Do you have an animal friend in your life?
If you don’t, I’ll tell you one of the most rewarding experiences pet lovers discover when they bring a cat or dog into their lives: They start to make new friends in their neighborhood. Of course, dog walking instantly makes us more visible, but even cats have a way of making new connections across a community.
Here’s how my cat PJ wound up making those connections.
This happened two months after my home in Binghamton, New York, was devastated by a flood, sending both of us—me and PJ—fleeing from our house on that dreadful evening. My friend Anita had insisted we come to live in her building where she knew there was an empty apartment below hers.
Anita had a real phobia about cats, so I was extremely grateful that she welcomed PJ. PJ seemed to be adjusting just fine—until that Thursday afternoon when I came home from work. He was not at the door to greet me as he always was. I became a bit anxious so quickly entered the apartment hoping to find him asleep on the sofa, his favorite place when he was home alone.
He was not on the sofa so I checked closets.
He was not there so I checked behind all of my furniture.
After fifteen minutes of searching, I called Diane, a deacon from Northminster Presbyterian Church where I worked as Pastor of Visitation. I had thirty seniors I visited monthly and Diane had accompanied me in visits that were complicated. Such was the case with several seniors with Alzheimers. Diane was a cat lover and had a sign in her yard, “Cats Welcome Here.” She had visited me and PJ and PJ took an immediate liking to her.
When I called with the news that PJ was missing, she was there in ten minutes to help me search. After scouring my apartment she said, “We have to make signs and post them in the neighborhood. We sat together and designed a sign that said: “Lost Cat: PJ. A small beige cat. Call Lucille (and my phone number). Reward.”
We rushed to the neighborhood printer to make 30 signs. Then we set out in the neighborhood to post the signs wherever we could find an appropriate spot. We also gave signs to people we met on the street.
After two hours on the street, Diane left and I started calling people. I called my pastor at the Methodist Church and he immediately put PJ on the prayer list. Diane put him on the Presbyterian prayer list. I called my relatives in Canada and my son and his wife, Soren and Amanda, who lived in Washington, DC. They had given me PJ as a house warming gift one year ago.
PJ’s real name was Panama Jack, the Third. Both his father and grandfather were named Panama Jack. The breed was Tomkinese which is both Siamese and Burmese. While he looked Siamese, his personality was gentle and loving like Burmese.
The next day Soren told me that he and Amanda cried the night before, crying for me and PJ. Soren also bought a service that put a message about PJ on 250 telephones in my neighborhood. That night my cousin, Twila, from Pennsylvania called me and said, “If PJ does not come back, I will give you Lucky, a wonderful cat that just appeared in their yard about six months ago.” While I did not want to think about PJ not coming back, her call and her offer were soothing.
The next evening Twila came to help me search for the cat. We went all around the neighborhood, asking everyone if they had seen PJ. We looked in garages—which was not really wise in retrospect, but no one seemed to object.
On Thursday morning, however, Anita received a call from the neighbors next door and they said that a small beige cat was at their door and they took him to the basement. Anita and I hurried over with the cat carrier and there he was. He immediately came to me and we carried him home. He was not interested in food and water; he just wanted to be held. I lay on my sofa and he crawled on top of me and put his paw on my cheek. He had never done this before. I knew he was telling me he was happy to see me.
After a while I started calling friends and family telling them that he was home. Some of them cried for joy with me. I called the churches who had him on their prayer list and they rejoiced with me. On Sunday I went to church and at announcement time I reported that PJ was found. They clapped and clapped.
As I was driving home from church, tears of joy fell on my face. Joy because I would see PJ. And joy for all the love given to me from all of these friends, family and churches.
Care to Read More?
Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. Here are some of her earlier columns:
- Her first story was The Perfect House.
- Then, All Manner of Things Shall Be Well.
- Taking on cancer ‘this step, each step’
- Knitting Our Lives Together
- Finding Resilience in the Midst of Winter Blues