doing whatever else he could do to exercise his cat energy.
We arrived in Santa Cruz to a flea infested rental house so Zach came to work (totally forbidden) at E-Mu one day while the property managers had the house treated. And he would lie on top of me on my chest when I lay down to sleep at night, purring loudly and demanding to be stroked. He was my buddy and stuck by me during a very stressful transition.
He learned something about California. I remember in the early days there finding him staring out the window and chattering one night. I took a flashlight and shined it out the window and found an armadillo, something Zach never encountered as a Vermont cat. He also met raccoons, armies of them, at the first place in Santa Cruz. Unlike Susie, he did not do battle; he let them go about their business, sitting up on the railing and preserving his good nature and his health.
He did run into some battles in California however. The first foe was a long piece of grass, which got stuck (somehow!) in his nasal cavity and made him sneeze and cough terribly. This is apparently not uncommon in California and required that he be anesthetized so that the grass could be removed. When I picked up Zach, the vet had the piece of grass for me to see. I swear it was six inches long if it was an inch. This episode, combined with the undeniable fact that Zach was blessed with a nose of considerable stature, led to an unending stream of comments and jokes between Meg and I.
Zach’s second foe was a giant cat with one eye (Max?) that roamed around our condo on Frederick Street. Zach would see him outside the window and started to tremble and mew. One evening when we left Zach outside during the working day, I arrived home to find Zach’s collar on our front stoop. After looking around and finding Zach, the neighbor came out of the house to tell me that Zach and Max had such a terrible catfight that the neighbors ended up throwing water on them to break it up. Zach emerged without significant injuries from that battle.
Then of course it was time to come back to Vermont. Zach accompanied Kitty and Spud on the cross-country journey that took Meg and I through Death Valley, Bryce and Zion, the endless plains of Kansas and eventually back home to Barker Road. Zach was again a model citizen during the long hours in the car, but was a real tiger at night. We tried putting a harness and leash on him and walking him at night to ‘wear him out’. That didn’t work too well, but helped wear us out anyway.
The years at Barker Road were good ones, though Zach returned to his early morning ways, especially in the Spring and Summer where he would do anything he could to wake me up and let him out in the middle of the night. I developed the habit of acquiescing to his demands and then keeping the window above my head open so I could hear his quiet meow when he would return before dawn.
One Spring morning I heard a sound I had never heard before and went outside to see Zach trotting down the driveway towards me, pursued by three small fox kits. Though there was no immediate danger to Zach (I’m quite sure he outweighed them), the message was sinister nonetheless. With no dog establishing territory around the house, foxes were close by and plentiful.
Zach also met an owl during that time. While raking the leaves one fall day, I saw a pair of owls fly across the yard. One lit on a tree branch along the driveway. Incredibly, Zach and I were able to walk over to stand directly underneath this owl and stare up at him. The owl looked at Zach and made an extremely threatening sound. Zach stared at the owl and made an equally threatening sound. I pointed out to Zach that the owl was considerably bigger than he was. The owl dropped off the branch and glided silently through the woods.
In recent years, Zach moved here to Asa Burton Road. He did not take the move well. He was getting older and getting used to a new home – with new (actually old) companions – was a big change. We had one episode where he stayed away from the house for a while; Meg and I found him in the woods behind the house and Zach didn’t seem to understand that we were trying to take him home.
He also acted out a bit. We talked to the vet about it and she wondered if perhaps he saw creatures outside that threatened him. We realized this was probably the case as we had seen foxes in the neighborhood. Over time however, Zach developed the same habits, though he seemed more content to stay close to the house and rarely stayed out overnight.
Last Thursday morning, he woke me up very early, as has often been the case. I got up and let him about 3:15AM. When I got up and fed the cats, he was nowhere to be seen; a bit odd but not terribly so. Since then we have seen no trace of him. We’ve searched everywhere we can think of. There is talk of coyotes being sited in the area. We fear the worst and hope for a miracle.
I’m devastated. I can barely go to work and function. I thought I knew how much Zach means to me, but I was wrong. I didn’t understand that the day started with Zach waking me up, was punctuated by his routine (usually revolving around sleeping), and concluded when he curled up in the crook of my left arm as I lay down to sleep. He is the backbone of my day and without him I feel lost.
Please Zachy. One more time.