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Observations: Silver linings

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image I have taken thousands of photos of Emma, but this is one of the last ones. She is a cat comfortable in her own fur, she loves her canine siblings and her family. We haven’t yet lost hope. Photo Mitch Traphagen

Sometimes you have to find the silver linings wherever you can.


If there can be a silver lining to missing a much-loved pet it is finding out just how much so many people care about things beyond their own personal worlds.

My cat, Emma, is still missing and has been for going on two weeks now.  She is not an outdoor cat and has never before spent a night outside alone. In multiple searches through our neighborhood and beyond, we have found no trace of her. It is as if she disappeared into thin air.

At our front door we installed an “EmmaCam” with night vision that emails us when it detects motion, and we have put up “Lost Cat” fliers and posted information online, in addition to my mentioning her last week in this column. Numerous friends reposted her information on Facebook, businesses allowed us to put up her flier and over the weekend, someone from a few streets over called us after seeing the flier and a cat that looked a little like Emma.  He then stayed with the cat as we quickly drove over to meet him. It wasn’t Emma but we had met a good soul in that process. He didn’t have to do that for people and a cat he didn’t know, but he did and we are grateful. We are also very grateful for the emails and the prayers you’ve sent. That does matter, and it does help.

The area from Riverview to Ruskin is well represented on the Facebook page entitled Lost and Found Pets of Hillsborough County (www.facebook.com/Lostandfoundpetsofhillsboroughcounty).  Emma’s photo was on that page and someone contacted us saying they had seen a similar cat at Hillsborough County Animal Services. Michelle’s office is not far from that facility on Falkenburg Road and she has been going there daily. She had seen that cat, it was a male, and knew it wasn’t Emma. After receiving the message, however, we decided to go up to check again anyway. 

We walked through the aisles of cages containing lost cats, calling out for Emma. Paws and noses stuck through the bars with lots of meows, as if saying, “I’m Emma Kitty!  I’m Emma Kitty! Take me home!”

The staff at Animal Services had named the cat Edison, and he did look a little like Emma, but he had a nasty-looking, quarter-sized chunk of fur and skin missing from his left front leg. As I talked to him, it was clear he didn’t feel very well.

On Sunday, we went back again after seeing a listing for another cat that had just been picked up.  Again, it wasn’t Emma, and I went back to visit with Edison. This time, he reached his little paw through the bars and clasped my finger, a cat way of holding hands.  He was close enough that I was able to reach through and scratch his head. He began to purr.

Edison’s last day on Earth was Monday. His time had run out.  Over the weekend, the parking lot at Animal Services was full — people were there, like us, looking for their own pets or were there looking to adopt a pet. On Sunday evening, Michelle and I stood in the rain talking about whether or not we should take Edison home with us. We weren’t there looking for just any cat, we were looking for our cat. And, above all, we could not possibly save them all. Reluctantly, we left without him, knowing that an older, injured cat would be an unlikely candidate for adoption in the few hours he had remaining.

Animal Services tends to get a bad rap but our experience with them has been very positive. We have met people who truly care about animals, doing a difficult job the best they can with a very limited budget. The facility is open seven days a week until 7 p.m., and all weekend, staff and volunteers were out front with adoptable dogs, working to find homes for them.  It is an overwhelming job — approximately 20,000 animals go through that facility each year and most, like Edison, run out of time. If the staff could change that, they would. They have no choice but to count on us to change it, through adoptions and through spaying and neutering pets.

If you have room in your heart, home and wallet for a furry little friend, please consider making the trip up there, or to C.A.R.E., or to any number of shelters. In Ruskin, Robin Roberts is in the process of forming a nonprofit named Critter Mama Rescue (www.facebook.com/CritterMamaRescue), and is actively saving and caring for cast-off dogs. She would be happy for any help you could give. 

On Sunday night, we were told that on an animal’s last day in the shelter, they begin euthanizing at 5:30 a.m. I went to bed that night missing Emma and worrying about Edison. We held paws; I made him happy enough to purr, I thought to myself as a consolation.

On Monday morning, just after 5:30 a.m., Michelle could see the toll everything was taking on me. A good friend once said that we have reached the age when life stopped giving and had begun taking. I felt that distinctly on Monday morning. Emma, Edison, health concerns with family and friends, and so much more were adding up. Missing Emma has left a hole in our hearts that nothing else can fill, and we won’t stop looking for her. The silver lining in the efforts made by friends and strangers to help find her, and from your thoughts, prayers and emails, have made the difference between a completely bleak day and one that is at least marginally bearable. Thank you for that.

Michelle left for work that morning and then called a bit after 8 a.m.

“There are a lot of qualities that other people have that we wish we had,” she said. “You know, like common sense.”

She was calling from Animal Services.   

For so long I’ve whined and moaned about this and that, looking for a purpose in an increasingly insane world. We can’t save them all, but maybe we can save one. Maybe that is my purpose. It’s as good as any.

Edison was still there. They opened his cage for Michelle and he laid his little head down in her hand. He was skin and bones. Before long, the adoption was done and we decided to rename him Ernie.

The veterinarian at Animal Services had to anesthetize him to take care of some of his medical needs before we could take him home. An hour later, she called with sadness in her voice to say that Ernie had two extremely rare and fatal illnesses that infect a very small percentage of cats. He was still under anesthesia and she thought it best to euthanize him while he was asleep. We wanted a miracle but none was forthcoming. 

Most parents of children can take a certain, unspoken comfort in knowing that their children will outlive them. Pet owners do not have that luxury. The best we can do is find one or three and enjoy their lives, as they enjoy ours, for the time we have together, making it so their lifetime of happiness outweighs the sadness of their loss.

Ernie died on Monday, not as a castoff animal but as one who had been adopted. Ernie had a loving family and had people who shed tears for him. Despite a broken heart, I am happy that I met him and that you now know of him, too. He was loved and he doesn’t hurt anymore. We do hurt, of course. But I am certain of one thing: Emma would have loved Ernie, too. I so hope we get the chance to tell her about him. Sometimes you have to find the silver linings wherever you can.

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