OPINION | GARY SMITH: Finding fugitive feline feeds frustrations

Pet’s disappearance sends house into turmoil

Cats are jerks.

And by "jerks" I actually mean something else, but this is a family newspaper. I'm going to have to go with "jerk." However, you should be aware that in this case, "jerk" is code for what they really are.

Yes, I know: Cat people are now going to come for me, upset that I should malign delightful creatures that so richly reward their lives with their unwavering attention and affection. The most kind among them will take the position that I just don't appreciate cats in general, and that likely any cat I've come in contact with, including the one that helped inform my outlook, is just misunderstood.

To which I say, yes, and so are rattlesnakes and Rasputin. Which, based on general attitude, would be a good name/description for my youngest daughter's cat.

"Rasputin," not "rattlesnake." Though there are times when it could go either way.

The best thing you can say about cats, from my perspective, is that they tend to disappear for long stretches of time and don't require a great deal of maintenance. You can also say that about my Roomba, which is just about as personable but does actually do something useful.

I know, I'm venting here. There have been some challenges around the Smith home this week.

This all started when my youngest daughter's dog set fire to her house. That's the short version. The long version is the dog, an overly excited, perpetually hungry and/or curious Irish setter, managed to drag a box from the counter onto the stove and accidentally turn on a burner. I say accidentally: The dog spends most of its time running around in circles, slamming into things, so I doubt intentionally working an appliance was part of its master plan or skill set.

The cat would have done it in a second if it was a beneficiary of the homeowner's insurance and they had a functioning cat door.

And while the fire, such as it was, didn't do any structural damage beyond wrecking the stove, it did spread ash, soot and the smell of melted plastic throughout my daughter's house. Which explains why she, her husband, their two children and their pets – the aforementioned dog and cat – came to be staying with us.

Or at least that's what we thought. Being a cat, it did what just a few sentences ago I was touting as a key cat benefit I'm now reconsidering. The cat disappeared.

So, yeah, cats can be jerks when they're hanging out near you, but also when they demonstrate their tendency to just wander off for no reason.

Which is what we thought might have happened when we went about 24 hours without seeing him. Which precipitated the sort of search usually reserved for escaped convicts. We scoured the house. We upended every piece of lawn furniture. We dug around in the dark places of the garage. We knocked on doors, sent out emails and posted to neighborhood websites.

Would we have done this under normal circumstances? Unlikely, or at least not as feverishly. But when your 2-year-old grandson keeps asking where the cat is, and he's already confused as to why everyone is staying at his grandparents' house, well, you tend to sound the alarm more quickly.

You also do all the appropriate grandparenting things like get down on his level, look him straight in the eye and try to explain in simplest terms that no, we don't know where his cat is, we're looking for him and we hope we find him, but sometimes cats wander off and we just don't know if we're going to be able to locate him.

It helps if you've got a Grandpa Walton kind of vibe going. Maybe wear a lot of flannel and whittle.

And, while doing all that, it also helps if you look over your grandson's shoulder just in time to see the jerk ... I mean, cat, who was apparently not so lost as we thought. He sauntered by on his way to the food bowl, fresh from a room where we did everything but pull sheet rock off the walls looking for him. Apparently he'd figured out a way to climb up into the box spring on the bed and hid out at the far end, away from the opening.

My take is he sensed the house was in an uproar after the fire and did it just to pull our respective chains. A straight-up jerk move.

However, I have to give him one thing. He may have caused untold grief and heartache by making us think he was missing, but he didn't set fire to the house. At least he's got that going for him.

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