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‘So why mourn one teeny tiny beautiful cat, right?’

By RUTH CHARNEY

It’s stupid to love a cat, right?

I ask because I am cat heartsick. And this is no time to be cat heartsick. No time to mourn a 10-pound rascally beastie. There are heftier things out there to mourn — our big messy world in the throes of righteous outrage and pandemic.

Which must be why I dropped a new bottle of olive oil on the tile floor, and as it shattered, demanded back my cat.

Which is why I forgot there was a window open as I entered the car wash, inviting torrents to soak down the passenger seat.

Which is why I circled the neighborhood much of the afternoon calling her name, “Miss Hattie, Miss Hattie,” and looking in all her usual haunts.

Which is why my husband and quizzed neighbors who were returning from a large, peaceful demonstration in Northampton. “We couldn’t go,” I said. “We were looking for our cat.”

We never intended for her to be an outside cat. For a year, she seemed content to be upstairs, downstairs, in one window sill or the other. But this spring she wanted out. And who can contain a cat who wants out? I wasn’t nearly agile enough to prevent escape.

At first, she just sat on the porch, behind the chair, under the planter, underneath, behind, around — her preferred positions. Slowly, she took next steps. Using the drain pipe to tightrope her way off the porch to check out grass, deciding it w a s n’t so bad if you like ants, worms or beetles. Senses on high alert, eyes wide, ears back, she zeroed in on anything that moved — squirrel or puffs of blossom. Fatigued from her adventures, she would curl up under a leafy bush and nap.

More and more, she had less use for indoors — until it was time for her cheese treat or her Kibbles. Sated, she was back at the door, peering out, meowing for liberation. But never at night, with roaming fisher cats and coyotes, we informed her. We drew the line. Reluctantly, she retreated under a kitchen shelf and went to sleep atop the folded table cloths, the sleep of the just.

Mango, our first cat, her brother cat, searches for her, too. His head buried in her favorite bush. On guard on the deck or the porch. Waiting for her return. He had not celebrated her arrival. Delivered a decisive cuff whenever she imposed, but once she had agreed to his terms, he allowed shared grooming and chase games. A work in progress.

Days have gone by. The hope that she will appear diminishes and yet we keep checking. People share stories, a returning cat after four days, even three weeks. But it’s hard to keep hoping and harder to not know.

Our neighbors pitch in. “I’ve put out some tuna fish,” one assured us. Kay, a regular dog walker, alerted others along her routes. Steve and Dan double checked their workshops. People continue to stop and look at our poster and call out encouragement. But still unfound.

A dear friend, who tends to myriads of injured animals, reminded us of the perils of outdoor cats. The damage they do to birds, rabbits and bats, because cats being cats are hunters. And of course, all the predators that hunt them. I suspect that our Miss Hattie was more hunted than hunter. She had yet to even catch her first moth. “Keep cats indoors,” the injunction that still rings in my ears, and if only I had.

So really, isn’t it just so stupid to love a cat? They shed. They scatter litter. They throw up on the good rugs. They go off. They don’t listen. They leave you. Just when the nightly news — you don’t mean to watch but you have to watch — engulfs you in the brinkmanship of the world as we now know it.

And here we are with our fraught democracy, our world imperiled by pandemic and climate change, brimming over with tragic losses. So why mourn one teeny tiny beautiful cat, right? Writer Jelani Cobb described the phenomenon of a “democracy of grief,” so aptly expressed in the current massive protests. But as we weep in concert for the love of our world, we must also weep for our private losses, even for love of our little lost cat.

Ruth Charney is a resident of Greenfield.

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