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Outdoor Cat is Missing, Grief is Overwhelming
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In the past two months, I’ve lost one of my cats to euthanasia and then a beloved outdoor cat has gone missing, and the grief is overwhelming.
(I apologize if posting about a pet that is missing, not confirmed deceased, is not allowed here. I wasn’t sure where else to go online.)
In short: I put my cat Olivia to sleep (behavioral euthanasia) in April, which was the most painful pet loss I’ve ever been through and the grief has been horrible. Then, two weeks ago my feral/outdoor cat Minnie has been missing and I feel guilty and horrible that something bad happened to her. I’m mourning both of them.
Until April, my husband and I had four cats that were inside only and were officially “our” cats (we’d formally adopted them and they were domestic pets)- Olivia, Sadie, Piper, and Ginny. I also had a feral cat that has lived outside but visited me almost every day and I considered myself responsible for her care- Minnie.
After much heartbreak, soul-searching, medication trials, interventions, and discussions with our vet (a behavioral veterinary specialist), we put Olivia, our tortoiseshell girl, to sleep in early April for behavioral euthanasia (I’ve never had to do that before and it was much more traumatic than I expected). As anyone who has experienced a behavioral euthanasia knows, the guilt and second-guessing plus the grief is crushing. I don’t think I’ll ever be “over it.” In spite of the pain, recently I was starting to feel a little better, less in a fog, and wasn’t spending the majority of my time being depressed. I was healing as best I could without therapy and/or pet loss support groups. (I’ll elaborate on my experience with Olivia in another post because there’s so much more to say.)
In the meantime, Minnie was living in my backyard and it was so special to care for her. I’ve lived in my house since summer 2016 and ever since fall 2016, I’ve been taking care of Minnie. I can barely remember a time when I lived here and she wasn’t around. My neighborhood had feral cats (ear-tipped) that were around when I moved in so I left dry food on the back patio for them. Then, I started to see Minnie. She wasn’t part of the feral cat pack- she was always alone and not ear-tipped and also looked a lot younger. I could tell she was a girl because she was a dilute tortoiseshell. As time went on, her visits to my place became more consistent and, with the help of a local rescue organization, I got her spayed, vaccinated, and ear-tipped a few months after I started seeing her. I also put out an insulated “cat hut” and gave her food at least once a day.
The time all blurs together, but in the first two years of me living here, if not longer, she was so afraid of me. I couldn’t even look at her out the window without her running away. She wouldn’t use the cat hut. Then, she would allow me to look at her but not come near her. Then, she would use the cat hut when it was cold. Then, finally she allowed me to pet her! (Within the past year.) This progressed, to now within the past few months, she actively looked for me (by peeking in the back door off the patio) and was trying to follow me into the house. When I went outside she purred loudly and gave my “lovey” eyes.
When she wasn’t near me/my house, it looked like she went into the woods behind my house. I live in a townhouse in a neighborhood that is set back from any big roads. (The roads surround the neighborhood but aren’t “right there” if that makes sense.) The woods are dense with a lot of places a cat could sleep and hide. Where I live in the U.S., we don't have big predators like bears, coyotes, bobcats, etc. that have been noted or sighted at all. It’s a quiet neighborhood. As she grew attached to me, she would appear in an instant if she heard the door open or the food dish being filled. I also can’t remember the last time multiple days went by without seeing her. For those reasons, I got the sense she didn’t go far.
As she became more friendly, I was really conflicted about bringing her inside. I knew I couldn’t bring her in while we had Olivia. Olivia HATED other cats and being around them brought out the worst in her. I was so scarred from the experience with Olivia, where one minute she was sweet and loving and the next she was viciously attacking, and it made me swear that next time I adopt a cat, I will be super careful. Minnie was visibly healthy- borderline chubby (I fed her a lot, especially since I’ve been home in quarantine), had bright eyes, had no visible lumps/tumors, etc. According to those with experience with ferals, as long as they’re cared for, they’re better off outside than in an animal shelter. She didn’t seem friendly to other humans besides me. I thought she seemed happy and content out there, except for when she would try to follow me inside and on days when the weather was bad. I actually cried a few times feeling bad for her out there while considering what to do. Was I horrible and neglectful if I left her out there if she really did want to leave outdoor life behind? What if she was scared of other animals outside and that's why she was trying to come in? What if she was miserable inside? What if she didn’t take to the litterbox? What if her and the other cats hated each other? What if she was another Olivia?
Despite all the questioning, I decided to at least bring her to the vet for a checkup for a wellness visit and to get her vaccines updated. Maybe I could keep her in a spare room or my garage for a few days after to see if she took to the litter box and adjusted okay to being inside. I could let her back out if she hated the indoors. At least I could’ve said I tried.
My husband and I even bought a humane trap (it arrived on Friday, May 15th) in preparation. We’ve been working from home during quarantine- we’re lucky to be employed but work has been brutal. Long, long, long hours, very tiring and mentally taxing. My work calendar was packed the week of May 18th. We would finally have free time over Memorial Day weekend so we decided to trap her and bring her to the vet then.
Monday, May 18th was the last time I saw her. I don’t remember anything specific about that time because it was so routine. She looked healthy and acted the same as always. I noticed she didn’t come around at all on Tuesday- weird, but maybe she was laying low in the bushes after the landscapers (they come every week and normally she’s out and about after they leave). Wednesday was when I started worrying. I called for her and checked the woods as best I could on Weds- nothing. No sign of her since the 18th.
I’ve still been leaving food out in case she comes back. I’ve checked the cat hut (empty). No one in my neighborhood has a shed or a porch with nooks, so she can’t be in there. My neighbors go in their garages often (it’s where we keep our trash cans) so if she got into one you’d think someone would have let her out or noticed her. I made a post on our neighborhood message board asking people to keep an eye out for her. (Note- none of my neighbors ever expressed discomfort about Minnie. She kept to herself besides visiting me.) I bought a PawBoost alert and made posts to all local pet lost and found groups on Facebook. I reached out to animal control, local vets, local shelters, my township. No one has seen her. My husband went deeper into the woods a few times- no sign besides cat paw prints in the mud (other cats hang around our neighborhood so not sure if it was her or not).
I have no idea, obviously, what happened to her and I’m beside myself. I’ve cried nonstop since last week. I can’t stop torturing myself with thoughts that she’s dead and wondering if she was taken by a hawk, or hit by a car if she wandered far enough, or ate something poisoned, on and on. I keep thinking of her being scared and in pain and me not being able to help her. I picture her little body laying deceased right behind my house, out of reach and out of sight, and me never seeing her again. We've had a few crazy thunderstorms since she's been missing and thinking of her being out there (deceased or alive) makes me feel so helpless. What if she really wanted me to help her in her final moments? Not knowing what happened makes me think the worst.
I keep beating myself up. I can’t believe I was so stupid to procrastinate on getting her to the vet and inside. I should have known that something bad could have happened to her at any time. No matter how happy and healthy she seemed, the outdoors can be unforgiving. I was in such a fog from losing Olivia, being indecisive, and being stressed at work that I let this cat that was begging for my help (presumably) die. I'm having trouble sleeping or eating. (And of course, all the sadness in the world right now contributes.) I’m not suicidal, but I also feel like I don’t deserve to live for being so clueless.
The few other people I’ve talked to about this mean well but don’t really make me feel better. They haven’t ever experienced this. They just tell me “she’ll probably be back” (I think, how do you know this- you’re just saying this to try to make me feel better and to change the subject). Or they tell me how their cat once came back after being outside (what if Minnie never comes back?) I hear that I treated her so well, but that doesn’t make me feel better either- if she died outside, did I really even help her in the end? Plus, with all the suffering going on in society, I feel privileged for this being my main problem right now. Sitting on the couch with a view to the patio hurts my heart every time I glance outside and she’s not there. I find myself irritable and isolating myself from my friends and family because I feel like no one understands what it was like to lose Olivia and Minnie. I know that’s a bad thing to do but I feel so emotionally frayed I’m barely hanging on. I want to go to a pet loss therapy group but none are meeting in person right now with the quarantine.
So - this is why I posted here. Pet lovers- have you ever lost two pets in a short time? Have you ever had a pet lost outside and never seen again? Have you ever bonded with a feral? Any words of wisdom help. I’m sorry for the long post, I don’t know where else to turn! Thanks again.
I am so sorry that Minnie has gone missing. And yes, it is fine to post about her here.
I've never lost two pets in a short time but I have had a cat go missing outside. I wish I could share a happy ending but I cannot.
I know what it is like to feel guilt over a lost pet and imagine all sorts of bad things. The roller coaster of emotions when somebody thought they saw her only to find it was not her was traumatic. Wondering if I should give up or keep looking was a difficult decision.
Clearly you've done so much for Minnie and took great care of her. To have a feral cat learn to trust you is truly amazing and shows what a wonderful person you are.
I hope Minnie returns. Keep us posted.
I truly hope your sweet little Minnie comes home. I also have an indoor/outdoor cat. I've had her about 5mos and she has gotten use to coming home every night and sleeps in the house and every morning she cries to go out. I can't help but worry that one night she might not come home. I have grown to love her so much. I can imagine what heartache you must be going through. I hope you can let some of the guilt go, its obvious you love sweet Minnie and have taken such good care of her over the years.
Please keep us posted
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