WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Won’t be coming home

Max chillin’ at our place

Not long after we moved here, our neighbor’s cats came over to introduce themselves. They were siblings — Max, the big black tuxedo jumbo boy, and Phoebe, the tricolor skittish lass. Max would come right up to you and plow his head into your leg, wanting to be picked up and cradled, and he purred like an idling Harley. It took Phoebe quite a while to warm up to us enough to come inside, but soon both of them were stopping by each morning for a dollop of whipped cream and a little nap time beyond the dangers of the great outdoors. Both cats would walk with my wife out to the mailbox and accompany her back to the house.

This is the neighbor, by the way, who keeps her friendly old Bassador dog in her garage. It’s no surprise that her cats aren’t allowed inside her house either, or at least not allowed to sleep in there. They have beds and food bowls in the garage with Sam.

I’ve seen Max getting chased up trees by another neighbor’s dog, and from time to time he’ll show up at our place limping or otherwise not right. Not long ago he had a cut on his ear and a scab on top of his head, where some creature must have taken a whack at him. And though this guy had always been the friendliest cat you’d ever come across, it seemed like his trials and tribulations were finally starting to wear him down. His joie de vivre was tanking.

Meanwhile, Phoebe had pretty much adopted us, spending whole hours on our dog’s bed or lounging out on the deck. She’ll come over and hang with us while we watch TV in the evenings, and she’s always the first face we see in the morning outside the front door.

But when the neighbor went on a weeklong trip to Hawaii recently, Max decided he’d had enough. A hostile dog was there with the house sitter, making it impossible for Max to eat, drink, or sleep. He vanished for two and three days at a time, expanding his already wide territory in search of more hospitable conditions. He’d show up suddenly, walking out of the brush and waiting patiently on the stoop for his dollop, while Phoebe circled and head-butted him, like, “Where the hell have you been?” Max was more skittish now, always looking over his shoulder. He’d seen some things.

Now it’s been about a week since Max has been around. We fear he’s met his maker, at the maw of a coyote or fox, or maybe hit by a car as he crossed an unfamiliar street in his wandering. The gentlest and most benign fellow, he probably came to a bad end because his comfort zone got too uncomfortable for him.

Phoebe sticks close to home, practicing her routine and having waited out the bad times. She seems aware that something’s wrong, though, and as I held her on the front porch this morning she looked across the road at the spot where Max used to appear in the morning. He wasn’t there.

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14 comments on “Won’t be coming home

  1. Charles Yallowitz
    May 7, 2017

    Really hope he turns up or found a family that took him in.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 7, 2017

      I’m hoping it’s the latter, Charles. He’s a real charmer, so it’s quite possible someone took him in.

  2. John W. Howell
    May 7, 2017

    These wonderful neighbors of yours drive me crazy. Outside cats in the foothills are like ringing the dinner bell to the coyotes. I’m so sorry you need to bear the emotional burden of such thoughtlessness. At least Phoebe gets some periods of comfort with you.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 7, 2017

      So right, John. We’ve heard of many outdoor cats around here who “just disappeared one day.” They didn’t “just disappear.” They got consumed. Phoebe’s definitely a smart one, sticking close by us. 😉

  3. 1WriteWay
    May 7, 2017

    This sort of story always makes me both sad and angry. Obviously, your neighbor doesn’t deserve to have animals of any sort.

    Max’s behavior seems a bit strange since he knew you were a source of food and comfort. If he was feeling ill, he might have taken off for that reason as well. One of my vets told me that cats will do that; if they’re ill and have access to the outdoors, they will go away to die. That happened to us once, with a cat that the previous homeowner had left behind. We couldn’t bring him inside the house because our other cat hated him. The one time I tried, they got into such a fight that they seemed to meld together as one big ball of fur. Anyway, he’d been fighting some kind of sinus problem. The vet couldn’t seem to resolve it. I still remember the last time I saw Rascal. He had access to our garage and I was giving him a pet before leaving for the day. He didn’t tell me he was leaving. We never saw him again.

    Well, it happens … especially when pet “owners” leave their pets to fend for themselves. At least for awhile, Max got to experience some kindness thanks to you and Susan. I hope Phoebe sticks around.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 7, 2017

      Yes, we thought it could be that he went away because he’s sick. He hadn’t been behaving like his usual self lately and just didn’t seem to have a lot of spunk in him. If his owner paid more attention to him, she could have taken to the vet.

      Phoebe’s out helping Sue in the garden right now. Knows which side her bread’s buttered on.

      • 1WriteWay
        May 8, 2017

        That’s really, really sad. Damn that neighbor. Do you think she’s even noticed that Max is gone? By the way, our Maxine is a Tuxedo and, like a parent, I usually only call her Maxine when I’m miffed at her. Otherwise, she’s Max. Or Maxie (my husband’s pet name for her) … I wonder what it is about Tuxedos and the name Max??

      • Kevin Brennan
        May 8, 2017

        You’d think tuxedos would be named Fred, maybe, for Fred Astaire. When I think of Max, I think of Maxwell Smart (aka 86), but that’s just me …

  4. Audrey Driscoll
    May 7, 2017

    I hope that neighbour doesn’t decide to replace Max with yet another cat. Some people really shouldn’t be allowed to own animals.

  5. cinthiaritchie
    May 8, 2017

    This made me want to cry, and then fly on out to where you live and give your neighbor a good, swift kick in the ass, before kidnapping her pets and smuggling them back to Alaska. It’s too damned easy to adopt pets, you know? Anyone can do it, and these people should not (not!) have cats or dogs. Maybe fish would be safe with them but they’d probably keep those out in the garage too, eh? Hope Max returns but realistically, it’s probably not likely. I’m also so glad that you and your wife lavish Phoebe with pets, love and whipped cream. Stuff like that might sound small, but in my book you’re both heroes.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 8, 2017

      I would give her a swift kick myself, but she’s about 76 years old and a Jehovah’s Witness. I think if she’d kept her fish in the garage, the cats would have had a snack dispenser at their fingertips. 😉

      I do agree with you that adopting animals is way too easy. We have another neighbor who adopted a dog that has major separation anxiety when they leave, and they’re gone all the time! Why have the damn dog? And we get to listen to it barking all day … 😦

  6. pinklightsabre
    May 9, 2017

    I read the ending first (going backwards)…oh well, glad it was happy!

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 9, 2017

      It must have read like that Harold Pinter play, “Betrayal,” which is backward chronologically. His ended badly, though …

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