Respecting the choice made by another
This time I’m not going to look for him.
He chose to leave, going over the fence sometime the evening of the 22nd between 5 and 5:30 pm.
When Leo was lost the first time, eleven weeks ago, I thought I was going to dissolve into a puddle of extreme sadness and despair. Nine days after he disappeared, we were reunited through the power of social media. He stuck to my side like glue when he was first back; mostly sleeping, waking briefly to eat and be sure I was right there, then sleeping more. His favorite place to sleep was on my bed, snugged up next to my pillow, smelling of me.
After a two year journey to find a new home, we had finally moved out of state; we’d only been in our new/old home for six weeks. We came from an idyllic country place. We lived for 21 years in a small summer cottage community on a 350-acre spring-fed glacial pot-hole beautiful lake. Nine months of the year our neighbors were mostly gone. We lived on a very small street that dead ended at an oak woodland, that bordered on a marsh that fed into the lake. It was a perfect place to raise wild children, lots of cats, plants, live and love. When I was home — which was a LOT — my doors were always open a kitty crack. My fur boys were always free to come and go. Leo had a technique where he’d exit the cat door onto the deck of the upstairs bedroom. He’d scale the trellis to the roof, race across the roof, jump onto the roof of the front porch, climb down another trellis and finally, paws to the earth, run off to wherever it is he had pressing business. He let himself in and out for years. He always came back.
When Leo disappeared from our new/old house we had not been here long enough for him to have any idea where we lived. I did not let my fur babies out willy nilly. All three of them were sporting brand new collars with their names and my phone number embroidered onto their collars. I let them out for very brief periods and I was always right with them. Leo was the most trustworthy and the one who preferred to be by my side. He’d go outside at our new place, scratch the bark on the 100 year old black walnut, pee in the dirt, roll around on the concrete, and then sit on my lap while I worked at the picnic table.
The night he disappeared the first time I was certain he was defending our/his new/old home from a little gray scruffy cat. I had been wondering if Small Gray had been a former resident of my new place and had been left behind. Many times I would find the little guy sitting at the back door asking to come as if he belonged here, perhaps once upon a time he had.
The first time Leo disappeared, eleven weeks ago, I knew almost immediately he was no longer on the property. I was convinced that Leo had chased Small Grey off the property in an effort to defend our new home turf, his home turf. I imagined Leo following Small Grey across the street, getting turned around and losing his sense of where home base was. He went missing for nine days, lost in the completely unfamiliar maze of alleys, sidewalks, traffic, fenced in yards, dead end spaces, garages, streets, constant people, dogs, fences, things he had never encountered in our previous life. Leo was finally found three miles north and west of my new/old house at the very tippy edge of town. Beyond where he turned up were miles and miles and miles of wide open, beautiful rolling hills and farmland. I knew if I had been unable to collect him, he would be gone one big last adventure of his lifetime.
When Leo went missing the first time I spent hours each day walking the neighborhood streets and alleys, putting up posters and talking to everyone I saw. Sometimes I had to turn around and go home I was crying so hard. I created a poster that was shared hundreds of times on Facebook. I employed every single technique that was suggested to me by dozens and dozens of caring people to help Leo find his way back to us. I began carrying a small mesh sack of used litter from my belt loop knowing the scent of it might help Leo find me as I made my daily rounds clapping into each bush and behind every garbage can calling his name. My grief was profound. If Leo had gone missing at our former place, I could have accepted it. Here, in our new home, I knew he was lost and could not find his way back to us. That was different. Leo was lost.
We were reunited after nine days via the power of social media. I met tons of folks in the process. One evening I walked to a local tavern to pick up a gluten free pizza. Chatting with some folks while waiting for my pizza, recognition of who I was lit up the eyes of the woman and she suddenly said, “Oh! You’re Leo’s mom!” Of course, I cried.
Thousands of dollars and monumental efforts later, I have a fully fenced in backyard. It was an excruciating process — call me and I’ll tell you who NOT to hire in my new town. All three of my fur babies were able to be outside in my beautiful, generous backyard. They seemed very happy to be outside, peeing in the dirt, scratching on the black walnut, snuffling bugs, chasing squirrels, rolling on the sidewalk, sleeping in the sun, playing panther in the unmowed section in the way back, snoozing on and under their old favorite chairs from our former life. Leo most of all seemed happy and content. He claimed the old purple wicker chair placed in the garden I could see from the kitchen and bedroom windows. My heart sang each time I looked out and saw him snoozing the day away on his chair.
Several nights ago after kitty dinner Leo chose to go over the fence and leave. Again, I knew almost immediately he was gone. I also knew instantly I was going to let him go this time.
My heart is so full of sadness, but Leo made a choice. He had a very good life with me. He slept next to my pillow most nights. He had recently begun waking me in the middle of the night by softly touching my lip with his little black paw, he wanted to be pet and have his ears rubbed just the way he liked it. If I did not pet him long enough and would fall back asleep, Leo would again, put his little paw on my lip to remind me of my job…to pet and comfort him. The cycle would be repeated over and over until he was satisfied. He would finally fall asleep against my side, purring away both our cares.
I will miss him dearly for the rest of my life, my sweet, half-wild, Little Dude, Leo.