There is an old folk song that begins, "The cat came back the very next day..."  Well, this is a story about the cat that came back, but it wasn't the very next day; a somewhat longer period of time lapsed before we saw our cat back again.  There are tons of stories about people's pets, both cats and dogs, that somehow become detached and then find themselves home again, each one unique.  This is the story about one particular cat, one of my cats, and his adventure into the unknown and back again.

Ahhhh, well, as I've already let the cat out of the bag, this is a story with a happy ending... Carmel-kitty was born in our house in Alliston, a town in "small-town Ontario", Canada ~ one of a litter from the very first cat we ever had.

When I moved from Alliston up to Georgian Bay, it was 1994 and I was moving into a trailer park and having major renovations done to the trailer which included an added sitting room with a new pitched roof over both trailer and new room and the whole place was clad in cedar with added insulation.  It was a charming little cottage and so complete in itself... I loved it.   Oh, and a very large deck was added as well.  Of course, the contractor doing this work was not completed by the move-in date, as you can expect -- although the agreement called for that, and he pittered and puttered around taking so darned long.  I grew to dislike him intensely.

I had two cats and the dog I was moving with me... Carmel-kitty, Mama-kat and Santa.  Both Carmel and Mama were somewhere around 10 years old at the time, so not young kittens by any stretch.   And neither of them were exactly happy about being dragged from their residence that they were familiar with and put into this house of hammer banging all day long by the renovator.  Uncharacteristically, they would hide indoors all day, away from this guy, and come out only at night when he left.   At the time I figured this was probably for the best in any event, given that they were unfamiliar with their new territory and figured night-time excursions would allow them the peace to investigate at their own pace.

About a week into this new residence Carmel forgot to come home.   I looked and looked for him but he was not to be found.  I even took the car out, without expecting to find him because my trailer was a good 200 yards from the main gate and any public roads.  There was plenty of wilderness for him to get lost in in three directions, and it was only the one direction that would take him to the road.  Well, wouldn't you know it, the next morning I did find him making his way through the ditches on the road.   I brought him home, we had a long discussion about the big bad world out there and he agreed it was much nicer at home, even if the jerk with the hammer was there 5 days a week.  I assured him he would be finished before long.

I guess Carmel didn't believe me, and I guess he was so unhappy to have left the only home he'd known to that time and I guess he was determined to find his way back there.   I had neglected to tell him that no longer was it his home but, also, it was an hour and a half away, by car!  Two days later he was gone again, and this time I was unable to find him at all.  It was mid-July at this point.  I was very sad.  Santa and I searched and searched but he was not to be found.  Even Mama-Kat joined in the searches when we went hiking out the back into the wilderness.  I was afraid Carmel had injured himself somehow or been in a tangle with a racoon or skunk or porcupine, or something.... and unable to get back.  So we all looked and called and hunted -- to no avail, sadly.

It was very sad too, because Carmel was one of those cats that really seemed to communicate.  He wasn't so elusive that he was too good for people -- he and I had been very very close.  And although he wasn't one to purr a lot, he did come and sit on my knee and communicate with his eyes a great deal.  He always slept at night right up next to my head and, if I didn't pat him or put my hand out for him, he would gently remind me with one of his paws.... man, I missed that kitty cat!

Summer turned into autumn and autumn into winter and I just hoped so much that he'd found some kind person to take him in somewhere.  Once winter hit, there was never any thought in my mind that I'd ever see him again.  There is so much snow up there that I just knew he was either gone or someone had taken him in ..... or he had continued his way back to Alliston.   I never forgot him, of course, but I stopped worrying about him, knowing that one or the other of those options had happened and, either way, there was nothing more I could do for him.

So the three of us -- Santa, Mama-kat and I -- settled into a long and beautiful first winter up north.  I had a gas fireplace in the sitting room with lots of windows and it was fabulous to look out at the winter storms that were regular happenings.  The water was visible from the front windows and the forest from the side and back windows.   We fed the birds that came -- oh, and the birds were amazing!  Nuthatches and chickadees, blue jays galore, a couple of pair of cardinals and so many other birds up there.  The brilliant red of the Cardinals' feathers in comparison to the pure white of the snow was startling in its effect; a definite jewel.  In the summer were the goldfinches, Baltimore Orioles, hummingbirds -- and even an Indigo Bunting was resident at the feeders for about two weeks at one point.

The next summer was 1995 and it was glorious living up there... the countryside in that area is all apple orchards, thousands of acres of apple orchards.  I'll never forget my first view -- coming down the side of a very large hill, down into the Beaver Valley -- of the trees in bloom that first year.  The apple blossoms formed a sea of white froth all laid out in front of me, just gorgeous!  And then all summer you drive by the trees and watch as the apples develop, then redden.

That was the year we discovered that Santa had a real allergy to fleas -- he didn't just scratch a lot; he literally tore his hair out on his back and haunches, and he had no hair at all from his front legs back, poor devil.   I figured it out that when I took him down to the water's edge, it was the sand fleas on the beach that were attacking him.  So, poor pup, that was the last summer he spent any time in the water.   Between daily doses of brewer's yeast tablets and keeping him away from the sand fleas, we were able to keep the allergy in line.  That was after we cleared him up in the first place, which meant feeding him prescription drugs to kill the fleas he had -- this is a toxic chemical they take by mouth and I'm certain that it killed another dog that I had before, so I was very hesitant to give them to Santa, but we just had to get rid of the fleas.  Once they were gone, he never had another dose as long as I kept him off the beach and continued with the brewer's yeast.  That stuff is magic.

Anyway, our second autumn was soon upon us and then it's harvest time and the scent of fresh apples in the snappy air is something you don't forget... wonderful stuff.  Walks on the Bruce Trail with some fresh apples in your pocket, coming home and picking up some fresh apple cider on the way and heating it with cinnamon... gee, I loved it up there.

I was still driving to Toronto one day a week for work.  I would work for the day, which paid my expenses of the travelling but it also allowed me to take in work, pick up new work -- and maintain a presence there so they didn't forget me... lol.  I needed to continue to work, of course, and was worried if I didn't show up they would put the work out to other people.

One night in November I was coming back from Toronto and it was raining.  The park I was in was about 6 or 7 km west of the village of Thornbury.   You drive through Collingwood and continue on Hwy 26, which is the one along the water's edge, through Thornbury and then a few more kilometers and home!  By the time I got into Thornbury I'd already been on the road for over two hours and was beat after a long day.  I think it was about eight o'clock.  As I was nearing the west side of town my headlights caught a cat just crossing the street and, man, did it ever look like Carmel !   I slammed on the brakes, and did a U-turn right in town there and wheeled into the pharmacy parking lot, which was the way this cat was headed.  Even in the dark, I couldn't mistake him... even after a year and a half, he was still so familiar to me... I just KNEW it was Carmel-kitty!

By the time I stopped the car in the pharmacy parking lot and jumped out, the cat, also nervous of someone getting too close to him, had hurried into the shadows of the house next door... but I could just barely catch what I thought was his outline.  It was dark and it was raining, so I just wasn't sure I could still see him, but I thought I could.  I called... "Carmel!   Carmel!"  He stopped in his tracks, like those games you see played where everyone has to "Freeze" -- he just stopped and didn't make another even tiny move... then I called him again, "Carmel!   Carmel, is that you?"... he turned his head at that point, looked at me and howled.   I mean, really really howled... ROFL... Like, "Yes, it's me, you silly fool, who did you think it would be?" hehehehe  He then turned and took a few steps towards me, I went to move and he stopped.. so I decided I would just stay where I was, not to frighten him.  As I quietly talked he began howling again... very loudly... lol... a sound I had NEVER heard from him.   He, very slowly, came closer and closer.  Finally when he was about 10 feet away, I slowly moved to him, speaking quietly... at this point knowing for certain it was my Carmel-kitty... and he just stood there.   I leaned down and scooped him up and he began to purr like a freight train... LOL..  the purr was almost as loud as the howls.. it was incredible.  I got back into the warm car because, as well as getting very cold I was also getting very wet... and just held him tightly to me.  He didn't even hint at trying to get himself released... and I thought to myself, "Well, what do I do now?"  Obviously someone had been feeding him because he was in fine shape.   And then, as I sat there with my kitty cat in my arms, I decided that possession was nine-tenths of the law and he was coming home with me!   Ha!

I brought him home, kept him in the bedroom for 24 hours so he could get the feel of the place and the others wouldn't maul him to death... they were as happy to see him as I was!  It was amazing :)  And every time I walked into the bedroom to visit with him his purr was so loud again... there was no question, Carmel was very very happy to be home.

It was interesting that almost as soon as I had him home he began losing his coat, and it was just the start of winter... he lost it in great amounts.  But I decided he must have spent the whole previous winter outdoors and had been building up to another outdoor winter with extra fur; once indoors again, he didn't require the extra coat and it normalized itself pretty quickly.

Carmel lived to the ripe old age of 20, still nothing wrong with him at that age but simply too elderly to look after himself any longer.  Well, in the very end, he wasn't making it to the litter box most of the time and then couldn't keep his back end clean any longer... and that was the reason we thought it was kinder to gently say good-bye.  Man, I still miss him.   He was a real pal, pure gold! :)

nice memories, hmm? lol... and that, my friend, is the story of Carmel-kitty, the cat that came back!
                                                    ~ Penelope, Dec./07

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