Jean's View: Catastrophe hits Seattle

By Jean Godden

May is the month of lost cats in Seattle. When I check news on a neighborhood website or when I browse through local blogs, the top story often is about someone's quest for a missing Tom or Muffin or maybe Oscar. Telephone poles, too, are aflap with posters for missing tabbies -- reward offered.

I know how the owners must feel. They're consumed by worry, out searching neighboring streets, calling pitifully for that favorite feline and worrying that, alas, something disastrous may have befallen Boots or Blackie. Not long ago, I discovered a neighbor traipsing through my backyard, calling for her beloved Rowdie. That hunt, unlike some, had a happy ending. After his weeklong absence, Rowdie was found hiding in a neighbor's garage, hungry but otherwise unharmed.

The task of searching for a missing indoor cat -- the kind most of us bird lovers prefer -- is especially poignant. These are creatures who are not familiar with the multiple dangers of passing autos, predatory wildlife and other unpredictable hazards.

I am no stranger to the trauma of a missing indoor cat. Chloe, my late orange tabby -- a female with extra toes and a rambunctious personality -- managed to escape three times. One time she zoomed through my legs while I was answering the front door, another time when a house guest was careless and a third time when I was schlepping a load of groceries and didn't shut the garage door properly.

It's no wonder so many cats go astray in Seattle. The town is a proper cat city -- more cats than dogs and more dogs than children. One third of our households have cats; one-fourth have dogs, and a mere 19 percent have children. It's not cat-besotted Seattle alone, but the entire Puget Sound region functions as the cat capital of the nation.

Given that Seattle has this outsized cat population, we are also on the hook at the supermarket, buying more cat food than any other U.S. city. And, although I haven't seen the industry statistics on kitty litter, those sales too are probably astronomical.

In keeping with our cat obsession, Mayor Ed Murray once a year renames City Hall, styling it as "Kitty Hall." That's the day when the Seattle Animal Shelter supervises a day-long cat adoption program, right there amidst municipal doings. City Hall visitors are encouraged to meet the Shelter's tabbies, petting and cuddling before deciding on adoption. It's downright impossible to say no to a purring ball of fluff.

I learned early in my newspaper career to respect Seattle's cat obsession. My editor once warned me that, if I liked living here, I would never -- no, not ever -- advocate for a cat leash law. I was, however, allowed to write an occasional column about cats. And, in fact, one of my most popular city columns was the story about a cat named Amanda.

The way the story goes, this Seattle family had adopted a local stray, unaware of her testy disposition. They named her Amanda. The large feline immediately took up residence atop the family refrigerator and seldom budged. Whenever anyone got close, Amanda would snarl, reach out and swipe a lethal claw in their direction.

Since Amanda wasn't much of a companion, the family finally adopted a dog, an enthusiastic Labrador pup that they named Buddy. Buddy was only in the home for a few days when Amanda mysteriously disappeared. Although the family looked for the missing cat, they didn't persist. After all, Amanda was hardly a pet to inspire prolonged searches.

Skip ahead five years and the family's beloved Buddy streaked out into the street one day and was promptly hit by a car. He died soon after. A few days later, the family was still mourning Buddy when, to their surprise, they looked up. There was Amanda, back in her spot atop the refrigerator.

I had heard Amanda's story from a newspaper friend who knew the family and swore it was all true. The tale supplied grist for one of the most popular newspaper columns I ever wrote, second in reader response only to the column I wrote about the origins of Frango chocolates. In Seattle, go figure: It's either cats or chocolates.

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