Eleven years ago, my husband and I found a tiny calico kitten mewling outside of the movie theater at Regency near a busy road. It appeared she was lost or abandoned, so we bundled her up in a sweater and brought her home.
We named her after the classically silly comedienne of the 20th century because, as far as cats go, Lucy was always kind of funny. She never lost that baby meow, even as she grew to a hefty 14 pounds, but it was the small head, short legs, and great, big belly that made her comical.
Above: Sarah, her son Isaac and Lucy snuggle on the couch.
Over the years, Lucy trimmed down a bit. Other things changed too. My husband and I had a second child, adopted a couple more pets, and, eventually, got a divorce.
Just recently, I moved from Neptune Beach to Historic Springfield, two kids and two cats in tow. Some of my new neighbors warned us to keep the cats inside; a couple of dog attacks had been reported in the area. Some of the “porch kitties” looked like trouble too, if only because they might share their fleas with my cats.
We tried our best to keep them in, but within two weeks of moving, Lucy darted out one night. It was my son’s birthday, and with the kids coming in and out of the back door, she saw her opportunity to run away. Or, as she probably figured, to run back home. That night, we waited for her return. We figured Lucy would come back after the guests left. We waited and waited, but she didn’t come back that night. Or the next day. Or the next week.
Lucy was suffering from stomatitus when she left home, and had lost 20 percent of her body weight when she was found weeks later.
During those weeks, I deeply mourned my losses: a recent breakup, the loss of my home at the beach, and, now, the loss of a cat with whom I had a fairly deep attachment. Lucy had always been weirdly empathetic, always sensing when I was sick or stressed out, sometimes before I even knew it. When I was nine months pregnant, she circled around me while I was sleeping and meowed until I woke up. I was having contractions and I didn’t even know it; my son was born that afternoon. When he was a small infant, she could always be found near his crib or swing, keeping watch. Now he is nine years old, and they still have a special connection.
But during her disappearance in February, I could only assume Lucy was dead. Most nights, the temperature was close to freezing, and we even saw some snow flurries one day. But it wasn’t the cold that concerned me the most. Right before she left, the vet had diagnosed her with stomatitis, a painful inflammatory ailment that affects the gums and teeth. It got to the point where she could hardly sip water without making a horrible noise and running from her dish, so we scheduled a surgery to have several teeth extracted. But she disappeared just days before the surgery. How would she survive out on the streets by herself if she could barely drink water? I wondered. Was she trying to find her way back to the house in Neptune Beach? I didn’t blame her. At that point, I wanted to go “home” too.
During this time, I got a chance to see the Springfield community in action. On the Historic Springfield Facebook page, neighbors frequently report pets (and people) wandering around where they don’t belong. So I posted a photo of Lucy on the Facebook page and asked the neighbors to keep their eyes open. Within hours, I already had two leads and more continued to pour in. I walked the neighborhood several times a day during those weeks, but eventually the trail went cold. After about 10 days, I gave up. I was sure she was gone forever.
Then one night, just as I was turning off the back porch lights, she appeared at the door as though she had only been out for the afternoon. She was so thin that she hardly seemed like the same cat. She had lost two full pounds, about 20 percent of her weight, and was severely dehydrated.
I didn’t have an appointment scheduled for her, but the staff at San Juan Animal Hospital were kind enough to schedule a surgery right away. I was extremely grateful, because she wasn’t even a patient there. After several hours of an intravenous drip, the extraction of seven teeth, and a couple of shots of antibiotics, Lucy was ready to go home.
Within 24 hours, she was like a new cat. I couldn’t believe she had made it through such an adventure, but my kids were not as surprised. Unlike me, they had never given up on her.