The past 24 hours have been crazy, but what a happy ending to a story that seemed hopeless!
On Thursday, April 3, 2014, our beloved Cat, Astrid, went missing. Some time late that evening we think she slipped out through a hole in a window screen. Astrid is 4 years old and has never been outside. She has no front claws and is very attached to one thing in the house: her food bowl. We couldn’t believe she wanted to get out, and didn’t understand how she did. We realized that Thursday evening that she’d slipped out. Richard knocked on my door and woke me up some time around midnight. We tore the house apart, then went outside to look for her right as it started sprinkling. We looked for over 2 hours that night to no avail. With the storm beginning, we realized there was no way we were going to find her that night. We went back inside, and resolved to keep looking the next day.
The next morning we got up and looked for her for hours. I looked continuously until some time after lunchtime, with no luck. Unfortunately, this would become the theme of the next few weeks. We tore the neighborhood apart, canvassing every inch we could think of. The photos we posted on Facebook over the subsequent days would be shared over 100 times (this one 53), reaching thousands of people in Conway. We also posted over 750 flyers.
We did everything we could think of. We searched (with the help of countless friends) for weeks. We called the animal shelter, the Humane Society, Arkansas Lost and Found Pet Network (who would play an instrumental role in her eventual return home), all of the area vet offices, and more. We followed up on every lead – over 30 before this was all said and done. By the time May was winding down, we hadn’t given up by any means, but the tireless searching was no longer plausible and seemed in vain. For those of you who don’t know us well, we are ideal pet people. While we have crazy schedules, mine is mostly on my terms and we work to make sure the animals are well taken care of. Astrid and Richard were very close, with Astrid next to Richard almost every moment he was home. Her missing from the house made the house seem empty, and took an emotional toll on Richard. Some time in June, we agreed it was time to foster. I told Richard he was too good of a “cat parent” and needed to be taking care of a different cat if not Astrid. We spoke with the Humane Society of Faulkner County and quickly had a new cat foster, Ted.
Flash forward 5 months and 8 days. We’ve been through the heat of summer and the weather is finally starting to cool down. I was in a new client consultation when my cell phone rang with an unknown number 3 times. She left a voicemail on the third call, and then called my office and left a voicemail there. Thinking this was some marketing emergency, I forwarded the message to Meredith and asked her to see what it was. Meredith responded “Someone claiming to have Astrid…” and left it at that. When I finished my meeting, I listened to the voicemail
Hey Drew, this is Mandy. I live in Nottingham subdivision and I know where your kitty is. So, if you’ll call me, I’ll tell you where I live and tell you where she is. “
I was sure immediately that this was another strike of the “Nottingham Lookalike,” a cat whose markings are very similar to Astrid’s that we had encountered many times over the months. I called Mandy back, planning to say “thank you” and move on with my day. When I called Mandy, I asked her where she lived. Indeed, she lived on Nottingham Drive and said she’d seen my “kitty.” I explained to her that there was a lookalike very similar to her who lived in Nottingham and we’d seen that cat multiple times. Mandy’s neighbors had also seen Astrid and noticed she’d been feeding them – one of her neighbors told her she thought Astrid was the missing cat from a few months ago. Mandy wanted to get in touch with us and her neighbor told her to look on ALFPN – she found the post from 5 months ago and called me.
Her response shocked me:”No, that’s not your kitty. I’ve fed that kitty – with half his tail missing – for a long time, but he went missing 2-3 weeks ago. Your kitty has been coming to my house every night around 7pm and staying until around 8:30. I feed her then. She’s very sweet and friendly. She wouldn’t let me touch her at first, but is very affectionate now.”
Still unconvinced and pained at another false sighting, I asked Mandy “OK – does she have a mustache?” Astrid’s mustache is her most distinct characteristic, and earned her the name “Hitler Cat” since we first got her.
“No, this kitty doesn’t have A MUSTACHE, she has YOUR CAT’S MUSTACHE. I’m telling you, I have a picture of your cat in front of me and this is your cat.”
Starting to feel there was some hope here, I said “OK, give me your address and I’ll go see what’s up.”
Mandy could tell I wasn’t yet convinced. “Your kitty has the black mustache with the spot on her nose and doesn’t have her front claws. She’s very sweet and meows like this [imitates meowing sounds].”
At this point, I realized two things: I was talking to the best kind of crazy cat lady, and there was a very good chance she actually had Astrid. Mandy told me there was food on her front porch and described where her house was on the street. She encouraged me to take the food and call to Astrid, though she said she didn’t often see her during the day. She told me she’d send me a picture of Astrid to prove it was her.
I pulled up at Mandy’s house and parked in the driveway, adrenaline already beginning to rush. I was immediately appreciative of all she’d done for Astrid, because there was a bowl of fresh food and water near her garage, and another on the front porch, as well as a comfortable cat bed that Astrid could sleep in. I grabbed the food bowl, shook it, and called for Astrid. For a few minutes I walked around doing this, talking to my mom and Meredith on the phone telling them how close we were. After it became clear Astrid either wasn’t close or wasn’t going to come out in broad daylight, I set the food down and went to where most all strays live in our area: the storm drains. The storm drain nearest Mandy’s front yard was less than 20 feet from her front porch. I got on my knees, bent over, and stuck my head in a storm drain for the thousandth time this year. “Astrid! Astrid Kitty!” I can’t tell you how surprised I was to immediately hear her familiar “Meow?”
I was on the phone with Meredith at this point – she couldn’t believe it either. I put my phone on speakerphone.
“Meredith. Do you hear her? It’s Astrid! Astrid!”
I heard Meredith talking to our intern on the other end of the line “Oh my gosh! That’s her! It’s Astrid!”
At this point I knew I was going to need help getting Astrid out of the storm drain. I called my dear friend Judi. She didn’t answer. Judi helped us search for Astrid more than anyone else – she’d come by the house even when we weren’t there to look. I called her again. No answer. Judi’s inbox is full from the countless messages she gets on a daily basis asking for help rescuing animals. Judi works more than full time – for free – just taking care of animals needing rescue and adoption. I knew Judi would want to be there for Astrid’s rescue, and I really needed the help. I texted her and said “Judi! I found Astrid! I need help!!” and gave her the address. She told me she’d be there in 10 minutes. She pulled up as I was talking to Astrid through the storm drain – I didn’t want to her to think I’d left. Judi started talking to Astrid as I went home to get tools to open the storm drain.
When your cat is stuck in a storm drain, there’s not much hope for help. The fire department can’t do anything about it – they told me to call animal control. Animal control won’t come out unless you can visibly SEE the cat – and we couldn’t. They said they wouldn’t even set a trap since there was rain in the forecast. They said to call the street department and ask them to open the drain – at this point I was done and not letting this chance go by. I grabbed a screw driver and a pry bar and headed back. Judi and I opened up the drain. I was dressed for work – Judi said “Drew, are you going down there in those shoes?”
“Do you think I care about the shoes right now?! Of course I’m going in there!”
When I got down in the drain, I could see Astrid immediately. She was far away – up the street 20-40 feet – but it was definitely her. I started talking to her and shaking the food bowl at her asking her to come to me. She would saunter my way and then turn around and walk away further. One step forward, two steps back. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get her from where we were and hopped out of the drain and headed down to the next one – where Astrid was sitting when I first saw her.
When I got down in the second drain, she’d moved further away, but wasn’t running. Judi explained that survival instincts kick in and they don’t want to come close to anything and chance getting hurt. Astrid would walk toward me for a few minutes, talk to me, look at me, and then walk away. We eventually realized the brightness of my flashlight was what was scaring her away. At this point, Judi thought to start recording. She realized we were going to get Astrid back and wanted this on video. She grabbed my phone and started taking photos and video.
Judi ran back to her car to grab some wet food (all I had was kibble from Mandy’s house) to help entice Astrid. Astrid and I kept “talking” and playing this exhausting game of hide-and-go-seek.
The video below is the last few minutes of our 30 minute game – and our final reunion.
Watching this back cracks me up! Judi and I couldn’t believe we’d gotten her and were so worried to chance letting her go! The video cuts off right before a lady walks by with two VERY loud schnauzers who were no happier to see Astrid than she them. Judi and I may have both had heart attacks at this point. Judi finally kindly asked her to move on and get the dogs away from Astrid. Once the threat of schnauzers had moved on, we realized we had no crate to put her in – I decided if I could get in the car and get to the house and close the garage, we were safe. Judi and I ran to the car with a freaked-out Astrid in my arms. As Judi opened the door, I jumped in the car and she closed the door. I realized I didn’t have my keys! Judi found them and handed them through a very small opening to me. I drove home and closed the garage and finally felt a wash of relief – Astrid was home!!
Judi joined me at the house a few minutes later (after putting the storm drains back together and gathering our mess) and we prepared to call Richard. I intentionally had told Richard nothing about the rescue attempt, not wanting to give him any false hope. I decided I’d FaceTime him and let him see for himself. Working a speech therapist in a school, I had no idea if I’d catch him at work or not. Knowing how difficult losing Astrid was for him, I knew he’d be elated to see her. I sent Richard a text: “911. Face time NOW.” He didn’t respond quickly enough and I was actually on the phone with the school secretary when he tried to call me. I set the phone in front of me with Astrid in my lap and hit the “Accept” button. As the call connected, he just stared in disbelief. He didn’t say anything for at least 30 seconds. Expecting a hard phone call (he expected the passing of one of the other pets), he was totally caught off guard. Finally, I said “Richard, what do you think?” He said nothing. “Richard? What do you think?”
“Is that her?” he asked, not believing it.
“Yes, it’s her! She’s home!”
“Are you sure it’s her?” This is a question I’ve been asked at least 10 times since finding her.
“YES, I’m sure it’s her!”
Richard starting shaking his head and tearing up. Judi and I were just smiling and laughing. Finally, Richard said “Hi, Astrid!”
“Meow!” Astrid returned his greeting as she looked at the phone.
As Astrid responded to Richard, I finally lost it and teared up. I looked over and Judi was crying as well. The tension had finally resolved as we realized she was home and safe. After talking to Richard, I was ready to let Astrid loose to explore “home” again. As she jumped out of my lap, she rubbed up against the chair on her way back home to Richard’s room – the door was closed and she insistently pawed at it until I opened it up for her.
We are so excited she is home – and things feel “complete” again. She and Ted are acclimating well, and the house is just a bit more crowded. You can see a gallery of photos from the last 24 hours below. Never give up hope when a pet goes missing, and PLEASE always make sure your pets are micro-chipped and wearing collars with identification all of the time! You never know when they could accidentally/unexpectedly slip out.