I am going to tell you a story. It is a true story and it happened to me, my sister, and her cat named Pete.
My sister some years ago was in the process of moving from one location in Philadelphia to another, and because of how this was going to happen and the fact that her cat, Pete, was such a strange creature (so easy to upset), she asked me and my family if we would take care of her cat for about a week until she was safely done with her move. Pete, also known as “Dirty Pete,” so-called because of his markings of a black smudge on a white face, was a most unusual creature. He was antisocial to the extreme. He was finicky and was easy to upset. He had also been declawed in his former life before she came across him as a “precocious stray” which according to his owner, my sis, also made him unable to survive out in the wild. Pete was fond of darting through open doors in order to try to get out and away. He most often would come back when he got hungry, but Pete was….well…he was just such an odd bird (or cat) that his Mommy feared for him and how he would not be seen as playing well with others.
So it came to pass that Pete was delivered by my sis to my home and with a crate and toys and food and very careful instructions on how to deal with this cat and to care for him, she returned confident and at peace to her city to complete her move knowing she would not stress or traumatize her funny little creature left in her brother’s care. And Pete was everything my sister said he was and more; he hid in the basement the entire time, hiding behind boxes and staying completely out of view, away from people, as much as he could. For close to two days I couldn’t even find him. None in the family could. Had he slithered through a door like my sister had warned and was worried about? A tell-tale hiss and growl told me a couple of days later that the wildcat was indeed in residence! I did as I was dutifully told, giving him the right kind of food and checking in on him even though he showed every single sign that he wanted NOTHING at all to do with US! It was days before I actually got more than one glimpse per day of him. If I saw him out from behind the load of boxes in the basement, he was running to find shelter, growling and spitting all the way. In truth, based on how he behaved, I didn’t want to get near the cat because he actually seemed violent and completely antisocial. Somehow my sister, god-bless her, had found a way into his heart. Everyone deserves such chances in life, even the ones who hiss and spit. But really; the cat struck me as somehow dangerous and I cautioned my children NOT to approach him. I wondered what on earth got into my sister to own such a problem animal. Right. Her core of compassion. She knew that he was good deep down. I kind of missed that part if indeed that was what she had seen.
So the day came when I could not find Pete. It was always just a fleeting check-in really before, with eyes glowing in the dark, he would do some over-the-top gesture or action that would tell me that I needed to be afraid, very afraid! But he wasn’t there. I checked in all his hiding places and wondered perhaps if he had found some new haunt in the house. I checked under beds upstairs. Closets. Nope. The bathtub maybe? Not there. I did this and then re-searched. Huh. Where was Pete? It was then that I saw the basement door had not been closed all the way. My heart sank. This cat, whom my sister had given very specific directions to not let out of the house under any circumstances, had danced off into the moonlight. I feared the worse; cats abounded in our neighborhood and god-knows what kind of fate this poor socially-maladjusted creature would meet, sans claws.
I poured over the neighborhood and went to people’s houses. I spoke to my neighbors and the call was put out. Everyone knew from three streets over, this cat named Pete, and his story. Mr. Stafford had somehow let this poor defenseless creature out into the night air! I actually waited 24 hours before I got on the phone to tell my sister the news. It was the worst moment, the most agonizing moment that I had experienced in years, telling her that I had just done exactly what she asked not happen. I had actually begun to move a special trap I had borrowed from a friend around the neighborhood based on sighting that had been made of him from neighbors. I put catfood in and hoped he was getting hungry. His mom would be along shortly to see if she could somehow encourage him to come to her. I wound up catching a possum in the process, but no Pete.
My sister arrived, fit to be tied. She was upset, but she also was being very good about it, too. We walked the neighborhood and she used all her techniques she knew to try to lure him to her, all of which bore no fruit. She had to get back to the city to finish her move. I was to continue to keep trying to catch this elusive cat now free in the wilds of our neighborhood. IN all, Pete was gone for over a week. I did finally catch Pete in the trap and managed to salvage some of my reputation as a conscientious provider of my sister’s charge. I kept him in his crate and fed him food and called happily that he had been found! Pete was gathered up, all parts intact, and was taken to his new home in Philly.
Pete was with us a couple of days before my sister came to get him and in that time, I noticed that Pete was….well…he was different. He did not glower in the corners and hiss and growl anymore. I wondered if I was simply imagining it. He seemed more social, but he still acted skiddish, so really, who knew. But the change was noticed immediately by my sister. It was as though Pete had been transformed, a changed cat. He was chummy with the other cats in the house. He took to doing things he had never done before. When my sister finally moved from Philly to a country setting, she found that he took to spending time out-of-doors and actually doing well. He learned how to defend his territory, even without his claws. He did so with natural, instead of angry, bravado. He took to hunting, which he had not done before. He caught mice and voles and even ground squirrels. He left them lovingly, but quite dead, by the door, as cats often do. He also became an incredibly social cat. He did not hiss and spit at people anymore. We was simply a changed animal. And Pete remains a fascinatingly amazing miracle of a creature to this day as he goes out for hours and even nights at a time, well prepared for anything that meets him.
I thought I would tell you this story to illustrate that even amongst cats (and people) you just never know when something seemingly bad and devastating will actually wind up being a saving grace, a transformative and redemptive experience. I would caution you to assume that what you see today is necessarily how things will go and that what you might view with fear or worry could transform into the single best experience you might have in life. IN fact, it may have been the very thing that you needed. Without our knowing it, losing Pete was the single best thing that could have happened to him. For him. It sure didn’t seem that way at the time, but things have a way of turning around in ways we just can’t see in the moment or even expect. It is true that there are things that are beyond our knowing right now, but it does not preclude them from becoming something different. Same with cats, same with people and events and a whole slew of other things. It’s worth considering because redemption comes in unexpected ways to us.