Housesitting II: The Secret Life of Walter Kitty

Day 8: It was a beautiful day, and my afternoon was free, so I took Demi to a park where they have a fenced-off section just for dogs to run around, leash-free. I figured he could use some exercise, as well as some socialization with other dogs. Whenever we pass another dog on our nightly walks, he gets very, very excited, and I realized it’s because he doesn’t get to hang out with other dogs very often.

The problem is, Demi is like a socially awkward home-schooled kid. At the dog park, he’d get so excited to see his fellow canines, but then become timid when actually approached by them. He was barking sporadically, too, as if unsure when to talk and when to listen. This dog definitely needs some friends, and quick, before he grows up completely maladjusted. We need to get him in a play group, or enter him in a dog show, or a race, or something.

Day 9: I found a picture of Walter on Rob’s computer. Why Rob takes pictures of his cats, I don’t know. Surely Rob leads a sad life. But I’m glad he does, because after printing off a copy of the picture, I had something to compare the cats at the animal shelter to.

So I returned again to the cattery and found mostly the same assortment that I saw two days ago, including the three or four that could have passed for Walter. None of them were him, though, as the picture proved.

It was good to know, though, because one of the sitcom-style solutions to the problem that I had devised was the one where I find a cat that looks just like Walter, bring him home, and hope Rob and Curtis don’t notice the difference. Surely one of these cats could be Walter’s doppelganger, if it came to that.

I was beginning to worry now — not about Walter’s safety, because I figured he’d just been adopted by another family (he wasn’t wearing a collar), but because I didn’t know how Rob and Curtis would take it.

“Welcome home! How was your vacation? Yeah? Oh, I bet. Sounds wonderful. Hey, listen…. Remember how you had those two cats? Right, well, I seem to have misplaced Walter. Well, that is to say, he misplaced himself. I don’t know where he is. Now, in my defense, I should say that Demi and Ethel — fully two-thirds of your pets — are still in custody and have been no trouble at all. Also, I should point out that you asked me to housesit, and the house itself is perfectly fine. My conscience as it pertains to the house per se is absolutely clean. But Walter, yes, he’s gone forever.”

I have some reason to believe they will not be devastated by the loss of Walter. Rob told me they have a policy of not spending unreasonable amounts of money on pets. They love them and everything, but they’re also realistic (and cheap), so Rob said if any of the animals gets injured or sick, I shouldn’t spend more than $150 to repair him or her. (He did not indicate whether the same cap applied to injuries or illnesses sustained by me personally.)

This led me to my second sitcom-style solution. If Walter doesn’t return before Rob and Curtis do, I’ll tell them he was hit by a car and it would have cost $151 to save his life. I’ll be very sad about it, and tell them it was a tough decision, but I knew it was for the best. Then, this being a sitcom, Walter will of course return, probably just as we’re holding the kitty memorial service. “I loved Walter so much!” Rob will be saying, in tears, and then Walter will meow from the back of the room. “I can almost hear him meowing right now!” (More meowing.) “There it is again, the sound of Walter living on in our hearts forever.” And then everyone realizes it IS Walter, and he’s not dead, and I have to pretend to be shocked. “Hallelujah!” I shout. “It’s a feline miracle! Walter is raised from the dead!” And then I have to come clean and confess I lost him and we all have a laugh and a hug but I think we learned a valuable lesson, too.

Day 10: I figured it wouldn’t kill me to mow the lawn, so I dragged the thing out of the garage to the back yard (which I’ve been watering every night, because wouldn’t you know it, Portland picked this week not to have any rain, the first such stretch since 1791). Then I discovered that when Curtis gave me this assignment, he had hidden another assignment inside of it: Before I could mow the lawn, I would have to get rid of the dog poop that was scattered across it. Nicely played, Curtis. Nicely played indeed.

I got a plastic bag and disposed of all the clumps. I found much of it even more manageable than the cat poop, because it had lain in the sun for several days and had turned hard and odorless. The more recent droppings were less pleasant, of course, and in that regard I’d have to say the experience with the cat box was preferable.

The fact that I now considered myself well-versed in the different kinds of animal droppings angered me.

Mowing the lawn did not, in fact, kill me. And it was only 10 times more arduous than using a vacuum cleaner, which means Rob’s assessment of it was not as exaggerated as I had thought it would be.

Day 11: I was standing out back watering the lawn tonight when who should come trotting along the fence but Walter! I was so astonished that I actually said his name out loud.

“Walter!” I said.

I stood there, agape, completely flabbergasted to see him. He was acting all nonchalant, like he hadn’t been gone for eight days. I set the hose down and very cautiously, meekly approached him, not wanting him to run off. I got him off the fence and hustled him inside, his meows of protest failing to move me. I told him he was a bad kitty for worrying me like that, but honestly, what does a cat care what I think of him?

Day 12: Everyone was mad at me today. Demi was outside and wanted in; the cats were inside and wanted out. Everyone was glaring and whimpering and meowing. Home was not a happy place.

And then Walter escaped again. I went out to get the mail and closed the door behind me. When I opened it again, mail in hand, Walter bolted, apparently having been sitting RIGHT THERE, waiting for his chance. I was quick this time, though, and I caught him before he got far. This made him even surlier than he had been.

Day 13: Walter clearly hates me. He recognizes me as the reason he can’t go outside, and whenever we cross paths in the house, he meows at me accusingly. When I’m sitting at the computer, he’ll stand near me and meow, repeatedly, incessantly. He is angry and indignant. It doesn’t help that I still won’t let him in my bedroom. Every morning, he wakes me up with his yelling and battering. He wants in my room, and I won’t let him. He wants outside, and I won’t let him. I am the one major obstacle between him and happiness. He loathes me. And I should mention, I’m not exactly a big fan of his, either.

Day 14: Walter stepped up his campaign of terror today. When I got up this morning and stepped out of my bedroom, there was Walter, and there was a pile of his poop, on the floor, not six feet from the litterbox. He had done it just to spite me. What’s remarkable is, this isn’t even the first time in my life that an animal has defecated as an act of defiance toward me. What is it about me? This crap is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Day 15: Rob and Curtis returned today. The pets were all present and accounted for, the house was in fine shape, the lawn had been mowed, the litterbox had been cleaned out regularly. I told them how I’d been so worried about Walter because he had disappeared for eight days, and Rob just laughed and said, “Yeah, he’ll do that.”

Alt text
Alt text

My greatest joy in Walter's return was in realizing I could then write a column about it. If he had been gone forever, the column would have been a bit of a downer.

I owe a bit to my friend Mrs. Pants, of Las Vegas. I was telling her about Walter's disappearance and my idea of reporting him dead, and she came up with the part about him coming back during the kitty memorial service. She has watched more sitcoms than I have and can instantly call to mind every threadbare plot device that has ever been used, including that one.

I wanted to get a picture of me with all three pets, but Walter (currently in custody) refused to come down from atop the kitchen cabinet, and Demi, who usually is fond of jumping on me every chance he gets, wouldn't come sit by me when I actually asked him to. Ethel was confused by the fact that I was paying attention to her, because I usually don't. Anyway, the photo shoot was a disaster.