Thursday, September 1, 2016

Kiki's Grand Adventure: A Tale of Luck and Gratitude

Spoiler alert: there's a happy ending. But we didn't know that at the time. This post is a long one.

One of my great joys is that every winter morning, I wake up with my cat Squeek -- Kiki to his friends -- lying somewhere on me. And every summer morning, I wake up to the sound of his claws tippy tapping on our hardwood floors, coming in to our room and jumping on the bed to say hello.

And then one day, he didn't. We discounted this -- after all, it had been over 90 degrees the previous day, leaving the house hot all night. Both Squeek and his brother Bubble tend to frequent the much cooler basement on hot days, so we didn't worry too much.

But then we didn't see him all day, and I started to worry. We also started to second-guess ourselves -- when was the last time we KNEW we had seen him? Was it Thursday? Possibly Wednesday? We knew we had seen him Wednesday night... did he somehow slip out then?

Kiki had gone into deep hiding before ... once we'd had some work done on the house and the drilling terrified him. We didn't find him for a day ... and in fact, *we* didn't find him -- his brother Bub guided us to where Kiki was hiding, up between the rafters of the unfinished part of the basement, sitting on the drywall ceiling from the finished part. It took some coaxing, but we got him out and sealed up that hiding place.

So this time we combed through our clutter-crowded basement. Dug through jam-packed closets. Shifted furniture. Examined behind the refrigerator, washer, dryer, and hot water heater.

No sign of him.

As the day passed, it dawned on us that either he had somehow escaped, or he was in the house and hurt, sick, or even dead.

We read all about lost indoor cats, how if they find themselves outdoors, they go to ground and hide. They turn up in neighbor's garages, sheds, woodpiles, under tarps. Most are only 4 or 5 houses away. We were advised to look around outside, but that for the most part, a "displaced cat" won't come when you call, or even make a noise. Their instinct just tells them to sit quietly.

We were also advised that, even if we do spot him, he may run away from us.

I made a "lost cat" flyer, printed it at the FedEx store (which, yes, I *still* refer to as "Kinko's"), and posted it around the neighborhood. We knocked on doors, left flyers, even met the people whose house backs on to our next-door neighbor -- and they kindly let us poke around in their backyard, despite never meeting us before.

Of course our beloved 11th Avenue gang rallied. We looked in garages, sheds, basements. I sent an email to everyone on our block; some of them forwarded it to other local streets. Another neighbor -- whose indoor cat Bogie also escaped and was happily found -- introduced me to someone up the street who had a humane trap to loan us, in the hope that Kiki would come out when he was hungry if he could "smell" home ... or at least a worn t-shirt of Wil's.

Another day passed. On Sunday morning we had gone for a walk up a neighboring street, hoping beyond hope that we would glimpse Kiki. People kept telling us not to give up hope, but it was the not knowing that was making us crazy. Was he somewhere hurt? Was he five feet from us and just so instinctively hiding that he wouldn't come out? Or, oh no, was he already dead and hidden somewhere in our house???

We were standing across the street in our neighbor's front yard when my phone rang. I answered and a woman's voice said, "You have a cat ... Squeek ... he's been hit by a car ..." and my head started spinning. I said, "Yes -- yes -- Squeek". The woman told me that he was moving, that a car had stopped to keep other cars from hitting him, and that they're keeping him from running off but that we needed to come right away. I heard the same frantic tone in her voice that I could hear in mine. Wil and I started running back to our house while I said, "Yes -- yes -- of course. Where are you?" and told Wil to get my car keys.

"130th between Sunnyside and 1st."

"I'm sorry, where?"

"130th between Sunnyside and 1st... where are you?"

"On 65th... in Ballard... by the high school."

There was a brief pause as we both considered this, broken by Wil's returning with my keys and us getting in the car. We said we were on our way, not quite realizing how far it was. How far? 4.9 miles, according to Google.


Google maps told us it would take 17 minutes; we covered it in 15 frantic minutes.

130th is a four-lane road with no turn lane, no parking areas, and is a busy road heading to a freeway onramp. As we got close to the scene, we could see traffic stopped in the left eastbound lane, westbound traffic moving slowly, and cars going into the right eastbound lane. I got to where our lane slowed down, pulled onto the sidewalk, and took off running. Wil, being a practical sort, dumped out a box in the back of the car and grabbed a blanket and followed.

image from Google Streetview

The whole time I kept thinking that maybe it wasn't Squeek. (As a neighbor said, when I recounted the tale, "Soooo... another cat wearing his collar...?") Or that we would be picking him up to take him to the vet and say goodbye. I just couldn't figure out what a cat who had been hit by a car would look like.

We ran through the cars and found a woman standing in front of a parked car ... and between her feet, was Squeek. Oh my gosh, it really was Squeek. I said, "Oh, baby cat!" and touched him. The woman -- I think it was the woman who had called -- said, "I think he's okay ... that" (a stream of liquid) "is just pee."

His face was pretty bloody -- and very scraped up. Part of his upper and lower lip was essentially gone. He had a big scrape just above his eye, and another one a little farther up his forehead. He looked like a bruiser.

Wil, again, being more practical, picked him up and put him in the box and between the two of us we ran, carried the box, and held him in the box all the way back to the car. We shouted a quick thank you, but really just ran off. I still feel bad about this, a little.

We got to the car and tried to remember the emergency veterinary hospital. We had been to two different ones, over the course of our boys' lives, and liked one but not the other. And we couldn't remember the name of either of them. So we decided to call our vet's office, knowing that they would be closed but have a recommendation on their message.

We called Green Lake Animal Hospital because we knew they'd be open and let them know that we were on our way. A few minutes later, while we were driving, they called us back to advise us that they had just had another emergency come in, and that they recommended we try BluePearl because they would be fully staffed. Though they weren't able to help us, I'm grateful Green Lake Animal Hospital let us know before we got all the way there, parked, and in their office.

So we turned the car around and drove to BluePearl -- which turned out to be the place we had taken Kiki once before, long ago, when it was called ACCES. We had good memories of his treatment there -- really nice front office, nice doctors, and he came through just fine. Turns out they changed their name just under a year ago when they joined up with two other local veterinary hospitals as part of a national chain. I'm happy to report that the front office and the doctors are still super nice.

We rushed in and someone came out right away to take Kiki in the back for a quick exam and to get him stable. Wil and I stood there, shaken. Within a few minutes the doctor came out and said that they had done an ultrasound and that, luckily, it looked as if he had no serious internal damage, but he had broken a tooth, lost part of his lips, and had serious abrasions on his paws. "Maybe he really dug in at the point of impact?" he asked.

I said that he had been found 5 miles from home, and the doctor said, "Yeah, that might do it."


We okayed taking x-rays and doing a more thorough exam, then sat down to wait. Wil finally went to wash his hands, which were covered in grime from Kiki's fur, and streaked with Kiki's blood. It would be days before petting him didn't result in blackened, dirty hands.

The waiting room at an emergency veterinary hospital is a pretty sad place. We saw a few dogs and cats come in, get whisked away, and their humans joined the quiet little group. We also saw a couple of dogs come out, have happy reunions with their humans, and leave. And we saw one ashen-faced couple bringing in their cat, going into a back room, and coming back 20 minutes later, red-eyed and with an empty carrier. All of us went completely silent when they came back.

We sent out some updates to our friends and neighbors, and I called the woman who had called us back so I could properly thank her for what she did. Because, really, she saved Kiki's life and brought him back to us.

A while later -- time was weird at this point -- the vet came to talk to us in an exam room to talk about Kiki. We were still worried that he would break some terrible news to us, but things were pretty good. Other than the obvious damage to his face and feet, there didn't seem to be anything else. His vitals were good, but they wanted to keep him in for at least a few more hours for observation. We were told to call back around 7pm and they would give us an update. They also let us have a quick visit with him in his kennel.

We went "backstage" in the hospital, trying not to look at the other patients. Kiki was in his big kennel, huddled in the back corner, facing the wall. When we opened the door and spoke to him, he turned, let us pet him, and eventually gave us his belly to rub. That's my baby. Wil and I spent a few minutes fighting back tears of relief and petting our little tiger before closing the door.

So we went home, our minds reeling.  Even now, days later, it's *still* hard for me to believe. We passed the afternoon keeping busy, continuing our frantic tidying of a corner of the basement. At precisely 7:01 pm, Wil called the vet, and was told the good news that Kiki was still doing well, had been eating, and, if we wanted, we could bring him home tonight. If we were unsure, we could even go visit him and then make our decision.

When they brought him out, he looked much better. They had cleaned him up a bit, he had been eating, and though he was pretty stressed out, he relaxed when he was alone with us. We talked to the vet and decided that we would like him home with us, thank you very much. Kiki also voted for this option, happily climbing in to our cat carrier and rubbing his face all over it.


When we got home we let him wander around a bit, reintroduced him to Bub (who did not like the smell of the "House of Pain" ONE BIT), and then happily settled into bed with him, now gently drugged on pain killers.

Over the past few days he has continued to improve. His face looks much more expressive and "normal", despite being so banged up. His scrapes have scabbed over. He still limps, but it seems to be getting better. And he and Bub have reached ... if not friendship, then detente. Only one hiss so far today, and no growling, so we're moving forward.

It seems unbelievable that we got our Squeek back, and in such a dramatic way. To have a little 9-pound cat travel so far... to be found because he was hit by a car and people banded together to protect him, and to be home is all beyond what we could have imagined.

Three key things saved his life and brought him back to us.

1. Our cats are indoor cats, and though we never want them to be outside, we have kept collars and tags on them most of the time. That said, we would sometimes go for months without having collars on them, because one or the other of them would wriggle out of their collar (or, in the case of the leather ones we used to use, chewed through it....). Then we would joke about our nudist cats who much prefer being naked, thank you very much ... and if we came across their discarded collar, we'd put it back on. But it might be a month or two...

Luckily, we heard of the Kitty Convict Project  created by Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal and his partners behind Exploding Kittens. Inspired by their genius, we decided to buy new, orange collars for our own convict kitties.


As their site notes, 26% of dogs reported missing are found and returned home... but fewer than 5% of cats reported missing are. There are three basic reasons:

  1. More dogs have ID collars on than cats do. 
  2. Cats are better at hiding. "When that little ninja hairball of yours runs away, often times he's scared, sick, or injured and doesn't want to be found."
  3. When people see a dog running around the neighborhood, they assume it's lost. But when people see a cat running around the neighborhood, they just assume it's an outdoor cat, so it never gets reported.
So their genius and simple idea was this: if you have an indoor cat, have him wear an orange collar. And if you see a cat outside wearing an orange collar, report it. Simple. 

You can learn more about the Kitty Convict Project and even buy your own orange kitty collar at explodingkittens.com. Public service announcement number one: Seriously, get one for your cat. Even if he's an indoor cat. Seriously.

2. Squeek's really nice ID tag from Red Dingo was still legible, years later. (Full disclosure: over the years we have purchased two sets of tags from Red Dingo -- notably when one or the other cat collar went missing. So these tags aren't nine years old, but they weren't brand new, either.) When I spoke to Kiki's rescuer, she said how glad she was that he had a collar on, and that the name and number on the collar were so legible. Public service announcement number two: Get a good quality tag for your cat's collar. Put your cat's name and your mobile phone number on it. You might thank me for it. We loved the designs and the quality of the Red Dingo tags, available via your local pet store or direct from reddingo.com

3. Less tangible, but no less real -- the kindness of friends and strangers. From the neighbors who helped spread the word and let us crawl around in their basements, garages, and under their decks. From the online communities who allowed us to post the news. From websites like the Missing Pet Partnership for offering great information on finding displaced pets. And most importantly, from a group of strangers who saw a cat get hit by a car, and stopped. The people behind the car that hit Squeek stopped their car and blocked traffic on a busy road so that no one else would hit him. A neighbor came out, got my phone number off his collar, and took the time to call me ... and then went back out in the street to hold him down so he couldn't run away. And wait the 20 minutes for us to get there. I'm still crying as I think about how much this means to us. 

Kiki has been on a grand adventure, and his sore paws show it. As usual, we think we're the luckiest people in the world -- and clearly this has rubbed off on our cat. 

Thanks everyone for all the notes of love and support -- it's been quite a week. We're just so happy to have our little one back home. 




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