And the next morning the food was untouched. The most likely reason was that earlier in the day, I had been sitting on the porch, enjoying the beautiful weather and view of our garden as I wrote. In the process, I also moved several cardboard boxes at the far end of the porch. Apparently, Shakir found these changes intolerably threatening.
The next night, we set the food outside the trap, thinking that by backtracking and making the setup less threatening we could tempt him. For the second night in a row, the meal was not eaten. At this point, we began to wonder if Shakir had somehow gotten out of the yard. Our chain-link fence is 6 feet high and there aren't many gaps underneath. It would be possible for a determined mountain lion to scale the fence, and also for a determined dog (or cat) to dig underneath it, although we saw no evidence either had happened.
I watched myself begin to grieve again., only this time with more acceptance. It had been two weeks since we lost our cat, and that is a long time, especially in these mountains.
My husband, however, did not give up. The next night, he set the food down by the place we thought the cat was hiding. And presto! the next morning, the plate was licked clean. We had no way of knowing who had eaten it, whether it was our cat, a raccoon or skunk, or a neighbor’s cat that had somehow gotten into the yard. We continued to leave out food and to move it closer to the porch and the trap. Again we reached the point leaving food halfway inside the trap and having it gone the next morning. Our patience seemed to be in a contest with our sense of urgency, because the longer a cat is missing, the lesser the chances of ever finding it.
Now came the test: we set the trap and left the food at the back. I went to bed thinking, This is it -- either there will be a miracle and our cat will be in the trap tomorrow morning, or we will be back to square one, perhaps without any hope of seeing him again. If we did catch him, would he be completely feral, not to mention covered with fleas and ticks?
I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of OW! OW! OWWW!! I dashed into the living room. My husband had brought the trap inside and there was our cat, fur all puffed up, expressing his extreme displeasure. My husband opened the trap and, just as we had expected, the cat dashed out, belly low to the floor, and headed for the nearest hiding place, underneath the sofa.
Our fears about Shakir forgetting all about us and his life as a house cat turned out to be unfounded. Within five minutes he had come out from underneath the sofa and was exploring his old home. He showed no fear when I approached him, and he allowed me to stroke him. He had lost weight but he was not starving. He had been mildly obese to begin with, and he’d had some food, although not in the quantities he was accustomed to. His coat was rough, although that might have been partially because he was still puffed up with excitement. Later we discovered that although he did not seem to have picked up any fleas, he had several ticks in one ear. These fell off within a couple of days after we applied a topical prevention for fleas, ticks, and heartworm.
Thinking that the best thing for Shakir was to let him settle on his own, undisturbed, we went back to bed. Almost immediately, he jumped on the bed, curled up between me and my husband, and began purring ferociously. It had been almost three weeks, and our sweet boy kitty was clearly beside himself with delight to be home again.
Over the next few days, the cat followed us around wherever we went, begging for attention. He not only remembered where the food and litter box were, he remembered the other animals in the household, especially the dog. Purring, he rubbed up against her and cuddled with her, even more than he had before his adventure. He even remembered the tricks that I taught him: standing on his hind legs to touch his nose to mine when I bent over, and turning around in circles.
It has now been a little over a week since Shakir's return. His coat, which was dull and rough, has resumed its previous glossy smoothness. As I write this, he and the dog are playing tag. To say that we are thrilled to have him back is an understatement, although now we remember all the ways he is annoying. That is life!