My cat, Tula, disappeared last October. She and her brother, Nijinsky, abandoned along with their siblings, have lived with us since they were six weeks old. Tula grew into a pretty cat with a tapered face, tiger stripes, and big round eyes. Her favorite pastime was to sit on my chest and gaze at me, from time to time emitting a little squeak and reaching out a soft paw to pat my chin.
Although there’s a cat door to let the cats in and out (installed when they absolutely insisted), Tula would spend most of her time inside, usually snuggled beside me as I worked. Occasionally she’d snooze downstairs instead. On that October day, it wasn’t until late afternoon that we realized we hadn’t seen her since the night before. We investigated her various hiding places. By 11pm she hadn’t reappeared. Worried, I walked around the yard with a flashlight. I expected she’d come back during the night. But she did not. I began what would become a months-long search. I called and emailed neighbors. I knocked on doors, handing out flyers. I posted on Facebook and put signs on telephone poles.
Gardiner is a small and friendly place: I already knew most of our closest neighbors and soon met others who live further afield. Almost without exception, people expressed concern and a desire to help. They let me search backyards, under porches, and inside basements, garages, and sheds. One kind neighbor lent me a wildlife camera that I set up at spots where someone said they might have seen her. I visited day and night to replenish food and check the camera. It caught images of other cats and a skunk, but not Tula.
During the months of my search, dozens of people in Gardiner phoned or texted with possible sightings. I followed up every lead. One text arrived when I was in Chile without—or so I thought—any phone connection at all. “Yes or no?” said the unsigned text under a photo. I longed to say yes. On four occasions people told me with certainty, “I have your cat!” But it was never her.
After living here for 22 years, I thought I knew Gardiner well. But this search revealed hidden landscapes more beautiful than I’d imagined, including a spectacular vista not half a mile from my own house. And I found a community of people who astonished me with their compassion and readiness to help.
I am very grateful for what I found. But, as of this writing, I have not found Tula. I haven’t given up hope.