Lost and Found

WHISKEY, a lost cat

On a blustery day, dead leaves flying everywhere, I received an alert about Whiskey, a tan-gray Siamese who is lost. She weighs six and a half pounds. No photo available. She was wearing a blue collar when she disappeared near Route 286 in Salisbury. Emails like this one arrive several times a week, ever since we enrolled our dog in a pet rescue service. If our dog went missing, an APB like the one about Whiskey would be sent to other pet owners in the area. The company claims to have reunited more than two million lost animals with their families.

Perhaps Whiskey wandered too far, like the time I got separated from my mom in the supermarket and didn’t know where to go without her. Additional information: “Whiskey ran into the woods and hasn’t been seen since.”

SHADOW, a lost cat

Shadow is also missing. He weighs 10.8 pounds and was last spotted on Brickett Lane. His owners have included a photograph. Shadow is black with green eyes, and in the picture he’s perched on one of those kitty towers upholstered in shag carpeting, green eyes aglow. Yesterday I got an email regarding “RUBBLE, a lost dog,” but overwhelmingly it seems to be the cats that go missing. It must be because they’re hunters. Though I dislike cats, I feel for the families who are worried about their pets: Bigfoot, Emily, Trouble, Pumpkin, Señor Paws. A Maine Coon named Binx. A calico called Bean. None of them has been found.

I know they’re still lost because the rescue website includes “Found” videos with footage of the lucky ones—Pepper, for example, a miniature Schnauzer, playing happily now that he’s back home. In the video clip, Pepper’s owner throws a tennis ball and the dog runs across the patio to retrieve it. The man explains how their gate latch works (hint: poorly), and says, “At some point the wind blew it open or Pepper bumped up against it, and it opened just enough and closed behind him and he couldn’t get back in.” The camera zooms in on the half-assed latch. What strikes me is the suggestion that Pepper didn’t really want to leave. It was the wind or an accidental bump on the gate. The dog got locked out and couldn’t get back in. His owner is not taking this personally, or acknowledging any willfulness on Pepper’s part.

Once when I was struggling to get over a break-up, in which my boyfriend had said, It’s me, not you, I experimented with that type of thinking. There’s nothing wrong with me, I kept telling myself. It’s not because of me that he ended our relationship. My ex was like that faulty latch. He let me slip away and then the gate shut behind me and I couldn’t get back in.

VICTOR, a found cat

After my daughter graduated from college, she took a job a thousand miles away. She felt homesick in those early months and adopted an orange cat from a shelter. Victor weighs 8.4 pounds and has hazel eyes flecked with gold. The shelter knew his name was Victor because he had a microchip encoded with information. For thirty days, the shelter left messages with his family. They never called back.

I wonder why Victor’s previous family abandoned him. Did they move away and leave him behind, like a box at the curb? Were they tired of him? Though he’s affectionate and enjoys being petted, he spends a lot of time hiding under the bed, one might even say cowering. My daughter has been so patient with him, giving him time to get comfortable with his surroundings. “It’s hard to be loved by a new person,” she says.

MAYHEM, a found dog

People sometimes post gushing narratives about how the rescue network helped reunite them with their pets. One owner found Mayhem, her Jack Russell terrier, within a day of posting fliers all over town. In the Comments section below Mayhem’s happy ending, someone wrote, “Nice, but I’d think you’d use a story where the microchip lead [sic] to the pet’s being found.” I like how this comment is directed at the company itself. The rescue network is owned by Big Pharma—Merck makes the microchips that allow you to register your pet in the network.

Once I ignored a series of renewal notices and our membership lapsed. Gentle reminders to reenroll our dog turned into uppercase announcements. BRADY’s Membership Has EXPIRED. Brady is a stubby French bulldog, dark brindle with a white star on her chest. She has brown eyes and weighs 20.6 pounds. It began to feel reckless of me not to renew, as if our dog became more vulnerable with each day she spent outside the rescue network. I realize that the company is banking on fear and selling us hope. Still, I paid the $20 renewal fee. We all want to believe we can recover something we’ve lost.

The fact is, email alerts and fliers are unlikely to result in the return of a pet. Imagine I’m driving through Salisbury, along the marshy expanse of Route 286. I see a cat with a black tail and blue collar in the bushes. It might be a Siamese. Am I going to think, “There’s Whiskey”? Sadly, no. How would I even notice a cat, as the green blur of the side of the road rushes by? It’s doubtful Whiskey is even in Salisbury anymore, or that the orange cat by our birdfeeder yesterday was Pumpkin. I just read about a lost gray kitty named Meredith. Her owner wrote, “She was last seen in my window.”


I’ve been thinking about Shadow and Rubble today, and about the advice that says, “Don’t look back.” I’m afraid if I look back that’s what I’ll see: shadow and rubble, in places I can no longer return to, in moments that have disappeared. Or in those situations that crumbled and slipped through my hands, like the job I lost at an elementary school a few years back. There are plenty of reasons why it didn’t work out, but it wasn’t because I didn’t give it my all. I carried a full teaching load and ran high-stakes testing. I served on district committees and teams of specialists. I even covered cafeteria duty. One day I sat down with my principal for my annual review. Instead she told me my contract wouldn’t be renewed. “It’s not the right fit,” she said.

I had been struggling for years to please her—to be enough—but the news still came as a shock. I appreciate now the careful wording my ex-boss used that day. She made it sound like it wasn’t me, per se; it simply wasn’t the right fit. Something was off, like the latch on that gate or the boyfriend who was sorry he had to break up with me. The wind blew. I bumped up against something. A door opened and then it closed behind me.

Andrea Caswell grew up in Los Angeles. She’s a fiction editor at Cleaver Magazine, and holds an MFA in fiction and nonfiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her work has been published by Fifth Wednesday JournalRiver Teeth, The Normal SchoolColumbia Journal, and others. More at www.andreacaswell.net.

Photo Credit: Andrea Caswell