I’ve lived with cat companions for the last twenty years. One of our current furry friends is Pablo. He’s special to us as he’s the first cat my wife and I adopted together. When we saw him at the shelter we knew he was the one for us.1 It turns out we also rescued him from a certain fate as we were informed after we adopted him that he was scheduled to be put down the next day. He had simply been in the shelter too long.
The shelter staff told us that he had lived with a cat horder and she voluntarily surrendered him because he had lost almost all of his fur. It turns out Pablo is highly allergic to flea bites and it caused his fur to fall out. A bath and some flea control medication were all he needed to get back on track.
As a result of Pablo’s allergy we decided to keep him as an indoor only cat. We really don’t know what his life was like before us but now he was our responsibility so we’re taking care of him. He’s always loved sitting by windows and been curious about the outside. He will quickly come to open doors and start to poke his head outside. That is, of course, where his adventure begins.
We have a corner market next to our house in Oakland. It’s very convenient to have since we can just pop next door for milk or whatever we need. Part of that is you’re just popping out for a moment and someone else is still in the house. Occasionally one may not close the door all the way. This is where curious cats slink over to take advantage of the open door opportunity.
On the night of October 9th Pablo got out.
Normally this wouldn’t be a problem as there’s a porch the cats usually have sniffed around on. It’s easy enough to get them back in when you come back to the door. On that night Pablo got down the stairs and out of view in the front yard. We were back inside and had closed the door.
Jo decided to stay up playing a video game and I went to bed about 22:30 hours. At around 01:30 on the 10th Jo woke me up to see if Pablo was on the bed with me. He wasn’t and she said she couldn’t find him in the house. We looked in all the usual and unusual hiding spots but we couldn’t find him. It was then that it dawned on us that the front door had been open and the second cat had been poked outside a little when Jo came back from the store.
In our quick search of the front yard2 we didn’t see him, but then it’s dark and covered in shrubbery. We went and looked in the back and then I grabbed a flashlight to go search the dark corners better. When I shined the light on once corner of the front yard Pablo panicked and attempted to escape the yard in a gap in the fence where it meets the house. He was jumping and clawing and quite fully in freak-out mode3. As I reached for him he bolted past me and ran past the stairs and down the side of the house. I ran to through the house to the back yard where Jo was calling for him. She didn’t see him in the dark and he ended up in our parking space. I approached him slowly but he was not having that. He ran and went under the gate that was locked since it’s for our parking spot but the car was on the street.
I had to run back inside and get keys to open the gate. By that time Pablo had run quite far and I didn’t even see if he went left or right after going under the fence. For the next two hours Jo and I walked around the neighborhood calling for Pablo. We didn’t know which way he went. We didn’t know how far he might have gotten. We looked in bushes and under cars for while to no avail.
Jo and I were both tired and it wasn’t doing any good looking in the dark. We returned home and tried to get some sleep. I couldn’t sleep so I stayed up thinking about Pablo. Hoping he was okay. I called Home Again to activate him being lost so that any local shelters or veterinarians would be notified. I’m glad I did because we found out that the microchip Pablo has was erroneously registered to a person in North Carolina. The wheels were put in motion to correct that, but we had to wait until the next day.
As I stayed up I ended up making up fliers for Pablo to put around the neighborhood. I ordered a box of prints at FedEx Office and then waited for them to open. I was there when they opened and the fliers were ready. After I got home I started walking the neighborhood calling for Pablo again and putting up fliers where I could. What we did know at the time is that Pablo had gone into full terrified mode. He was distrusting of everything and frightened to a degree that he was hiding even when we were calling for him.
A few more days of us walking the neighborhood calling for him and putting up fliers yielded no results. I was taking a bag of cat treats, the sound of which will bring Pablo running in the house, and shaking them when we were walking to try an get him to come out.
We got a call from a neighbor down the street saying she thought there was a new stray at her house that fit Pablo’s description on a flier. We went down there and didn’t see any sign of Pablo, only another stray we that was similar, but with more white fur, that we couldn’t get close to.
We made sure to go by the Berkeley and Oakland animal control shelters and leave lost cat information about Pablo on the off chance he was taken to one of those or picked up. It’s disheartening to know that if you don’t check, especially with Oakland, at least every four days your pet could be put down if the microchip read fails and they can’t contact you.
On October 17 in the evening we got a call from our neighbor. She said she thought Pablo was in her driveway. By the time we got over there he had run off but we found him in a nearby storm drain4. He was right inside it and wary of our approaching him. One of us ran home and got food, treats, and his favorite brush. We spent the next several hours trying to coax him out. The many cars and people stopping to ask what we were doing kept scaring him back into the drain.
At one point I was able to leave a little trail of soft food from the opening towards me that he was eating. When he got close to me I attempted to grab him. That was a big mistake. Pablo ran into our neighbors yard and under a car. The driveway is open on two ends and between Jo and I we couldn’t cover both openings well. Pablo ran back into the drain and wouldn’t come out even with more food. Jo and I finally retired at midnight, exhausted.
The next morning Jo was on the phone trying to get Oakland Animal Control to come help us. We saw Pablo deeper in the drain so we knew where he was. It turns out Oakland only has on animal control officer so we left a message. We tried every agency we could think of to come help. We finally reached the Emeryville Animal Control (we’re on the border of Emeryville) via the Berkeley Animal Control where we had adopted Pablo from. Two of the greatest animal control officers came out and we tried coaxing Pablo out with a trap at one end but that didn’t work.
The officers had to run to another call so they let us borrow the trap. We tried flushing water down the storm drain to force Pablo out the other end where the trap was waiting. That didn’t work and after all of that I couldn’t even see him in the drain any longer. We honestly didn’t know if we had killed him or if he had gotten out another way.
Since we still had the trap on loan we left it out in our neighbors yard under a truck to see if we could trap him with some food. The first time the trap went off it was the sweetest neighborhood cat named Richard5 so I let him go. I didn’t reset the trap right and some animal got in and ate all the food. Of all the luck.
For the next week we didn’t see Pablo at all. Not out at night. Not in the drain. Nothing. We left food several times in the drain opening for him just in case, but we had no way of knowing if it was him eating it.
The most inopportune thing for Pablo getting out for us had been scheduled months in advance: a family vacation with Jo’s mom, my mom, and my sister. I was literally making myself sick worrying about Pablo and that we were about to leave for a week without having found him. We ended up going on the trip and had a great time, but all the while in the back of my head I was worried the whole time.
On November 4th I got a call from the man that runs the store next door. Someone had brought our cat in and he had it in a box for us! I drove home and looked, it was the similar cat with too much white from before. The one that wouldn’t let us near before. This time it was in a bad state. She was breathing hard and when I picked her up to check her she must have weighed five pounds or less.
I didn’t know what to do so I took her by Berkeley Animal Control. As I expected there was nothing they could do for her. She had no microchip and there were no lost cat reports matching her description. They said she probably had been hit by a car. It was heartbreaking that I couldn’t do anything for her before and now her time was at an end. I was sad because she had suffered.
The next day another neighbor from a house next to the storm drain called. She saw Pablo next to her house when she went in her garage and he ran back in the storm drain. I went and talked to her but we didn’t see him. Later Jo and I were walking over to see if we could see him in the drain and he was under a car in the driveway we first tried to corner him in. Had there not been a gap in the fence we likely would have caught him in some bushes, but he ran and got in the drain again. We left food out at the neighbor next to the drain and we could see him in the drain, but he was too far in to try anything.
When we got home I ordered a humane trap just like animal control had let us borrow. It took a few days in shipping and arrived on November 14th. We tried to coax Pablo out to no avail. We set up the trap with food and lure him out and sat many an hour waiting for him to go in and set it off but he just wouldn’t go for it. Our neighbor with the driveway let us put the trap out under her truck again. The trap got set off twice this time. Once with a buff tabby that was in a panic and the second time with a tabby that looked a little like Pablo but was far bigger than him6. I released both since I’d seen them around the neighborhood.
We did another nighttime stake out with the trap for Pablo and discussed our next steps. On Saturday November 16th we went and got breakfast and talked over our plan for the day. After we went to the hardware store and got five 10’ PVC pipes and eight pipe screw tighten compression bands.
Returning to the storm drain we saw Pablo almost dead center in the drain. I put the PVC pipes together with the compression bands to make one long pole. We then used it by feeding it in the drain and through to the other side where the humane trap was set with towels stuffed around. The idea was to get Pablo to be pushed or scared enough to go into the trap.
The pole by itself didn’t work. Jo ran home and got some empty cans which we tied to the first joint in the pole. The idea being to make noise and scare him into the trap. Well, it scared him alright, but he was leery of the trap. He tried pushing out through the towels and Jo had to push him back in. He just wouldn’t go in the trap, smart kitty.
I ran the pole back and forth a few times and kept trying to scare him. These storm drains are at an intersection. The major drain is straight through on one street, but there are two side drains that feed in from the cross street. We thought we had those blocked up enough so he couldn’t get out of them, but he could. Pablo squeezed out of one of the small side openings and was limping (!!) away. A man walking by that we had talked to earlier pointed him out to us.
I ran after Pablo but he went through a gate and behind the church on the corner. I told Jo to stay at the gate just in case and ran around to the other side where there was another gate. I saw Pablo in the small yard behind the church and went in after him. He was obviously injured on his back right leg and was limping badly. I cornered him between a ramp and fence and had Jo come in to make sure he couldn’t get out, but he ran again. He went out through the gate I had come in and turned left into the yard of the house next door. I was only able to keep up with him because he was injured. He got under a plant and in a corner next to the house. I saw him and reached down to pick him up.
As soon as I grabbed him he bit me but I didn’t let go, I knew I wouldn’t get another chance to get him. I kept hold him and he kept biting down on my right thumb. Jo came over and I we made sure it was Pablo. We got the trap and put him in it and took him to the vet.
Pablo had lost a lot of weight and was pretty thin. The vet thinks he may have had a glancing blow from a car that dislocated his hips. We got to bring him home and kept him separated from the other animals. We fed him only small amounts to make sure he’d be okay eating again and slowly he recovered. He wasn’t supposed to jump but he didn’t know that and was doing that after a day. We weren’t sure what his chances of recovery were but we were going to do everything we could to help him.
I went to urgent care while Pablo was getting checked out at the vet. I ended up with a tetanus shot, antibiotics, and a pat on the back. Pablo had medicine for about a month and pretty quickly recovered. He’s now running and back to his pre-escape self.
As hard and painful as it was to have him get out I’m glad he’s back. Five weeks was a long time for him to be out. We’re lucky he got some food in that time. Towards the end I don’t think he moved from the middle of the drain because of his injury and weakness from not eating. He likely would have died in there. I don’t know what I would have done. I can’t really begin to think about it, but I just know we couldn’t give up on him. We now do a pet check every night (and during the day) to make sure all the fuzzies are inside.
Pablo is a grey-tiger tabby. I’d always wanted to have tabby and he was so friendly. That he has a clipped ear didn’t hurt either, it gave him some character.↩
Our front yard is completely fenced in thankfully.↩
Pablo hates being cornered and trapped. We’re not sure if that’s something from his previous living place or what, but he’s always hated it and panicked a bit when cornered.↩
In our Oakland neighborhood the storm run off usually is in the gutter on the side of the street. When it gets to an intersection the gutter is buried to keep the intersection more flat. It’s essentially a half pipe over what would be the gutter from one side to the other. Here it’s about 50’ (15.25m) long from one opening to the other.↩
Richard is a very sweet kitty, but dumb as a brick. It took a lot to keep him out of food we left out for Pablo.↩
When I verified with Jo that the tabby caught in the trap wasn’t Pablo I let him out. The entire time he was shaking the trap and hissing. When I opened it he ran to the middle of the street and turned around to look at me. The look he gave would have surely killed me if that cat had that power. He then proceeded to saunter off down the block.↩