After work the following day I returned to the scene of the crime. I picked up a can of cat food along the way; a peace offering for all the trouble I was causing this potentially wrongfully convicted kitty. I went to the nearby NCSU horse barn. The one thing Animal Control said could possibly keep the kitty from being euthanized was information about its past. Maybe it lives in the barn? Unfortunately, they knew of the kitty but it was not theirs. They had been trying to lure it up to the barn to eat but were unsuccessful. They informed me that someone had called animal control because they were bitten and now a trap was set on their property. I fessed up to being the bite-ee. They were very nice and wished me good luck. I went back to the tunnel with my peace-offering-in-a-can. No kitty. I waited for 20 minutes and still no kitty. Maybe it crawled off to a comfortable patch of green grass to die? Maybe it didn’t feel like socializing with the grim reaper in human form? Maybe it was off researching cage traps for humans? Kidding aside, the uncertainty of the whole situation was unsettling. I gave up waiting and left the food at the tunnel. It was Friday night. I went on with my evening plans of seeing a movie. As I pulled out my phone to silence it in the theater, I noticed a voicemail waiting for me…
“Hi this is Officer so-and-so with Raleigh Animal Control. I wanted to inform you that I did catch the cat. It will be taken to a Wake County animal center for a 10-day quarantine. I know you were considering trying to find a way to adopt or reclaim the cat, but I would advise against that. The cat is friendly but is very much NOT TAME. But that is up to you and just wanted to let you know that that it has been caught and you don’t need to worry about your shots anymore. If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call.”
It sucked for the cat but I was relieved. I had ten days (assuming no rabies) to make a post-quarantine plan for this kitty. According to the officer, I was dealing with a feral cat: like an unbridled Wildling…a cat of the forest…a critter who is of the land…beholden to no man! I just finished binge watching Game of Thrones – I’ll stop. I’d heard of catch-and-release programs where you can have a cat spayed/neutered and then return them back to the “wild.” That was an option. I already have 2 awesome cats so my house was not an option. My vet referred me to a woman who runs a local cat rescue. I was happy to reach her on the first try. I needed advice and was ready to start making a plan. After I explained my story, this woman scolded me for letting the kitty go into quarantine. She said, “You should have just gotten the shots.” “Excuse me?” I asked. She spoke for the next few minutes saying that the kitty was probably dumped at Umstead by a family who wanted to go on their summer vacation…how it would be very hard for me to get this cat off death row…how the county shelter was like a concentration camp…. She was curt and intense and initially made me feel like the stuff of litter boxes. She eased up when I reminded her that I was trying to do the right thing and not let this cat die. She told me that I needed to tell the shelter that I intended to adopt the cat and to be “very convincing about it”…that I had a place for it to live… that I would get it fixed…to say whatever I needed to in order to free the cat and we would find a place for it once it was out. “BUT DO NOT MENTION MY NAME!” she said. “If they think you are working with a rescue group, the kitty is a goner, “ she finished. Jeez, I had no idea the world of cat rescue was so complicated and political. I felt like I’d been handed a top-secret black ops mission. I was determined that this little soul would not go down because of me. Intense cat-rescue-lady had me paranoid for the cat’s wellbeing during quarantine. I decided to visit the shelter the next day. I was actually nervous as I gave the girl behind the counter my case number. Surely this young woman did not have an evil mastermind plan to prevent me from saving this helpless cat? I asked if there was any news – she checked and said, “The cat is still back there – no sign of rabies.” It had only been two days. I asked if I could see it. “No – we don’t allow visitors in the quarantine area, “ she answered. Per my mission, I told her I wanted to adopt the cat after quarantine. She looked up at me, “We can’t do that. We do not adopt out animals that have bitten people.” “Even if I have a place for it to stay?” I asked. She hesitated, but then said, “You would have to claim that this is your cat. You would be responsible for the cost of boarding the cat for 10 days as well as a rabies shot.” “I can do that,” I said. Looking doubtful, she asked if I had a photo of the cat. Luckily, I took one when I was waiting for animal control. I showed her the photo…
This was somehow the golden ticket. She relaxed and said, “Ok!” She told me she was updating the file in the computer to say I would be picking up the cat Sunday. “What’s the cat’s name?” she asked. I went blank. She knows it’s not my cat – was this a trick question? I stumbled over a few words sounding like Porky Pig, “Uhh, buuuh, mmm, uh, Midnight!” I blurted. She typed it into the file. She handed me the paperwork, “Ok, Tracy – you can pick up Midnight this Sunday. If you are late, the cat will be put down.” “I will be here!” I said. I was elated – Operation Midnight was in effect. I called intense cat rescue lady to report my progress. She said, “You are great!” And then told me a story about how the city had raided a house earlier this year and removed 60 cats and could I believe the city would do that? “Wow,” was all I could say. I think she thought we were on the same page. I was beginning to realize that intense cat rescue lady was a little too extreme for me. Nonetheless, I needed her help. I asked about the friends she has mentioned as a possible foster home for the cat. She said, “Couldn’t you just keep the cat for a few days? That way you could observe its temperament and get good photos to post online?” I explained that I already have 2 cats and live in a small house – not an option. I felt a little bamboozled. I told her I would investigate options and she said she would too. I never heard from intense-cat-rescue lady again.
Two days later I returned to the animal shelter to check on Midnight. What? I was raised Catholic – being driven by guilt is my specialty. On this visit I dropped off some cat treats and a toy. The woman who was helping me asked if it was a boy or a girl. Another trick question, maybe? Then she said, “Do you want me to go find out?” I was grateful. When she returned she said, “That is one sweet cat. And it’s a girl.” She said she scruffed her and held her like a baby and the kitty purred and purred. Aw, it’s a girl! Take that, Animal Control Officer! It’s a girl and she is sweet.” At this point, rabies was off the table. I was 98% sure this cat was fine. Now I just needed to get her off death row. I walked around the shelter looking at all the dogs and cats that day – sweet nervous face after sweet nervous face. I read story after sad story. I am not cut out for this. God love the people who volunteer here. And Jon and Tracey Stewart. I could not bear to see critter after critter be put down because there simply was nowhere for it to go. The statistics are too overwhelming for me.
Throughout my Operation Midnight experience, I had been searching the lost pets postings online. Damn if all black cats don’t look alike. I spent hours checking various websites and driving around nearby neighborhoods. I called multiple rescue groups and vets to find one that could take Midnight in to be spayed as soon as possible. Did she have a chip? Add that to the list: check for chip. Did I have a cage, not carrier to pick her up in? I lined up a cage. Where would I take her on day one? My Dad generously agreed to let the cat stay in his basement overnight if I couldn’t find anything else by pick up time. Finally, Sunday arrived – time to free Midnight! My Dad and I were first in line before the shelter opened. I was still skeptical they would actually hand her over thanks to intense-cat-rescue-lady. I gave the cage to them and they returned with sweet Midnight, the girl cat. She was free – Operation Midnight was a success! She trembled all the way to the car. I tried to explain to her that even though I was the reason she was there in the first place, that now I was saving her. I don’t think she heard me. I was grateful that my Dad put a tarp down in the back of my car because she pooped in the cage on the way home. Something in her eyes said, “That was for the past 10 days.” I guess I deserved that.
We emptied my Dad’s garage of cars and opened up the cage. Midnight explored her surroundings. She was very nervous but clearly enjoyed being around people. I hadn’t noticed it before, but there was an obvious “collar mark” in her fur from wearing a collar full time in her previous life. Where did this little girl come from? The next day a vet confirmed that she was already spayed. Again, take that Animal Control officer! This cat is “definitely not tame”? I challenge you to throw any cat into Midnight’s situation and they will act crazy. I felt vindicated on all levels. The more I hung out with her, I realized that she – as many cats do – communicated with her bites. I am convinced that her break-the-skin-bite to my leg on the greenway was definitely a “PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE” bite – and I’m so glad I didn’t.
I found a Lost-Cat posting from a neighborhood near Umstead. It described a female all black longhaired cat named “Kitten” for her small size. It said, “She’s not very friendly but we love her!” She had been missing from their home for three months. I reached out and she and her husband immediately came over. Could Midnight be “Kitten?” Could the first number I called actually be the right one? When they saw her, they both fell to their knees crying in disbelief, “Kitten, is it really you??” Kitten ran to her long lost owners. It was a storybook ending. I couldn’t believe it! And neither should you – because that’s not how it went at all. This very sweet and cool couple spent 30 minutes trying to figure out if this was their cat or not. THIRTY MINUTES! She would say, “It sure looks like Kitten…but bigger.” He would say, “I’m pretty sure that’s not our cat.” I told them she weighed 7 lbs. They said their cat weighed 5. We all decided that 3 months living in the woods would likely result in weight loss, not weight gain. She would say, “But look, honey, look how she wiggles when she walks? That’s Kitten!” He would say, “Uh, really don’t think that’s our cat.” Clearly she wanted to take her and he did not. Midnight seemed indifferent. From my perspective, I wasn’t thrilled about sending Midnight off with a couple whose take was, “Eh, I guess it’s our cat?” no matter how cool they were. I looked at their videos of Kitten – it was surprisingly hard to tell if it was the same cat. We agreed to sleep on it and they left without Midnight. I would continue searching the Lost postings. The wife said, “We’ll be back.” And they were – the next day they came back to take Midnight for a trial run at their house. Before I knew it, she was loaded into their crate and the little critter who had consumed all of my energy for the previous two weeks, was gone. I burst into tears. What? I was surprised too. I told you I wasn’t cut out for this. I hoped they didn’t get her home and decide (realize) that it definitely was not their cat – but I also was having a hard time letting go of the control of this kitty’s fate. My friend who is a vet said it best, “If they are good people, that is the best you can hope for.”
The couple did end up keeping my little furry friend. Today they still aren’t sure if it’s the original Kitten, or Kitten 2.0 but they have very generously welcomed her into the family all the same. We keep in touch via text message and I’m happy to report that Kitten Midnight (full name) is doing very well in her new-old home – a happy ending after all.
**Special thanks to Amy at Operation Catnip for being so awesome throughout my journey with Kitten Midnight. Thank you to Kelly with Snap-NC. Thank you and huge respect to all of you who donate your time, money, and love to rescuing animals in need. And last but not least, thank you little Midnight for letting me know you needed help. I’m so glad I listened!