Spinlock & Mutex

This unfortunately will be a bit of an involved story…

Shortly after we were forced to put our beloved 4-year old cat, Klaatu, to sleep February 2004 (when we rescued him he had undetected feline leukemia that ultimately killed him), we decided to adopt again. Klaatu was an Oriental Shorthair and we love the breed’s personality, so we decided to try and get a pair of Oriental Shorthair brothers. They’re difficult to find, but we finally located a woman who had two younger half-brothers. When she arrived at our house it became obvious why she insisted on coming to us; the cats smelled of urine and both were put in the same small carrier for the 2 hour drive to our house. She admitted to having nearly fifty cats, and one of the boys, who she said had a simple eye infection, obviously had a more serious problem with his eye.

The boys were charming, and obviously we couldn’t let them go back with her, so we took them and named them Spinlock and Mutex, in tribute to our computer – geek side (Mutex is the one with the bad eye). They both had pneumonia, but that cleared up quickly and they settled in.

We love our boys and even took them sailing with us on our honeymoon. We have no children together yet, and they became a huge part of our lives.

Last May, my husband Ray’s father became ill. Johnny was an amazing human being, having been a Marine on Iwo and serving under Chesty Puller in Korea where he was awarded the Bronze Star for valour and afterwards, as a professor of English at Utah State University. After nearly two months of illness, he passed away mid July and Ray and I spent a week in Arizona making preparations for him to be buried in his hometown of Georgetown, Texas.

We had a day and a half home before flying out again, this time to Texas for the funeral. We were exhausted from multiple trips to Arizona to visit Johnny, devastated by his passing, and looking forward to just getting our life in order and trying to heal. Spinlock and Mutex slept with us the night before we left, Mutey stretching out along Ray’s side.

The morning we had to rush out to catch our flight was already muggy. It had been an unseasonably warm summer, and just as we were about to leave, I fretted about how warm it had been and cracked a window to allow some air circulation; I pushed against it to make sure it wouldn’t open farther and it didn’t. I hesitated briefly, thinking maybe it wasn’t a good idea, but I felt guilty about all the traveling we had done, how hot it had been, how long the boys had to stay alone in the house, and thought the window would provide a little fresh air. Mutex was sitting in the window, which was nestled in the corner where a hallway doglegs. That corner looks out towards the front of the house and our Japanese maples, and it’s a favourite spot for our boys. Spinlock rubbed around our legs in goodbye, and Mutex watched us with his one good eye, bright green and intent. We had recently taken him to a specialist and he had surgery to repair his eye, but it hadn’t healed as well as we had hoped, and we were looking forward to taking him to the clinic again when we got back. We’d already had to cancel one appointment because of Johnny’s illness.

After the viewing, a late Wednesday afternoon, we sat around and reminisced about Johnny, and my cell phone rang. My best friend Dana was supposed to stop by the house to check on the boys, and she was calling.

Dana was agitated; the cats were missing. The door to the back deck (which hangs about 25 feet above the ground) was open and the window I had cracked was pushed open wider. Obviously I hadn’t been as thorough as I thought, and now the boys were gone. Dana said she would check the house thoroughly again and call back.

It seemed like forever until Dana called back; she had found Spinlock on the back deck. When we had watered our plants before we left, we must not have pulled the door closed completely and it had popped open. Spinlock was hidden behind some pots on the deck, but was now safe in the house. There was no sign of Mutex.

I asked Dana to look below the deck and in our back yard and went to tell Ray. This was the worst moment for me. Spinlock was more my cat than Ray’s, while Mutey was more attached to Ray. It was horrible to think that my leaving the window cracked was the cause of this new pain for him.

Ray was worried, but the family assembled there were positive that Mutey would be found. I spoke with Dana again and she didn’t find Mutex. There wasn’t much more we could do, so I asked her to make sure Spinlock was okay and fed, and hopefully Mutey would be around next time she stopped by.

The next day, the funeral, was emotional. We were both pallbearers and Ray had to deliver a eulogy, which he had been working on for days, never satisfied. We had requested a Marine contingent for Johnny’s funeral, and had found out that they would indeed be there, but we hadn’t told the rest of the family. They were surprised to see a gun salute assembled and bugler there. A major and captain greeted the casket and saluted; there wasn’t a dry eye, and many (like me) were weeping loudly as the bugler played taps and the gun volleys rang out. It was a beautiful, respectful send off for a many so many considered the epitome of kindness, a role model and hero. We gathered together afterwards for a meal, and Ray had a chance to reconnect with his uncles and aunts and I had a chance to talk to Ray’s extended family I hadn’t met before.

The next day as much of the family left, everyone reassured us that we would find Mutex, supporting their contention with personal stories of dogs lost and found, cats that sneaked out and came home. We had a family member stay overnight on Friday night in case Mutey came home; we said goodbye to the rest of the family Saturday, paid a last private call to Johnny’s grave and took our scheduled flight on Sunday morning.

As soon as we pulled into the driveway we went into find Mutex mode. We walked around calling his name, sat down that evening to write up posters, took care of Spinlock, who was really nervous and anxious. The next day we drove around with nearly 50 posters a map and stapler, canvassing the neighbourhoods nearby and putting up posters. The following day, Tuesday, we started receiving calls. One was from a neighbour across the street who was positive he had seen Mutex twice over the past week, both times in his back yard. Another call was from a neighbour a few doors down who said, “I’m sorry… I think I know what happened to your cat”. She proceeded to tell me how her dog ‘found’ a cat under a bush in her back yard and it was dead. She had her sons put it in a garbage bag and threw it away! It was like someone hit me in the head with a barbell. I asked her to describe the cat, but she said she didn’t get as good a look at it as her sons, but she thought it was black and white and striped.

Needless to say when I got off the phone I lost it. I told Ray what the neighbour had told me, and we tried to come to terms with it. What about Mr. Suzuki, who said he was sure he saw Mutey days AFTER this cat was ‘found’? The next day we showed Mr. Suzuki several pictures and he was positive it was Mutex; he said he got a good look at him. We approached our neighbour who had the dog, and her sons were at home. They looked at the pictures and told us it didn’t look like him; the cat they found was grey/black and white (Mutey is cream and brown). We asked about his eye and they said no, he had two good eyes. We went back home feeling a little better, although it is hard to shrug off the dread and fear the initial report instilled in us.

We got more reports, but one very specific. Another neighbour, June, saw Mutex when she was walking her dog and was sure it of. We had recently started putting up more, revised posters after getting some assurance the dead cat probably wasn’t Mutex. We didn’t find him then, when June took us to the spot, or the days afterwards that we spent hanging around the abandoned property where she had seen him. We brought food, clothes that smelled like us that we left there… nothing. June’s husband said he was the cat that tried to get into their house through the back screen door just days before we got home. Another heart break.

Over the next month or so we pulled out all the stops. We bought a direct mailing list and sent out hundreds of postcards; we cracked our garage and put flour on the floor and a baby monitor in it. We saw foot prints, several raccoons and cats that weren’t Mutex. We rented a pet trap and caught neighbourhood cats; went to Animal Control several times; we recorded Spinlock meowing and played it on a CD player on continual repeat in the garage; took old litter and sprinkled it around our bushes; sent flyers to all the vets in about a 10 mile radius; revised and put up another hundred fliers or so; walked in nearby neighbourhoods and trails; posted missing information on Craig’s list and pet sites. We received several more calls, some of them very definite, but always Mutex slipped through our fingers.

Thanksgiving was incredibly painful; it’s Mutex’s favourite holiday because he loves turkey. More than once he would take a drumstick and hop up on my desk and drop it until I held it so he could chew on it.

We learned a lot – that even though pets like Mutex are chipped, a LOT of vets don’t scan for them and investigate when a client brings in a new pet; that cats will leave the area around their home if they smell predators like raccoons; that cats, no matter how much they love their owners, will go into ‘survival mode’ (especially if they never spend time there), and often won’t go to their owners, even if they’re only feet away, and that cats will become engrossed with the new experience of being outdoors.

We got one more promising phone call; a young girl, the most precocious 10 year old I’ve ever heard, said she saw Mutex while walking to her bus. She was positive it was him. A few days later she called again; she had seen him in almost the same spot, and wished she could have called earlier, but had to wait until she got home from school. I drove down near the corner she spoke of and walked around calling his name. Ray and I have a hefty reward for his return and hoped we could give it to her.

That was the last call. I am sure someone has Mutex; he survived for at least 4 months outside, is so incredibly fast and athletic and why would he be spotted in a quiet residential neighbourhood and then suddenly not be seen again? Animal Control will scan for chips even on dead animals they collect and call the owners; Home Again knows we have a missing cat. No, I’m pretty sure someone decided he was incredibly cool (he is), and took him.

I still think about him every day; we got cats to keep Spinlock company (Orientals are particularly susceptible to being lonely) but he hasn’t really bonded like he was with Mutex and prefers us; he’s needy, really. Our pets are like our children; who would ever give up on finding their child, or a loved one?

We miss him so much and I keep thinking about him and his one, green luminous eye, how he could open doors towards him, how he got closed in our pantry overnight once and the next morning we found him in a plastic mixing bowl sleeping, soy sauce sticking to his fur and spilled on the shelf. We laughed for WEEKS after that.

I’m working on another postcard to send to the names on the mailing list that are farther away, and I’m writing a new flier to send to pet sitters and groomers. Mutey is our little boy, and is irreplaceable, and we wish we knew where he was, what happened; that part is so hard to bear for us. What we want most of all, obviously, is him here at home, sleeping on his cat pillow in front of the fire. He is such a good boy.

Hanya from WA