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The Cat That Won’t Come Back – I miss Baxter, but he doesn’t feel the same

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OPINION: Moka the group cat from Hilton Head, South Carolina. Örvar the red tabby from Reykjavik, Iceland. Cleo, the Siamese from Taihape.

I have always been fascinated by the stories of long lost cats returning to their owners. It’s such an unlikely scenario – as if the cat, the most independent of creatures, really wanted to be back where it “belonged.”

Bitter experience has taught me how much of a hooey load it is.

Our cat history began as these things generally do; with three pairs of pleading eyes in three pleading little faces, listing at length the eternal blessings of a Chatton.

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Please may we have a kitten. If the kids made their point once, they’ve made it a thousand times and to be fair, we’ve held on for quite a while. But our habit of “just going to the pet store” to say hello to its ever-changing list of temporary residents was our downfall.

The bathroom cats Louie, left, and Baxter.

PROVIDED

The bathroom cats Louie, left, and Baxter.

Sure enough, they were there one day, in a cage near the cash register and as tempting as any bar of chocolate – two little rag doll brothers, cute as buttons.

The staff at the pet store were suspicious; we would not be only would take one, right? we would not be break them?

Of course not, we cried (in comically horrified voices). Fifteen minutes and several dollars later, Louie and Baxter entered a cardboard holder. I will never forget the faces of the little humans when they opened the top of this box. It’s a beautiful memory to hold onto, considering what happened at the end.

Louie and Bax were pretty much the same as all of the other siblings. Sometimes they played, sometimes they quarreled, always in the evening they huddled like hot cakes at the end of the sofa.

Personality wise, they weren’t the same at all. Louie was the alpha of the pair; more daring and more authoritative. Watching them together was like seeing an older brother pull the rank of the younger. Full of his own magnificence, Louie set the rules.

And then, three years later, he just disappeared. We have searched the streets and listed on Facebook, checked vets and shelters several times; but unlike those happy stories on the news, we never saw him again.

It made the humans in the house very sad – but without Louie, Baxter flourished, becoming more confident and relaxed over time. We moved to the other side of Auckland, and he took the change in his stride.

Several years later, a small medical problem prompted our vet to recommend a change in diet. The new food was apparently not an acceptable twist for Baxter. He disappeared.

This time however (was it his inherently lazy nature?) He didn’t get far. He was there, just down the road and out of reach, when the school bus arrived in the afternoon. Sometimes there was a telltale tuft of milk chocolate fur on the doormat before morning. He wouldn’t be caught and wouldn’t go inside, but he looked great.

FASTER BRADEN / STUFF

Misty the cat may have used one of her lives after she vanished from her Nelson home, but there is a purring ending to this story.

Finally, he showed up on the doorstep one afternoon in the arms of a neighbor a street away. Bax had been living with them for some time, the neighbor said, in some sort of shared custody arrangement with the people of the house next door. He needed the vet – did he belong to us?

After his condition (not life threatening) was treated we tried to get Baxter (Bax, Baz, Bazza) back into the household, but at that time we also had a dog. Bax (perhaps naturally) preferred the neighbor. We agreed on the costs and let the cat decide.

His visits to our street were becoming increasingly rare. At one point, I realized that I hadn’t spotted him in months. It’s not easy to take this kind of rejection on the chin – we spent many hours wondering what we had done to offend her like that.

I even did some research on the behavior of cats online. According to some studies, cats are inherently distant; others have found that the amount of attention they receive from their owners makes a difference.

So far, therefore undetermined. Then, a single sentence jumped out at me:

“Cats don’t forgive.” It was just me, then – revenge for the food issue.

Baxter the magnificent, when he was staying with us.

PROVIDED

Baxter the magnificent, when he was staying with us.

We moved again this year, and a few days ago I saw Bax in the aisle. I called out his name and he walked around, lay down for a belly massage, and cried a little. It was the first time he had let me touch him in years.

This week, four months later, Baxter’s new mom called to say they were leaving Auckland. Would it be okay to hand it over to another neighbor who loves it?

It turns out that Bax has become the neighborhood cat; spread out on the sidewalk every morning for coffee lovers to stop and scratch their stomachs. He has a number (who knows how many?) That he visits regularly for treats and brushing his beautiful coat.

Do you know those people who claim that they love animals more than they love people? When I was young and outgoing, I thought these people were just a little weird – but the older I get, the more of an “animal person” I become.

They say animals don’t disappoint you like people, and I think that’s true – unless you’re a cat called Baxter. *

*The whole family still love Baxter very much, but we respect his wishes.