About a year ago I was living in a granny flat in Annandale (granny flat = garden flat; this was both, as it was built in the back garden for P's mother to live in, while P & J and their two sons lived in the main house).
Photo: foreground to back, Blanche, Fern, Charlie, Rosy
I'd told P & J before I moved in that I had two cats, but actually had five for about half the time I lived there (only 8 months, sadly) - the two street kittens I'd rescued and planned to keep as my forever cats, and three other street kittens who I intended to rehome. I eventually took darling Charlie and beautiful Blanche to the Cat Protection Society where they lived for a month or two before being adopted (separately, to my sorrow).
I ended up keeping Blanche and Charlie's sister Fern, as well as their cousins Treasure and Rosy, because Fern is so like her mother Sandy, who befriended me when I was a catless cat lover and she was a street cat. Actually, that similarity was the first reason I thought about keeping Fern, rather than either of her siblings, but then it was mostly because she is so brave, friendly, inquisitive, good at climbing, determined to get into every bag, box, drawer and shelf, playful, confident, and fond of snuggling. In other words, I fell in love with her. Also, Fern is quite petite, even as an adult, so she's the 'point five' of my 2.5 fur-children :-)
As the saying "Curiosity killed the cat" indicates, many cats are keen to explore nooks and crannies. Fern takes this to extremes, not only climbing into boxes and drawers, but once hopping into the back of a delivery truck that was picking up a rented fridge from next door. Fortunately the driver noticed her before he closed up and drove off. Fern is also an excellent climber; again, a feature common to many cats - but she is good at climbing down, as well as up - a rare skill.
She does everything whole-heartedly: eating, play-fighting, climbing, hunting, snuggling with her family (feline and human), even sleeping. Most other cats I've known will respond if you stroke them while they're sleeping, either with a friendly "mrrrp?" or by glaring blearily at you. Fern just remains in her neatly curled up sleeping pose and ignores you. If she's on her way to something important, you can click your fingers or call her name to no avail; she just keeps marching straight on to her destination. She is however quite amenable to being called to come in at night (unlike her cousins), and even though she generally Does Not Like Being Picked Up, she'll allow me to carry her inside in the evening.
Fern also likes to sleep at regular times, the most important of which is from around 5 or 6pm to about 11pm or midnight. Then she'll get up, stretch, have a snack, wash her face, then tear around the house attacking rugs, toy mice, and any available human feet, before settling down again for some snoozing and napping.
I am an over-anxious cat-mum, quite often - I have a tendency to anxiety anyway (and do work on strategies to manage that), and I've seen several of Fern's street cat cousins killed on the road, and friends' cats have suffered various alarums and excursions, including a probable spider bite that caused temporary paralysis in one cat's back legs. So my worries were not completely unfounded. At 10pm I walked round to the next street to our north. My route there was via the connecting road, a very busy one, but Fern, if she were there, would've gone via back yards - much safer in terms of traffic, but full of possible dangers such as Sheds and Garages. I walked along the street, calling and pausing to hear any response, intruding onto properties where I could see closed garages or sheds, hoping no one would catch me, but ready with the "my darling cat is missing" explanation.
Last year's disappearance involved a garage only three houses away. That time, I'd last seen Fern at about 4pm, then gone to have a rest. When I brought the others indoors at 6pm, there was no sign of her. I wasn't worried, just thought she was having a good time climbing somewhere. Later that night I was starting to imagine dire things, and checked up the laneway that was my point of access to the granny flat. No sight or sound of my little girl, so I went back home to bed, but slept intermittently, waking to check if Fern was outside wanting to come in.
Photo: Looking across the lane from our old place to a barn (not the guilty garage)
She'd missed her evening meal, and probably didn't have access to water. I didn't know what to do about water, but went and got a small tin of tuna (my food, not cat food) and flicked little bits of it to her through the gap. She ate enthusiastically, and meowed at me some more. This roller-door was a side-to-side one, not the usual kind that rolls upwards to open, so when the door was closed, there was space all down one side to allow for the big roll of metal that it would curl into when opening.
Some tradesmen came to work on the driveway of the house next door at 7am, jackhammering up the concrete, starting at the laneway end, right near where Fern and I were. Fern fled in terror at the noise, and I went round to the front door of the green-garage-place to ask the owners if I could retrieve my cat from their garage. A man answered, and when I explained the situation, said he was a guest, and the owners weren't up yet. I went back to try and comfort Fern, who was losing her voice from yelling.
One of the owners, who I'll call UnCatLover, eventually appeared; she said she had to go to work soon so didn't have time to let me through their house and garden to look in the garage, but she'd have a look herself, and I could go back around the block to the laneway entrance to the garage where she'd let me know what she found. UnCatLover reported that there was no sight or sound of a cat, and the garage hadn't been opened since 5pm the previous afternoon, so if it'd been in there at all, it must've run out through the door into the garden while she was looking for it. So I went off calling and looking along the street, back home to see if Fern had reappeared, and along the laneway again - no sign of her.
Later that day I went back to the house to ask if I could look in the garage myself, in case Fern was still in there, and hiding when people she didn't know were hunting for her. UnCatLover's partner took me through the house to the garage, where I discovered just how much stuff there was inside - plenty of scope for a small, traumatised cat to hide. I poked around a bit, as did Helpful Man, but neither of us could see or hear Fern. I showed Helpful Man where Fern had been when I saw her from outside, and he could see traces of the tuna that I'd flicked to her, but he thought she'd probably got out when UnCatLover opened the door into the garden - despite the fact there were dogs in the garden at the time. I asked if I might leave some water in case she was still trapped there, and Helpful Man said okay.
Friends on Facebook had been giving me lots of moral support since I'd posted about Fern being AWOL, and those who lived near enough and had time available offered to come and help me search. After another night of worrying, and hugging Treasure and Rosy rather more than they appreciated, I was out early the next morning calling along the laneway, and particularly outside that light green garage door. To my amazement, I heard Fern again, and was able to see her briefly through the gap between the wall and the roller door - only briefly because work on the next door driveway started up again, and Fern disappeared.
I rang a friend who lived nearby and asked if she could come and help. Julie was very happy to, but explained she was at a friend's place, so it would take her a while to get to the laneway - and then the friend offered to come too. While I waited, there was a lull in the driveway work, and Fern reappeared. After touching paws with her, I ducked back home to get some tuna, partly because I thought she'd be hungry, and partly to entice her to stay within sight.
It was wonderful to have Julie's and her friend's support. When they came, I asked them both to look through the gap, and tell me what they could see, thinking that UnCatLover might be even more sceptical about Fern being there. And halleluja! They both saw her - Julie had met Fern before and recognised her; the friend just saw a small pale shape with big eyes. So I asked Friend (wish I could remember her name!) to stay at the garage door, so she'd see if Fern got out that way, while Julie and I went round to the front door. As expected, UnCatLover was very sceptical, but with me pleading and Julie assuring her that there was indeed a small cat in the garage, she allowed me to go through the house, through the garden, and into the garage (which had been tidied a bit since I was last there).
Julie and I clambered around through the boxes, woodworking materials, and rolls of shadecloth, calling Fern. No response. I looked in the drawers of a desk, into any box that wasn't firmly sealed, and under piles of papers. Helpful Man came to see if he could assist, and offered to open the roller door to see if Fern would run out into the lane. I asked him not to, because I was sure the noise of the door opening would alarm Fern, especially if she was in the corner near the gap where I'd seen her (since the tidy-up, I couldn't see or reach that place from inside the garage). Helpful Man also offered to move some more stuff so I could get to that corner, but looked a bit dubious about it - it would've been a major operation to clear a path I could use to get there. So I found a space where I could sit on the floor, while Helpful Man and Julie waited just outside the garden door, in case my usually brave Fern was hiding from everyone except me. And I sang, because I often sing to my cats - fortunately they don't seem to mind whether I sing in tune or not.
I sang "Ferny is my darling girl, I love her so, I hope she's safe" over and over, and eventually Fern emerged from within a pile of stuff that I'd searched through. I refrained from pouncing on her, but picked her up gently, and started walking towards the garden door. Fern was very distressed, and tried to get away, so I sat down with her and let go, just stroked her and kept singing to her. Then I said to Helpful Man that I'd need to go back through their house and round the block to my place so I could get a carry cage (should've thought of that before!), and he told me there was an ordinary door off to one side that would take me straight out into the laneway. So I hugged Fern a bit more, nicked out the side door nice and quietly, ran home to grab a carry cage (patted Rosy and Trezh, telling them their cousin would be home soon - they seemed unconcerned), and dashed back to the garage.
When I sat and called Fern this time she came straight away. She wasn't pleased to be stuffed into the carry cage, but I didn't give her an option. I carried her to the garden door so I could show Helpful Man, who was pleased to see Fern was okay, and UnCatLover, who was very surprised to see an actual cat being brought out of her garage. I thanked them both very much (hoping that UnCatLover would be the one to find any poo or wee that Fern might've left behind), and went home (via the side door and laneway), accompanied by Julie and Friend, cradling a wailing Fern in the carry cage.
Darling fearless Fern was very jumpy after that, startled by loud noises, wary of strangers instead of friendly, and much less keen on getting into boxes and cupboards - for several months, anyway. She gradually regained her confidence and was back to climbing up, on and into everything, smooching visitors, and exploring our next new neighbourhood.
So last week, when she reappeared at midnight on the same day that she'd gone AWOL, I was hugely relieved. Neither of us wants to go through Fern Being Trapped In A Garage again.