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Pet Instincts


Before we had children, Andy and I would joke that our three animals were our children. Leia was our independent college student, just home for a winter’s break, but free to go where she pleased whenever she wanted. She was our Miss Independent, and she would exercise her freedom at any given opportunity. Luke was our awkward and chubby middle schooler, with his voice cracking in his whiny and incessant meows. Khaleesi was our high-energy preschooler, ready to play hard with us and other dogs whenever we would venture to a dog park. The cats tolerated our dog, and they coexisted comfortably with one another once Khaleesi shook off puppyhood and settled into adolescence.


Sometimes, I know when Maggie is about to have a seizure because Khaleesi will take it upon herself to try to get closer to her. Maggie doesn’t exactly welcome Khaleesi’s presence. If anything, Maggie prefers to ignore the animals while Hazel enjoys petting them and tormenting them in the affectionately innocent ways of toddlers. As Khaleesi tries to snuggle her, Maggie will push her off, and then have one. It doesn’t always work this way, but it has happened enough times for me to believe this is not a coincidence. Somehow, Khaleesi can sense a seizure before they happen and when I notice Khaleesi trying to get closer to Maggie, I’m on alert, making sure that if it does happen, she’s safe. Luke also seemed to have a special connection to Maggie. Unlike Khaleesi’s attempts to get close to her, Luke wouldn’t try to snuggle her. He’d hover, watching her and following her from just outside arm’s reach. Both of them shared a protective instinct over Maggie.


Leia has, unsurprisingly, been clingy with the family, especially me. She’s usually hard to find, often wanting to be left alone. Her independent personality makes it so she prefers to spend time in dark corners or hunting insects in the backyard. Right now, she just wants to snuggle. She wants our company. She is not typically affectionate, but she wants to curl up next to myself or Andy. She does not want to be alone, especially in the basement where she and Luke would previously spend their nights (because that’s where we keep the litter box).


This change in behavior clearly shows that she is missing her longtime companion. I don’t know if she knows where he is. As an experiment, I went out to the backyard with her to see if she could lead me to him. Instead, she darted back into the house. It was too cold, and whether it was because her independent streak is over or because she genuinely doesn’t know where he is, she was unable to help with the search.


I made flyers and stuck them in the mailboxes of all the houses in our neighborhood. I walked with Khaleesi, dropping off the flyers in each mailbox adorned with Luke’s picture, a physical description, and my contact information. I watched the street closely as we walked, wondering where he went. Could he have been hit by a car? I hope not. I looked up our animal control office in case he was picked up as a stray. They have listings of lost pets, and their policy is to not offer for adoption or euthanize animals for five days to give owners an opportunity to find their missing pet. Unfortunately, Luke’s picture was not amongst the found pets. I filled out forms including his picture in case he is found. I’m not sure what other steps I could take. I’ve torn through our house and backyard, and I can say in absolute certainty that Luke is not hiding somewhere here.


Yesterday, I mulled over a cat’s instinct to hide when death is imminent. I wondered if that’s what happened, that Luke recognized it was time for him to pass and he hid too well. Now, I wonder about another cat instinct: coming home. I’ve read about cats and dogs who have gone missing, only to reappear at their doorsteps sometime later. If Luke is out there, perhaps in some family’s home that was beyond the radius I thought likely and didn’t see a flyer when he comes out again, will he come home? I hope so. I have water and food, his cat bed with a towel sitting on the deck in the backyard just in case he comes home in the middle of the night. So far, it all seems untouched.


In the meanwhile, I’m trying to comfort Leia. She has no interest in doing her usual behaviors. She doesn’t want to explore. She doesn’t want to hunt. She certainly doesn’t want to play, but she always acted aloof, as if playing was beneath her. She doesn’t want to be Miss Independent right now. She just wants to feel close to the family. She misses Luke, too, more than anyone else.

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