Wednesday, July 28, 2010

18 Hours

It's been about 18 hours since I last saw Nacho out in our yard. With the roaming bobcats, mountain lions, and coyotes in our neighborhood, it is unlikely that I will see Nacho again. Still, I hold out hope that he will come trotting up our driveway, tummy wagging from side to side with every step. Before we left Mexico, Nacho had a few teeth removed, including one of his lower incisors. I am only just beginning to get accustomed to his lopsided meow.

Just recently, Scott and I were telling the girls about Nacho's story. As a newly married graduate student desperate for a pet (although apparently not desperate enough to fly home and take my old cat, Keiki, off of my mom's hands), I scoured Cincinnati for a kitten. I knew I should be adopting a cat, not a kitten, but a kitten was what I wanted. March in Cincinnati is not exactly prime time for kitten adoptions, so every shelter I called told me, "Nope, no kittens." Until I got in touch with The Scratching Post. "Yep, we've got one kitten. He's a male. His name is Homer. Feel free to come meet him." A male was not what I was looking for, and the name Homer didn't exactly jive with me, but since he was the only kitten in Cincinnati, Scott and I went to check him out.

Upon meeting Homer, we quickly realized that he was no run-of-the-mill kitten. Rescued with his mother from a local factory at about 8 weeks old, he was the only kitten found from his litter, and he seemed nearly feral. Hissing, growling, scratching, biting, clawing and occasionally playing, this kitten was a handful. As we got to know him, a little girl arrived with her family to take a look at him. Scott and I got nervous -- would we be allowed to take him? What if she wanted him? She was allowed to look, but then told that we would be taking him home. Once the door shut behind her, the people from The Scratching Post informed us that there was NO WAY a little girl would be allowed to adopt a wild cat like Homer. But us? A young couple who worked mostly from home, no kids, no easy escape route from our condo? We were a perfect match for this looney cat.

We boxed him up and put him in the car and as we drove down the Reagan highway on our way home, we listened to him hiss and growl while we discussed possible names. His name obviously needed to reflect his unpredictable, wild spirit. He reminded us of a kitten version of Speedy Gonzalez. We could just imagine him running around the house, twirling little guns on his fingers. Of all the names we mulled over, Nacho was the only one that stuck. After we arrived home, I tried to cuddle him and realized that if he could speak, all he would say is, "Let go of me. I'm NA-CHO kitty cat!"

Our first four or five months with Nacho were slightly trying times. He had a knack for stepping in his fresh poop in the litter box and then tracking it all over our brand new carpet. Luckily, he eventually learned to submit quickly and easily to baths. He had a bit of an obsession with the outdoors and one time jumped or fell from or somehow escaped off of our third floor balcony. Scott heard him land and by the time he was able to get down to the first floor, he found Nacho clinging wildly to the top of our downstairs neighbor's screen door. That wasn't his only encounter with a screen, either. When a friend brought his English Bulldog, Harper, over for a visit, Nacho didn't hide under the couch like a normal kitten. As soon as he heard Harper grunting his way up the stairs, Nacho bounded across the room and lept on the window screen, clawing his way to the top of the screen.

Bulldogs scared him, but people did not. Most of our friends and relatives have been attacked by Nacho at least once. His first weekend at our house, Scott and I had to leave for a youth retreat in Georgia, so a cat-despising friend came to keep him company (thus solidifying our friendship forever). Nacho woke her up at 5am with a bite to her nose. She filled his food bowl and left. And who could blame her for leaving him? Every time my dad would visit, he would walk away from his Nacho encounters dripping blood from his hands and forearms. When my brother would spend the night, Nacho would attack any part of Nick's body that happened to slip out from under the covers. Nacho even attacked Scott's grandma once, as she sat innocently in our wing chair. He planned and launched his attack from behind the wing chair, jumping up and over the back, grabbing onto her shoulder with all of his claws. Luckily she is an animal lover and doesn't hold the attack against us.

By the time our kids were born, Nacho had bonded with us and calmed down a bit. He still attacked us nightly in the bathroom, but never once acted aggressively toward our girls.

When we moved to Colorado, we knew that it would be nearly impossible to keep Nacho inside. His whole life, he had found ways to sneak out of our condo and later our apartments so that he could explore the world outside. We knew that his journeys outside would only get longer and more dangerous now that we were living in a wild place with wild animals all around us. It was clear, though, that there was no stopping him. If he couldn't explore, there would be no joy in his life. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

I told someone recently that I wish I could strap a video camera to Nacho's head -- I would love to see what Nacho sees. The close encounters with animals, with cars, with dogs and who knows what else? Or maybe I wouldn't love it. Who knows how many bears and bobcats and coyotes he has seen, how many times he has narrowly escaped being someone's dinner.

We knew that eventually Nacho's adventurous lifestyle would be his demise, but we rarely voiced it. I tried to keep those thoughts tucked away, like if I didn't admit that he was going to be a mountain lion's tasty snack, maybe it wouldn't happen.

But now it has been 18 hours since we saw him last. Several neighbors have reported bobcat and mountain lion sightings in the past three days. Nacho's luck may have finally run out. And I knew it would. And I knew that there was no other lifestyle for Nacho. He couldn't be confined, but with roaming the open space comes danger.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed. This is the cat I occasionally call "my firstborn," the cat I cared for through impossibly expensive kidney surgery, the cat I feed a diet better than I give myself, the cat I take to the vet for yearly ultrasounds, bloodwork, and urinalysis, the cat who has, over his lifetime, cost us more than we ever imagined we would spend on ten animals, much less one. I'm hoping to see him waltzing in from the neighbor's yard or yowling at the back door. I will whistle my Nacho Whistle which never fails to bring him to me...when he is in ear shot. I will call him and hope for him. But I know, he's probably gone forever.


Heather Van Uxem-Lewis said...

Hil, thank you for sharing. The story is of love, beauty, bonding and the reality of the inevitable heartbreak that comes with relationships. My heart is with you, the family and most of all, Nacho.

Hillary Dickman said...

Thanks, Heather! We're still hoping. Not expecting, but hoping.

Nick Foy said...

Nacho liked me early on. We got along splendidly. Then one day he turned on me. Many times I asked him what I did to make him change his mind, but he never responded.

Maybe the mountain lion use to be Nacho's friend too, and then unexpectedly, the larger beast turned on Nacho.

Fulton said...

So sad, keep us up to date if anything changes!

Bri!!! said...

Caleb loves cats and so does Dan. Me...not so much. Reading this makes me NOT want to get a cat:-). Although, I am so so sorry. He has been a part of your family for a long time. How are your girls doing with it? There was a cat I loved and it got attacked and eaten by a neighbors dog. It was awful. I guess since then I vowed not to have another cat. I really hope Nacho comes back.

Hillary Dickman said...

Hey, Bri. The girls are okay with Nacho being gone -- not nearly as wounded as I feel. Callie did write him a note a day or two after he disappeared. We still have it...just in case he returns and wants to read it. :( I miss him.