When a new cat arrives at MEOW, we do everything we can to try to locate their owner. Often, our efforts lead to nothing. Yet sometimes, we manage to reunite a beloved feline with their family. Rorschat is one of the lucky ones.
Here is her story, as told by her owner Emilie:
In the summer of 2017, after graduating from Concordia University, it was finally time for my husband and I to take that first tangible step towards parenthood: we adopted a cat.
As all people balancing on the edge of parenthood, we talked to friends who were already cat parent veterans, acquired the recommended books (Thinking like a Cat is the What to Expect When You’re Expecting of cat ownership), and invested far too much time in carefully researching and buying the must-have cat items (the toilet-training your cat manual and toilet-top litter box promptly began collecting dust, and has continued to do ever since).
As a part of our research, we also learned which cats were least likely to be adopted: shy and timid, over two-years-old. We decided that this would be the type of cat we’d like to adopt, so we sent an email to our local rescue.
Wanted: One shy, timid female cat over two-years-old. Non-aggressive. Good health. Consistent litter use. Cuteness a small (but not insignificant) factor.
A month later, we were taking the bus to a commuter town outside of Montreal. We went into a private room. She came into the private room. We showered her in treats. She squished herself into the smallest hidey hole she could flatten herself into. When we scratched her cowering chin with a protruding hand, she did not attempt to flay or devour it. Good enough.
We paid the adoption fee, loaded the cat into her new kennel, and set off for the bus station.
It was not a good day for Rorschat. (So named as we wanted a pun with chat – the French word for cat – and we’re massive nerds and thought naming a black-and-white cat after the Rorschach-inkblot test was amusing. Only one person has ever got the joke.)
The bus ride scared her. She still did not bite or scratch us, so we were feeling pretty good about our decision. We placed her in a cozy nest that overlooked the apartment, and she immediately sprinted for the sofa, flattened herself into the ground, and squirmed underneath.
For the next month, she hid under the couch. She emerged only in the dead of night while we slept. Kind friends and family would inquire as to how our cat parenting project was going and we’d reply that owning a cat was remarkably similar to not owning a cat, except that we had to feed our couch and clean up cat poop. Also I was blowing my nose constantly. It turned out I was allergic to cats.
Over the next two years, we made great strides with Rorschat. She came out from under the couch, I powered through my newly discovered allergy until symptoms were manageable and I was mostly immune to her, and she would even come lie beside us (though never on us) to solicit an ear scratch. Our first (human) child was born a year later, and Rorschat adapted to the screaming addition to the family quite admirably.
Summer 2019, when our daughter was 10-months-old and we were nearing Rorschat’s 2nd adoption birthday (though she was already four or five-years-old, having lived her first two years as a street cat), we took a trip back to Alberta to visit family. Rorschat was comfortable in my in-law’s home in Calgary, so it seemed logical that when we would visit my parents (who owned two dogs), Rorschat would stay there.
On the second evening away, we checked in on how she was doing and received no answer. An hour later, the news came: someone had left a door open. She was gone.
We packed up our things and the baby and raced home in the night. It was a hot summer, and the clouds boiled overhead. Thunder shaking the world. Lightning and hail rattling the windshield as we drove. I don’t remember if the baby slept or screamed through the trip. At that time, she usually screamed the entire drive, but I was singularly focused. All I can remember is a deep need to get home. To find Rorschat in the pouring rain. To get her warm and dry.
We handed the baby off to her grandparents, and we began the hunt, screaming into the wind, certain that she’d come for us when she wouldn’t for my in-laws. After all, we’d trained her to come when called. We’d trained her to do a lot of dog tricks. We’d joked she was the best trained pet in a family where nearly everyone had dogs. Besides, we loved her. She loved us. She had to come. She didn’t.
We put out her favourite foods, and attracted only raccoons. We did tours of the neighbourhood in the middle of the night. Plastered the neighbourhood with posters, notified the municipal officials, checked the listings in local shelters obsessively. She didn’t come.
Someone rang our doorbell at 3am, saying they’d seen her in a nearby cul de sac. Without shoes, wearing pajamas, I sprinted along dark sidewalks. My husband followed with her food. We called. We searched. She didn’t come.
The night before our flight, we held each other, and we cried. We walked the neighbourhood one last time at 4am. We’d have to head for the airport in an hour. We startled a coyote coming off the golf course as we walked. An omen. She would never come.
We ripped down the lost cat posters.
My husband and mother-in-law cleared the apartment of Rorschat’s things while I took the baby to the park. We consoled ourselves that at least our daughter didn’t understand. She was too young. She wouldn’t have to navigate mourning Rorschat. She would never know.
A year later, while visiting Calgary again, we started tentative talks about maybe adopting a new cat. I browsed MEOW Foundation’s website Cat-a-logue trying to find a suitable match for our family. There was a new stipulation to our search: no black-and-white cats. In the end, we decided we weren’t ready for a new cat.
Four months later, I was in the bath with our two-year-old getting ready for bed time when an unknown Alberta number rang on my phone.
“Probably a solicitor,” my husband said.
I shrugged from in the tub, “Might as well pick up.”
It was MEOW Foundation. The woman on the phone said she thought she had our cat.
I echoed her statement as a question in my confusion. “You think you have our cat?”
How could they have a cat for us? How did the foundation even know that we had spent the summer creeping their potential adoptees?
She elaborated: someone had brought in a rescue. Her microchip was registered to this phone number and my name.
I forgot how to speak.
From the other side, the woman continued a valiant battle to get confirmation that she’d reached the right person, “Her name is ‘roar-shat?'”
My inability to speak became further hampered as I burst into tears. Nearly incomprehensible, I confirmed her colouring, choked out that she’d been gone nearly two years, and then tried to rein in scattered, fleeing thoughts to the issue at hand: how was I going to get a cat from Calgary to Montreal in the middle of a pandemic?
Fortunately, my husband’s family could pick her up. More fortunate yet, my husband’s mum is a flight attendant and was already scheduled to work a flight to Montreal the following week. She would bring the cat.
That week of waiting was perhaps the most emotionally exhausting week of our lives. It was overwhelming to the point of numbness. There was nearly as much crying as when we had thought her dead. The human brain, we hypothesized, was not evolved to cope with dead family members coming back to life. But as the day she would return grew nearer, the excitement began to win over the chaotic smear of emotions. We dug out her old things. We’d never mustered the emotional readiness to sell or donate them. We even found a half used bag of cat food, nearing a year expired.
Using the story/song of the Five Little Ducks (the ones who go far away, but sad mother duck manages to find them all in the end), we tried to explain to our two-year-old that Mummy and Daddy’s meow-meow was coming home. This was mostly successful.
I took my daughter to buy a fresh bag of cat food. She picked out a collar too. An “or-wange” one.
I expected to cry again when Rorschat got home, but I didn’t. When she arrived, I took her carrier to the living room, so she could immediately flee under the couch. It was the same couch as in 2017, and my husband joked she’d be there for another month, but she wasn’t. By the end of the evening (once the toddler was safely secured in bed and out of sight), she came out. She jumped onto the couch and lied down between us (never on us). She nudged us for a scratch.