This summer has not turned out quite as I had expected.
I had visions of beaches, barbecues, cycling, swimming, doing some work and relaxedly taking on the final bit of organizing in the small house that my partner, our four year-old cat Yoda and I moved into this past May.
Instead, my days and nights have revolved around searching, flyering, worrying, and yes, the occasional lapse into weeping. Today marks one month that my beloved Yoda has gone missing from our home, and my top priority has been to do whatever it takes to find him.
First, let me backtrack to share a bit of Yoda’s story. Shortly before my partner and I met, he came to me as one of a litter of kittens advertised on a flyer that I came across at a hippy-esque organic farmers market/ festival that I attended along the southern tip of the Boso peninsula in Chiba prefecture in 2008. The woman advertising the kittens, a crystal healer who went by the name of Yoppi, had two cats who had continued to mate and produce successive waves of kittens, whom she in turn placed in new homes. She had a sort of meditation/other-worldly theme going with the names of the four kittens in this particular litter, who were named Samadhi, Miroku, Cosmo, and–the runt of the pack–Yoda. The kittens were newborn, so after giving them two months to feed with their mother, I took home two of them: Yoda and Cosmo (whose name I changed to Awa, in honor of the name of the festival where I had been introduced to them).
Ever since they were babies, Awa and Yoda were completely inseparable. They had adopted the regular habit of assuming poses wherein they appeared as an exact inversion of the other—almost as if they decided in advance what would be the position of the day. They were also like yin and yang in every sense—completely opposite from each other in both color and character. Tri-colored Awa was skitterish, all over the place, and fast. She always seemed to be getting into trouble, but it was impossible to stay upset with her when she began preening, dancing and prancing—anything to get attention. Look at me, she seemed to be saying, earning herself the nickname “movie star”. She was endlessly generous in the attention that she gave to Yoda, who—because of his tiny size and attachment to his mother (we think) —had developed the habit of suckling on her belly, which she allowed without complaint. Awa was not so interested in humans, however. She could not stand to be held, tolerating it for only a minute or two at a time, never making eye contact, before jumping down to run off and find something more interesting to do.
Baby Yoda, a beautiful deep charcoal color with intense yellow eyes, was slow, calm, and just as attached to humans as he was to his beloved sister. He would often crawl up onto my chest, slowly kneading me with his paws while looking deeply into my eyes. We bonded early—and strong. Yoda wanted nothing more than to be held, for hours at a time if he could, purring drowsily and contentedly the entire time. He was also extremely determined. We thought at first that his development was rather slow, but in fact, he was just extremely patient. Spending hours at a time if necessary, he learned to maneuver his paws in order to pry open every door and window in the house that he wanted access to. There was literally no stopping him from doing whatever it was he set his mind to.
With cats as vivacious and extremely curious as these guys, it was almost a no-brainer for me regarding whether or not to let them explore the outdoors. I knew that there were dangers associated with letting them roam free, but when I saw the looks on their faces when they ran around in the backyard nibbling grass and chasing each other happily, I couldn’t imagine things any differently. Most cats I knew had outdoor access, and to me, it was simply the right thing to do.
In March 2010, at the age of one year and a half, Awa suddenly went missing during one of her outdoor forays. I went out searching, and after there was still no sign of her, I posted flyers with her photo all around the neighborhood. Several days later, I got a phone call from a local delivery person who told me that a cat fitting Awa’s description had been killed several days prior by a car driving down the road in front of our house. In retrospect, it was not surprising. I could very easily imagine Awa darting out into the road without bothering to check around her, and I blamed myself for not envisioning the scenario earlier. But—as one of my friends pointed out to me—once an outdoor cat, always an outdoor cat. There would have been no turning back even if I had begun having second thoughts along the way. And as another friend consoled me, Awa had a rich life that she lived to the fullest, in her own way, up until the moment of her death.
My partner and I were living in a shared house at the time with several friends, and we all grieved Awa’s death. It was Yoda who took her absence the hardest, though, searching and keening for his missing sister for weeks. We all tried to give him as much love and attention as we could to help ease his pain, and finally, slowly, he began to return to his usual genki self. We knew that he had not forgotten her, though, and suspected that a part of him would always be waiting for her return.
Life went on, with our friends moving out of the house and onward with their lives, followed by the shock of 3.11, after which time Yoda and I temporarily took shelter at a friend’s home in Hiroshima (a story I have recounted in detail here and here). Otherwise, however, life fell into a predictable routine. Yoda continued to come in and out of the house freely, romping in the jungle-like yard, occasionally bringing home lizards, birds, and yes, rats, and continuing to remain as affectionate and clingy as he had been as a kitten. He was not allowed into our bedroom due to my partner’s severe cat allergy, and during the night I would often wake up to his crying and scratching at the door, and would go hold him until he calmed down and went back to sleep.
With Yoda’s seemingly endless desire to be held and cuddled, I even resorted at times to using a shoulder bag as a sort of baby sling so that I could fold laundry or do dishes with him snuggled at my side. But as affection-starved as he seemed to constantly be while at home, he was just as equally independent and gregarious when it came to his much-loved outdoor adventures. He would sometimes be gone for a night or two at a time without coming home, and each time the agonizing worry would make me yet again consider trying to “make” him an indoor cat. I knew, however, that this would be impossible. Besides, I reasoned, he was trustworthy. I knew he would never run into the street when a car was approaching, and that he had an impeccable sense of direction and would always find his way home.
When my partner and I were told this past spring that our landlord’s family would be selling the property following his death, and that we had to move out immediately, Yoda was our top priority in finding a new place to live. Wherever we moved, it would have to be somewhere where he would be able to come and go freely, and located in a safe enclave with no busy roads nearby. After weeks of searching, my partner found a small “terrace house” (which meant, essentially, sharing a wall with neighbors) very near to a gorgeous park, and set back in a quiet residential area that would give Yoda plenty of space to roam. It was perfect for all three of us.
On the day we moved in, Sheila and I ditched the boxes and headed immediately for lunch at a nearby Indian restaurant while Yoda headed out to explore. Although I panicked midway through lunch that he might not be able to find his way home, and rushed home to put his litter box outside so that he could follow the scent if necessary, he returned soon thereafter, obviously thrilled. He sat purring contentedly on the couch with us, making clear his approval of his new digs and his new territory.
Saturday morning family pile on the couch
The excitement was short-lived, however, as we soon realized that there were some big, tough stray cats who were not so happy about the arrival of a newcomer. In our old neighborhood of Kichijoji, Yoda had always been the boss of the hood—not through aggression or dominating tendencies—but rather, according to some cat-related research I had done, likely due to his ability to reason and stay calm in all situations, which was apparently a trait highly respected by other cats. Despite the occasional scuffle with other felines, particularly during spring when all of the cats seemed to go a little zany, Yoda’s life had mostly been a predictable affair. Here in our new neighborhood, however, the lay of the land was a bit more menacing. Yoda stayed inside for several weeks, obviously glum, obviously missing his former life.
This too passed, however, and he gradually began venturing out more and more, returning to his usual happy self. He once again fell into a routine, and in the weeks before his disappearance, was especially affectionate toward my partner and I, anxiously waiting for our return outside of our house in the evenings, and excitedly rolling over whenever he saw us so that we could rub his belly. Despite our busy work schedules, I always made time for at least one good cuddle session with him per day, telling him how much I loved him, and not to stay away from home for too long at a time.
One morning the week before Yoda went missing, I noticed that he had come home with his collar and ID tag missing, which gave me an extremely unsettling feeling. We had a vet appointment scheduled that morning for a series of vaccines that I had decided (after much agonizing) that Yoda would get to prevent infection from the local strays, and the vet told me that yes, cats were sometimes able to work themselves out of their collars. I wasn’t convinced, because he had never done anything like that previously—and had also never scratched at or appeared bothered by his collar in any way. There wasn’t much I could do, however, and so I went ahead and bought him a new collar, figuring he had somehow managed to get it off in a bizarre one-time incident.
This happened again several days later, and I reluctantly again bought him another collar. When it happened for a third time, however, I thought it was extremely bizarre, and decided to keep him home until I could a) get him another collar, and b) figure out what the hell was going on and what I could do about it. Although Yoda hates being locked inside against his will, I knew it was for his own good, and so I did it anyway. Or so I thought. When I awoke the next morning, the window screen had been pushed open enough for him to get through, and he was gone. This was the last time I saw Yoda, exactly four weeks ago to the day.
In Awa’s case, we were able to gain closure relatively early since we knew what had happened to her. With Yoda, however, the possible scenarios are endless. Most people I have spoken with, when told of the bizarre circumstances just before his disappearance and his extremely warm and sweet personality, have theorized that he has likely been “stolen” by someone—which apparently is not uncommon in Japan (or perhaps just in Tokyo?). I have seen him hop without hesitation inside friends’ cars, so it is also possible that he got inside a vehicle that then drove off and is now who-knows-where. Our immediate next-door-neighbor—in front of whose house Yoda would wait for us nightly to come home—had made her intense dislike for cats adamantly clear as soon as we had moved in, so I wondered whether she might have driven him off and dumped him in a faraway field somewhere (as one of the many websites I read said sometimes happens). Having seen two raccoons in our area since moving in, it is also not altogether impossible that Yoda might have become part of the local food chain. Or—among the other difficult scenarios to contemplate—he became trapped somewhere, perhaps in one of the three-tiered parking structures behind our house (whose bottom two layers are underground); or, in the ultimate betrayal, simply ran off somewhere to find a new home. I have no idea which of these scenarios happened to him, if any, and don’t know if I ever will.
The websites that I read about finding missing cats suggest an exhaustive search of the cat’s immediate territory—”three to five houses away”, they say. This was obviously written with the simple grid-like style of most U.S. cities in mind rather than somewhere like the twisty and randomly-patterned streets of Tokyo, however, as Yoda’s immediate territory (which was admittedly far-reaching due to his adventurous nature) would have included two apartment complexes, several parking lots, and a row of local restaurants and businesses in addition to probably a dozen houses—and possibly the enormous Olympic Park located across the street.
Even though I truly felt like I was trying to locate an individual drop of water in an ocean, I nevertheless set out for hours upon hours roaming the neighborhood a mile in every direction, at all hours of the day and night (and often in scorching hot temperatures), endlessly, calling Yoda’s name, posting nearly 200 flyers, checking with every nearby vet’s office, regularly calling the animal shelter, getting in touch with several animal support organizations, posting his photo and information on a digital bulletin board for lost pets, and doing countless searches in the park. And yet, every lead has turned out to be another cat with just a slightly different shade of fur than Yoda’s.
After weeks of this, however, I am no longer able to emotionally or physically sustain this type of schedule, and know that I must now move into a new phase beyond that of active searching. I have been greatly inspired by the many stories I have heard from friends and read on websites about missing animals who have turned up weeks, months, and sometimes even years later, and naturally I hope with all of my heart and soul that Yoda is somewhere safe and that someone somewhere will see one of the flyers and we will be reunited. The thought of never being able to cuddle his warm little body again honestly leaves me heartbroken. I am prepared, however, for the possibility that Yoda has joined his sister in the kitty afterlife, which in fact gives me great comfort in accepting this possibility.
I am also immensely grateful beyond words for the friends who have been in touch both collectively and privately through Facebook and e-mail to give me words of comfort and inspiration, as well as concrete advice and suggestions for finding Yoda. I am also extremely thankful for the kindness of neighbors who continue to keep a look out for him, sometimes going far out of their way to do so. While typing this post, I actually got a phone call from a woman saying she accidentally dialed my number while programming into her phone “just in case she saw Yoda”. The local mailman has told me he is looking for him, as have local shopkeepers and other kind neighbors. To everyone, I extend my deepest thanks.
Most of all, I thank both of my little sweeties for giving my life so much richness and joy, even if it was for a time far too brief. You are both loved, by me and by many, and for always…