Losing Majnoon

I’ve been a cat lover all of my life.  Maybe it’s the middle eastern roots – certain cultures even praised them as Gods.  Maybe it’s my mom and grandma who loved cats.  Or just cats themselves – they are after all quite interesting, independent, capable, and when loved – incredibly affectionate.  For 12 years now, I have had my own cats.  There’s Java – the rescue from the shelter in Ann Arbor, Michigan – she pawed me as I walked by her cage.  I adopted her and her sister – Genie that I later gave to a good friend.  I’ve had Java for 12 years and she’s been through 3 moves with me – from Ann Arbor, to Venice, CA, to Santa Barbara Riviera, and now the West side of Santa Barbara.

The two newer additions are Majnoon and Zataar – rescues from ResqCats in Santa Barbara.  Majnoon means crazy – named after his crazy looks and confidence.  Zataar named after this concoction of spices served with a Lebanese breakfast yogurt called Labne.  These two rascals are brothers from the same litter that were born from a feral mama.  You can tell their feral quality whenever they spot prey, sometimes from 100 yards away (that’s the length of a football field).  Majnoon and Zataar are each 3 years old and have been outdoor/indoor cats.  Mostly outdoors during the day and always indoors at night unless I lose track of one of them which happens – they are cats after all.

A few months ago, I moved the entire family about seven miles from their Riviera home to an equally beautiful, private, and very rural area on the West side of Santa Barbara.  On day seven of the move, Majnoon went out and I did not see him again for 3 weeks.  The title of this piece is “Losing Majnoon” because it was the loss and the challenge that is so relevant and worth examining.  I tried everything to get him back and I learned so much valuable strategies that I have decided to start a Web site and service offering to help locate lost pets (cats to start with).  I have already recruited experts.  And by experts I mean people that have done this 10,000 hours or more as per Malcolm Gladwell  in “The Tipping Point”.  Do the math and consider the number of years people have invested in locating lost animals – these folks have a wealth of knowledge and there are very specific things one should do depending on how long a pet has gone missing.

I did the obvious things on days 1, 2, and 3.  I checked shelters and animal control and did that at least every other day since the disappearance.  I covered a perimeter from my home of about 500 meters.  I went to each home in that radius and told them I was looking for my lost cat.  I meowed and carried food in the morning, evening, dusk, dawn, and sometimes the middle of the night.  Up to this point, the longest Majnoon had ever left home was 36 hours – I felt time was incredibly important.  By day 4, I was extremely nervous and desperate.  I felt there was a very good chance he was heading back to his old house – some seven miles over large rural mountains with coyotes, bobcats, hawks as well as several big, busy streets.  I used social media to alert my Santa Barbara community that my cat may be passing their home in the next few days.  It was really awesome to have so many close friends helping me with their time and energy and support – thank you.

I calculated travel time for my cat if that was his determined route as 1 mile for every 2-3 hours.  I figured travel time would be from midnight to 5am as there is virtually no traffic, and almost no cars on the road in Santa Barbara.  My estimates were that the soonest he would arrive at his old home was 3 days and the longest if he was making a pretty direct route would be 6 days.

On day 4, I put up about 50 posters in the immediate and adjacent neighborhoods were he was lost and also in the neighborhoods in the middle of the path back home right before the busy highway called the 101.  There are 4 places Majnoon can cross the 101 without danger.  I covered 2-3 blocks on either side with posters thinking he would take his time to make this passage.

I also printed up 150 flyers for neighbors in the immediate neighborhoods.  I spoke to so many people and heard almost everything you can imagine.  By day seven, I had found no evidence of loss of life, so I continued but started incorporating more abstract strategies.   By day 6, I tried this awesome service that is a sort of pet amber alert that will call your neighbors – up to 500 at a time to let them know about the lost pet.  Walking around still, asking neighbors – getting some morbid responses of such despair and loss.  I absorbed their lost pets, the hopelessness, their “what’s the point” energy.

By day 9, I was full on trying the kitty buffet strategy – that the cat isn’t that far at all, maybe within ¼ – ½ mile and he may be lost or in survival mode to such an extent that he will simply not respond to your calling.  So, you lure him back through kitty buffets.  Imagine the most delicious concoction of sardines, cat food, clams, jack mackerel.  It’s stinky and some of the cat network is bound to try it out.  You place a camera that takes photos whenever there is motion right in front of the food and you check it in the morning.  I did a few nights of this and got mostly raccoons, one skunk, and one cat – not mine though.  I tried it in several places.

But who knows where Majnoon had ventured to – perhaps miles away and just lost.  Maybe he did head back to his last home and just got lost or had a fight or is now trapped.  The not knowing is truly the worst part.  By day 14, I had consulted almost every type of expert you can imagine from bloodhound handlers to pet detectives.  Yes – I went Ace Ventura on the deal.   I began to shift and realize that the word was out and that if he was around, someone would spot him and call me.

I got a lot of calls in those first two weeks – one each day.  Always a false sighting and some were really close calls.  I spent 5 hours in a park with a close friend tracking what we thought was Majnoon only to hold this wild cat – and see that it wasn’t him – but oh, so very close.  You get to the point that you wonder how much control you really have over the outcome.  That’s the point you begin losing hope, you begin to give up.

That’s also the point you must focus on the facts – no sign of loss of life and very little time in cat time.  Several friends shared stories of recovery of their cats days, weeks, and even months after they went missing.  I just felt the campaign was so strong and still not one valid sighting after 2+ weeks.  I was exhausted.  Still, I replenished posters that had been taken down and continued checking possible hiding areas up to .5 mile away.

The third week, I continued to check the shelters and respond to false sightings.  I began to make peace with the notion that he is alive and either being taken care of by someone else, or trapped, or lost but surviving.  I was a stark minority in this belief.  People I love began to encourage me to move on.  It was a bleak time and one that I cannot compare to any other time in my life – no time quite this helpless.

I used a service on day 19 that blasts 1000 postcards to neighbors with a photo of Majnoon and a description.  I woke up 3 weeks after his disappearance, on day 21, and felt melancholy.  That night I was celebrating with close friends, the one year anniversary of my survival from that “mountain fall” last July.  In fact that was 1 year ago tonight – July 21.  I was so looking forward to a night of dancing, dining, and celebrating with awesome people.  And, at the same time, I was feeling choked up from head to toe knowing my little lion man was out there somewhere.

After a day of working in the yard, I checked my phone and there were 3 voicemails from people saying they had seen my cat all in the same general vicinity, about 1/2 mile from my home.  I hopped on my Vespa and drove to the area – the last caller met me.  There was something a little different about this sighting.  The area was very realistic in terms of proximity and hiding places, and the number of calls all in the same hour were so encouraging.  The helpful man pointed to the home he thought the cat might have run towards.  I went to the homeowners and asked if I could sit in their yard, they said sure and I went into the garden and sat on a bench.  Ironically, I had already been in this yard searching some two weeks prior.

I meowed and talked to Majnoon.  I told him how I loved him and I wanted him to be home with me and his brother and Java.   I waited and breathed.  I opened a can of cat food I had brought.  I saw his head pop up from a bush some 200 feet away.  I meowed, he meowed, and within 10 seconds, he made his way to me, the can, and the reunion began.  I still felt anxious.  Holding him, wondering “what if he pops out” – he was a different cat, very intense, wired, feral.

The kind homeowner gave us a ride home.  I thought I was holding my life in my hands.  It’s now been just six days and Majnoon is recovering well – eating normally and playing as usual.  Maj has a scratch on one of his eyes but it’s healing and doesn’t seem to limit him in any way.  I’m not too worried actually – he’s going to be an indoor cat for a long while.

Every time I have him near, it feels like a gift.  That feeling is so strong, naturally dissolving any problem or anxiety right quick.  We all have these gifts – even right now.  Hopefully it doesn’t take losing Majnoon to realize that.

If you want to know more about the Web site I’m starting up, please let me know.

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