I am not really a cat person. I just like my cat. Kat. True I will occasionally stop to have a quick conversation with any interesting-looking cat I might meet on the street, but I do that with dogs as well although rarely small, fluffy ones. I didn’t choose Kat. I had gone along to the animal shelter in Suva, Fiji, determined to adopt a puppy but a last minute reality check said that wasn’t going to work. As I turned to leave I passed a huge cage filled with dozens of kittens and thought my shirt had become snagged on the wire cage. In reality, I had been very purposefully snagged by the razor sharp claws of Kat (that’s the name on the pet passport I was given when we left together although I later realised that it was probably the name written on the pet passport of every cat there.) Pick me. Pick me. PICK ME, she squeaked (meowing is still not one of her natural accomplishments). So I did. And now she lives a pampered existence in Sydney, Australia, repaying me with hysterical antics, hours of smoochy affection and occasional snooty disregard in retaliation for some hard-to-identify error by me. In short, I cannot imagine life without her. So I could understand completely what Caroline Paul was going through when her beloved cat Tibia suddenly disappeared.
Caroline, a writer, was recovering at home from an aircraft accident, being ministered to by her partner, Wendy MacNaughton, who drew the wonderful, often whimsical illustrations in Lost Cat, and slightly antique feline siblings Tibia and Fibia. The two cats seem to be delighted by suddenly having their owner at home 24/7 and for Caroline they are an essential non-medical line of intervention as she slowly recovers from her serious injuries. Then, one day, timid Tibby,who ”slunk around as if the world was going to step on him by mistake” disappears. ”When your cat goes missing, you panic. You imagine catnappers, vivisectionists. You have visions of the hole he is trapped in, the wounds that are keeping him from crawling home.’‘ Friends rallied to her aid as Caroline spiralled further into depression distributing flyers throughout the neighbourhood with the entreaty ”Owner’s heart is broken.’‘ Then when all seemed lost. Relief is quickly overtaken by curiosity. Where had Tibby been? Why had he returned in sleekly good condition and with a new-found bravado? And one who continues to roam, leaving her heart-in-mouth each time he leaves.
What follows is Caroline’s obsessive attempts to find out where Tibby is going. She enters the world of do-it-yourself espionage and finds ”on a strange website full of crude drawings and stiff English … a very small GPS device. It was made by one man, in his garage, for cats. Which meant that he was not only a determined engineer; but also a soul mate.” But when she and Wendy, now caught up in her partner’s slightly demented stalking of their pet, download the information, they discover that their home-loving scaredy cat is actually a brave explorer, travelling far and wide across the neighbourhood. Cat-Cam will provide more clues, and a few good close-up shots of whiskers. But the answer to Caroline driving question, whose company does Tibia enjoy as much, as her own? still eludes her.
Lost Cat could so easily have been a saccharin-sweet story of a woman who has an unhealthy obsession about her pets, potentially fuelled by too many painkillers. Instead it’s an endearing and often very funny story of love (the blossoming of her relationship with Wendy despite what were some seriously crazy lady scenarios being played out in their apartment), mourning the death of a loved one, community (”Hello Alastair! Hello Daphne! Hello John! Hello Lorraine! Tibby had now introduced us. I had finally spoken to my human neighbours”) and some home-spun wisdom: ”Bonkers is in the eye of the beholder” and ”sooner or later everyone becomes a cat lover.”