Six weeks ago, my little white cat Squeaky bolted out of my apartment in Virginia and off into the woods nearby. He's been a mostly- outdoor cat, and he was hard to contain in both Baltimore and Edgewater. He'd been doing pretty well in Virginia, but, like his old man, that old scent of wanderlust kicks in, and once you catch a whiff, it's time to go.
So, Squeaky went.
Usually, he'd stay away for a day or two at a time; sometimes he'd be gone for a week. But this is now week number six, and nobody in my neighborhood has seen my little buddy. He's a vocal thing, too, so, I'm sure somebody would have heard him by now.
To make matters worse, there's a small white stray cat in my neighborhood who looks like Squeaky. It's not him, but it looks like him. Everytime I see Fake Squeaky, I get excited, run up to him, and then see his face. It's not Squeaky. I've seen Fake Squeaky four times, and each time, I think it's my cat. Each time, I look away dissapointed.
Damn Fake Squeaky.
I'm not sad for Squeaky, though. I mean, I'd hate for him to be suffering, or to be caught by mean kids, or trapped someplace he can't escape. That would bother me. But he lived his life with spirit and attitude. He did more in his four years with me than most humans, let alone pets.
I met the cat in the spring of 2001. My mother had picked him up from a litter of kittens that were being given away in front of a local shopping center. This cat was to be a gift for my uncle Larry, who had always wanted a white cat with blue eyes. I had been cat-stting Larry's cat Dawg at my rowhome in Baltimore. Dawg, also an outdoor cat, jumped to the top of my backyard fence, nearly seven feet up, and then jumped down the other side. My fence was seven feet on my side, about 20 on the other. Don't think he expected that. Once Dawg landed, he flipped out, freaked out and darted away. I put up fliers for the missing cat, checked the pound, SPCA, but nobody ever found Dawg. Shame, too. Dawg was a good cat.
I guess the pull of the outdoors must be strong for a cat like that. I can't imagine leaving a warm house with food and water to go bolting off into a strange city. Then again, I can't imagine chasing mice and crapping into sand.
Larry did not want the kitten, and, being as how I had the room, and "lost" Dawg, I took in the fuzzball. What a cute little thing, too! Big blue eyes, and walked out of its cardboard box of a cage to check me out. This kitten knew no fear. Five minutes in, and he was giving me the once over, like a drill instructor over a group of fresh-faced recruits.
I remember trying to figure out what to name my new pet. Snowball seemed so common, and I didn't want to give the cat a dumb name. Big blue eyes - maybe Frank is a good name. I work with telecom and networking stuff, and ethernet cable is called Cat Five. So, Five would be a cool name. Then I heard the worst meow in my life. Sounded like a mouse trying to hump a dog's chew toy. Or a child's toy in desperate need of WD-40. The sound came from the little kitten's mouth.
Thus, the feline was dubbed "Squeaky."
Squeaky's first few months were uneventful. Cat Hospital of Towson gave him a checkup, and said "She's a good, healthy little girl." So, I was glad Squeaky was a gender non-specific name. I hadn't stared at my cat's genitals, but trusted that if the vet says it's a girl cat, it's a girl cat. The rest of the time was teaching the kitten to interact with Kramer, the Big Dumb Dog. Squeaky didn't take any gruff from the ever-playful canine, and would bat on his head with a rapid-fire paw combo. That was the only sign of violence from the feline, other than a hatred for the ceiling fans' pullchains.
At night, Squeaky would sleep with her little head on my hand.
One night, in September, a sewer rat was hanging out on S. Port Street in Baltimore, where my happy pet mini-menagerie resided. Kramer was barking his tail off at the vermin intruder across the street, and I figured he'd scare the rat away. So, I opened the door to let Kramer out. Instead, out dashed Squeaky, making a beeline for the rat. I screamed for Squeaky to come back, but it was too late. The kitten was about to be killed by the street-hardened Baltimore sewer rat. I expected the rat to pull a knife on the cat, or pull out a Glock and bust a cap in her ass. I've seen Baltimore city sewer rats rob people. They carry pagers. Not wanting to get between a rat and a cat, I waited for the fight to end with Kramer at my side, inside. I heard the most awful sounds, the sounds of an animal in pain, and then, of an animal dying. I thought of where I'd bury the cat. My neighbors poked their head out their doors to hear the sounds of death.
The cat came back to the door about 30 agonizing seconds later, blood and fur everywhere. Squeaky had had enough. I picked the kitten up with my baseball glove and put the little thing into the tub to clean and disinfect. I was sure I'd be running to the emergency vet clinic in North Baltimore.
Washing away the blood was easy enough, and I checked out the white fur for any open wounds. Nothing. The rat's claws escaped the cat. I looked for puncture wounds, to see if the rat took a bite. Nope. All the blood and guts belonged to the rat. The cat was spic-and-span.
Squeaky lunged at the rat Wolverine-style - claws drawn out, going right for the face. Squeaky's paws and claws were ripping apart the flesh of the rat before he even had a chance to fight back. That awful noise was the sound of a rat dying, and, one kitten's rage.
Once Squeaky the Girl Kitten proved her mettle against the sewer rat, she was something of a celebrity on S. Port Street. "Is that the kitten who killed that mouse?" asked one new member of the neighborhood. "No, killed the rat" another would correct. Mike, the old-time Balmer, Merlin, resident next door, delighted in telling and retelling the tale of Squeaky and the Sewer Rat at the neighborhood bars. Each time, Squeaky got smaller and the rat got bigger.
By now, that cat probably killed that rat in utero.
Squeaky's next big adventure occured in October. Once proving herself to be a rat killer of renown, she decided that the outdoors was the place to be. There were millions of rats to be killed in Baltimore outside, not so many inside. So, Squeaky, Defender of Port Street, Eliminator of Vermin, would bolt outside whenever possible. Usually I'd snag her within a few seconds (I'm not a teenager anymore, but I am fleet), or sometimes a minute. I secured the back yard and allowed her to walk out there, under supervision, of course. I didn't want to have a bunch of Baltimore city sewer rats pull a gangland beating on Squeaky because she took out a made rat.
The backyard was fine...until she too got to the fence. The same fence Dawg jumped over. I froze for a second as the cat sat perched, looking at me with those big blue eyes. I didn't want to move quickly for fear of startling the kitten, and having Squeaky end up in the same world as Dawg...where ever that was.
Squeaky didn't jump backwards, but forwards, towards me. Her little paw was caught between the cinder blocks of the wall, stuck near the mortar. Her momentum carried her forward, and with the paw jammed, she twisted and torqued wildly to the concrete below. She landed on her hip, and ran into the house. I figured the cat just hurt it's tailbone, a la Deputy Dawg and Muskie.
Except the cat limped all night, and simply rest on the other side of the hip. I stayed with Squeaky all night, giving the little thing aspirin and softly petting her ears. I knew she was in a lot of pain. Her leg just flopped around. Obviously, it was broken, and pretty badly. The emergency vet was 20 miles away, and booked solid. I doubted the cat would tolerate a long car ride, and the clinic around the corner would be open in a few hours. Hopefully the aspirin would hold.
That morning was Squeaky's great rebirth, if you will. I've heard stories of folks who have gone through massive surgeries, from transplants to open heart procedures to sex-change operations, and they call the it a time for a new start, a new beginning. This is what happened at Eastern Vetinary Clinic.
VET TECH - So, what happened to Squeaky here?
ME - Well, she fell pretty awkwardly on her hip last night, and has been limping since.
VET TECH - He's definitely favoring that leg, that's for sure. He seems ok with the pain, though.
ME (noticing shift in gender) - Yeah, I gave HER plenty of aspirin last night, well, at least, what I thought would be appropriate for an eight-pound kitten. Two pills over the eight hours.
VET TECH - That's about right, I'd reckon. (TO CAT) How you feeling lil' fella?
ME - I'd imagine she's feeling pretty crappy. And, why do you keep calling Squeaky with male terms?
VET TECH - I was going to ask why you were doing the same with female terms.
ME - Huh? Squeaky's a girl cat. (RAY NOTE - I think girl cat is the technical term)
VET TECH - Nope. Squeaky's definitely male.
ME - Wha...?
The vet tech pointed out two impossibly small little testicles. They looked like fuzzy white tic-tacs. I had no idea.
VET TECH - See? Boy cat parts, plain as day.
ME - Uh, not very big, are they?
VET TECH - No, not on him. But they're there. You never noticed before?
ME - Well, I never stared much at my cat's privates, to be honest.
So, poor Squeaky the Cat became Squeaky the Cat - thank God I chose a gender non-specific name.
Squeaky's leg was actually a broken hip joint. The bone between a cat's pelvis and it's hind leg actually breaks fairly often. With most cats, a quick surgery clears out the broken bone, and the cat grows a fiberous mass, like a strong ligament/tendon combination in it's place. Femoral Head Obstectomy. I had no idea cats could do such things.
Oh, and Squeaky also got neutered that day. Poor little critter. He spent about 5 hours of his life really being a boy cat. Amazed the lil' bastard never put on a dress around me in spite.
His recovery was pretty easy, and the vet's prediction that he'd be back to his/her old tricks in a matter of weeks proved spot-on. While he always walked with a slight favor on that affected foot, he never seemed in pain and ran as fast, if not faster, than before. Bionic Kitten. The Six Million Dollar Kitten. RoboKitten was my favorite.
RoboKitten became RoboCat in 2002, and I went from overpaid telecom start-up sales engineer to unemployed. I cashed out my 401k, and headed west. A good roadtrip is what I needed to clear my mind. But, I didn't want to kennel Squeaky for 3 weeks or so. Mom wasn't a huge fan of boarding a cat. Squeaky didn't interact well with other cats, so, I couldn't have one of my friends with cats house him.
So, Squeaky went with me.
His first exceedingly long trip in a car went well. He was never bad in a car anyway, and I had trained him with small rides to stores and shops so that he'd be used to longer trips. He'd get a treat - a new toy, pit beef, catnip - and he began to really enjoy rides. He even knew "bye-byes" - the term I used on the dogs to symbolize a ride. Now, Squeaky knew to get excited on a ride.
We left on March 15, 2002, at 6:15pm. We headed west, with all sorts of clothing, food, catnip, litter pan, special destinky litter and camera equipment. We got caught up in road construction in Western MD, and his little ears popped with the change in atmospheric pressure. He slept about 85% of the way, more intent to crap in his litter box or stare at me than the scenery around him. A day later, he got to see my old haunts in Des Moines, Iowa. The day after that, he saw his first blizzard in Nebraska. Later that day, his (and my) first buffalo. That afternoon, his first Rocky Mountain sunset outside of Cheyanne, Wyoming. That night, Denver, and the Eisenhower Tunnel. The next day - the outer rim of the Grand Canyon, and the lights of Las Vegas. We spent three days in Vegas for Doug Stanhope's wedding - an old friend from my stand-up daze - and the debauchery included within. A day after that, and Squeaky was in Los Angeles with me and my lifelong buddy Gabe.
It wasn't until the ride home a few weeks later did Squeaky get it - life on the road and on the run is fun. Somewhere in between Arizona and New Mexico, Squeaky looked out the passenger side window, and stood up on his hind legs. He stuck his head up against the glass, looking out the window. A massive mountain stood between us and the Mexican border, and he just watched it drive by. He looked at the desert around, and I'd like to think that he knew we were driving past something amazing. While I believe dogs are intuitively more responsive to human reaction than cats, I know Squeaky saw something that day - maybe some idea of what living in such an area would be like - all the snakes, desert rats, scorpions - he could tangle with. Maybe he saw the peaceful nature of the emptiness around. Maybe he viewed it as a giant litter box. Who knows? He watched that scene for 10 minutes or so before curling up for another nap, but I think he figured it out - he should have been looking around more often.
Squeaky was always an outdoor cat. He tended to view his inside time as opportunities to eat, dry off, lick his butt, take a crap in a litter pan, and to plot his next outdoor adventure. One time in 2004, his outdoor adventures got him caught in a blizzard. He decided to go outside about 6 hours before Maryland got hit with an icy storm. Not his smartest manuever. He was outside in the snow for a day before I heard a faint meow while out looking for him. I heard the sound coming from a manhole cover. I went to the garage, and got out a big metal pole to remove the manhole cover. After wrestling with that, I climbed into the icy storm drain. With my flashlight, a bit of cat food and the realization that another storm was coming, I aimed the light down a semi-crushed metal pipe. There, I saw a small little cat looking back at me. There was Squeaky, with bits of ice and snow around him. I tried to flush him out with food, and then remembered "I have a 10 foot pipe. I'll force him out. "
The cat moved 11 feet into the pipe. There went that idea.
I threw some food down there for him, and planned on retrieving him the next day. He was obviously too scared to come out now.
That night, another six inches of snow fell, and I woke up to find a snowplow had covered up the storm drain. Squeaky would have been buried! So, I dug out the snow, removed the cover with my big black pole (heheheh) and looked for Squeaky. No sign of him, though.
I figured four days later, after freezing weather and no sign of his paws in the snow that he was gone for good. I knew he was a tough cat, but no house cat survive sub-20 degree weather, right?
I was wrong. Three days after resigning myself to his demise, I saw cat prints coming out of the storm drain. I chased them around the house until I got to the ledge by the basement steps. There was Squeaky. Cold, dirty, but otherwise stable. He went inside, got some water, and killed a field mouse in the basement.
He liked living the inside/outside life. He was friendly when he needed to be, insistent on getting fed, and delighted to be scratched behind the ears on occasion. Otherwise, he wanted out. Mice, birds, moles, small lizards, frogs, toads - Squeaky killed them all.
I guess coming to Virginia was a bad idea. A few months ago, he'd been in a hell of a fight with another cat in my old neighborhood in Maryland. Mom had been keeping him since she needed a good mouser, and, secretly, the company of the cat. But, this new cat in the neighborhood was stronger and faster than Squeaky. He'd come back inside with scratches on his head, paws, back. When I saw the scratches on his neck, I realized this other cat was trying to kill Squeaky. So, I made the brilliant move of bringing him to Virginia for a couple of weeks. Let him calm down, get healed, get cleaned up, and maybe not want to get into scraps with this other cat.
And he was good for a while. He seemed to enjoy my roommate's cats, which stunned me, and curling up with me in bed, like he did was he was a kitten. All was right in our little world.
Until he meowed loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear. He wanted out NOW!
That was six weeks ago. Nobody's sen hide nor hair of him since. Other than sightings of the Fake Squeaky, the SPCA and Animal Shelters haven't seen him, and the two calls from folks in my neighborhood were identifying the Fake Squeaky.
So, goodbye, my little friend. You were the best cat I ever owned. That you were only the second cat I ever owned is secondary. You were a good little buddy, and I miss you terribly. I hope you've found a new place to live and you're treated well.
And that you'll remember the mountains.