A kitten I had inherited had died a few days before, at just 8-days old, before he'd even opened his eyes. When my friend told me about a box of kittens that had been left on a veterinarian's doorstep, I thought I would just swing by and take a look.
I already had one cat, Meena. I didn't need another. But there was an ache in my heart and as soon as I saw Milo, I knew he was mine.
He was the biggest of 5 in a litter and he never stopped eating. Or peeing (on my bed) or pooing (then tromping through it - he had a lot of baths that first week home). He had a crooked tail, what they called a "Singapore Tail" with a bend about an inch before the tip. He slept on my shoulder, fit into my husband's bathrobe pocket and had the weirdest meow I'd ever heard. It was instant love.
Nearly five years later when Nature Girl was born, Milo fell in love with her. And her car seat. And her stroller.
He was the very best cat for children you could imagine. So gentle, so sweet. No matter how much any of them pulled on him, chased after him or even sat on him, he was completely tolerant.
We called him a dog-cat. He would come when called, take walks with us through the woods, cuddle up whenever possible. He would literally jump up into your arms for attention and some loving, resting his head on a soft shoulder just like a child.
He stayed my baby through all my babies.
In August of last year, we prepared both cats to fly with us to England. It wasn't easy. The logistics were a challenge. Nevertheless, we worked with our vet to get all the shots, microchips and papers in order. We loaded them up and drove them to my parent's in Detroit to reunite with the kids and hang for a few days before the flight.
I didn't want to leave them pent up in little cat cages for those three days. Milo needs space, room to move. He's always been an indoor/outdoor cat; an explorer. So, after thinking about it, I decided the cats would be best in my mom's greenhouse. It was closed for the season. The cats would feel like they were outside, yet they'd be sheltered, captive and they wouldn't be tortured by my parents' dog or be stepping on the territory of their cats. I thought they would be happier in there.
I should have left him in the cage for a day to let him get used to it. Instead, I let the cats out. Meena hid behind a water tank and Milo slipped through the wall into a vent of some sort between the store and the greenhouse, which are connected. It took a whole day and a lot of coaxing to get him out.
The next day when I went to visit him, he was gone. Somehow he had gotten out. Maybe slipped through an open door too quickly to see or out a vented window when they opened to cool the greenhouse. He was gone.
My parent's live on acres and acres of land. There are woods, sheds, ponds... plenty of wonderful places for an adventurous cat to explore. But Milo was also scared. He was nervous around strangers. He was away from home, the smells, sounds and sights were different. Too different.
I searched and called for him several times a day. I hoped he would just wander up to the house... I put out a missing pet alert. Our flight was two days away. We decided that if Milo didn't return in time, we would leave Meena with my parents. They had the gecko and the fish, plus two cats and a dog of their own, why not one more? I love Meena, but without Milo it didn't seem worth the trouble when I knew she'd be safe and happy in Zonerland. It's pet heaven.
On the morning of our flight, my mom and dad departed for California for a week. If Milo came back after we left, there would be no one to see him, greet him... love him. Just hours before we were to leave for the airport I got a call from the lost pet people saying someone had spotted a cat with a similar description to Milo about a 10 minutes drive from the house.
With doubt tinged with great hope, I drove like a madwoman through an area I hadn't lived in for 20 years. I found the location thanks to the GPS. Neighborhoods, businesses and a vast green with roads all around. Why would he be there? Could he have gotten so far in just a day? I couldn't imagine, but cats can travel fast..
I ran around, I called for him. I wandered to where an animal might hide. From a football field distance I spotted a cat. A glimmer of white, a spot of brown. I called, "Milo!" I made his funny meow sound and the kissy noises I used to call him. I managed to get close enough to get a good look without scaring the cat away.
It wasn't him. I sobbed my way back to my childhood home.
It's funny how you can love an animal so much. Strange how they can break your heart as easily as any human love. Sad to realize how much guilt I carry for losing him. Imagining him lost and lonely and scared.
I don't know what happened to him and that's the hardest part. There's no closure. All I can do is try to let go of wishing that I had done it differently and imagine him happily chasing birds, bunnies and butterflies in the outdoors that he loved so much.
But I miss my baby cat. I'll always love you, Milo.
*** I've been avoiding this post for months. I'm linking up with Mama Kat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop. Thanks for the therapy prompt, Mama Kat.