by Travis Naughton
Over eleven years ago, back when we still lived in our first house, a stray cat showed up at our back door one day and decided to have a litter of kittens. Alex was only four years-old at the time, and he loved playing with the tiny furballs whenever he went outside. The cats were relegated to the great outdoors due to my allergies and asthma, but they were far from feral. Over the years the herd gradually thinned (due to the nomadic nature of felines) until only one cat remained; a cuddly female named Boots.
Bootsie came with us, along with her brother Gray-Ray, when we moved to our new house four years ago. Both ran away immediately, but Boots returned unscathed a few weeks later. Gray-Ray has not been seen since. For nearly three years Bootsie never strayed again, until last fall when she inexplicably disappeared one day. After she had been missing for a month, I broke the news to my kids and comforted them by telling them she’d had a good life. It was of little comfort to me, however. I loved that cat.
Last Tuesday, as I let our dog Louie out in the back yard, I heard a familiar “yowl” emanating from the side yard. I looked to my right where I saw a very skinny (and a very excited) gray and white cat. “Bootsie?!” I called out. “Is it really you?” It was. Nearly eight months after she disappeared, Boots was back. I approached her cautiously, worried that I might scare her away or that she might be injured. To my great relief she ran right up to me, apparently healthy, rubbing against my legs and yowling with relief. I quickly summoned the children who, like me, were in complete disbelief at what they were seeing.
In our minds, our beloved Bootsie was dead. The odds of a pampered, eleven year-old cat surviving a long, cold winter in the woods with coyotes, foxes, and dogs constantly on the prowl were slim to none. After holding out hope for a few months, we eventually accepted that she was gone for good. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being reunited with a loved one (pets included) who was once believed to be dead. In the years since my mother passed away I’ve had several dreams in which I discover that Mom is still alive. Upon learning that she was not dead, but in fact had just been sitting at home all alone waiting for me to come visit, I invariably experience feelings of euphoria, confusion, and eventually guilt. Then when I wake up, and I lose her all over again.
I feel the same way with Boots. I keep thinking that this must be a dream and that when I wake up, Bootsie will be gone again, too. So far, however, each time I look out the window or step outside, Bootsie is still there. She’s skinny, but healthy, and she’s obviously happy to be home. You’ve never seen a happier cat. Friends have asked, “Wouldn’t you love to know what she’s been up to all this time?” Yes and no. Part of me is curious about her mysterious absence. I catch myself asking Bootsie out loud, “Where have you been, kitty?” over and over again. But another part of me is glad she cannot answer.
If she could talk, Boots might tell me about a great adventure in which she travelled hundreds of miles in search of her long-departed brothers and mother. She might speak of the kind humans that set out bowls of food for her when she stopped by their front porches at night. Or, she might tell of how she went for a little stroll in the woods one day and couldn’t find her way back home. She might talk about how she was scared and cold and starving and utterly alone for months on end, gradually losing hope of ever finding her way back home to her family.
I don’t want to know where Boots has been. I’m just glad she’s back where she belongs; with her family who missed her terribly and loves her very much.