Tanya Schroeder 11:48 a.m., Dec. 12
Missing: It was early Friday morning, the day before Labor Day. Pirate the Cat was missing, which usually means gone forever in our coastal neighborhood. The canyons that meander through south Encinitas just east of the 5 freeway offer prime pathways for coyotes, (and skunks, raccoons, possums etc.) to lurk around town “prowling for their midnight snack”. It is not unusual to see a coyote trotting down the sidewalk late at night. I promised the kids that I would look for Pirate after they went to school. As I walked around to the backyard calling Pirates’ name and the obligatory “here kitty kitty”, I heard nothing until I got to the back fence. For a split second I thought I heard a cat meow, but whatever I heard was immediately drowned out by the enthusiastic barking of the dogs that live in the yard directly behind our house. Any further noise of any kind I made just brought on more of the same. So off to work I went, secretly thinking we would never see Pirate the Cat again. The Phone Call: My youngest daughter called at about 4PM. Between her sobs I was able to decipher something about her climbing our tree, seeing dogs and some other tree thing, Pirate and no one home. It all clicked. I had heard Pirate meow; the neighboring dogs had probably chased him up a tree in their yard sometime in the night, and had been biding their time until my calls had prompted a meow, which re-ignited their excitement. And there were no people home. It was a Friday before a long weekend, there wasn’t much going on at work and a lot of people had already taken off, so I told her that I would come right home and we would somehow rescue Pirate the Cat. On my way home I drove past our neighbor’s house. There was no car in the driveway of Pirates’ temporary prison. The Dementor: The barrier between our yard and our neighbor’s is a rather imposing vine-covered brick structure rising up a good 8 or 9 feet, so I had never actually seen the dogs or their yard. With my family awaiting me to ‘save the day’, I leaned my ladder up against the wall and climbed up. Sure enough there was Pirate, hanging like a wet towel in the fronds of a 20’ tall Queen Palm. Pirate was 3’ from the top. I called his name, but the only indication I got that he wasn’t dead was an ever so slight twitch of his tail. I called his name again, and BOOM an explosion of dog growls and barking almost sent me backwards off the ladder. I regained my balance/composure and looked down at the fairly non-threatening black lab below, thinking if I talk to him a little, he’ll be reasonable and let me get my cat. But, then I saw Him. Waiting in the shadows, the Doberman…. all inky sleek menacing blackness, head and ears seemingly designed for supersonic speed, And just for supremely dramatic emphasis, he unveiled his gleaming grill. Like a Dementor in Harry Potter, he sucked away all hope. I came down the ladder to see 3 expectant faces, and they didn’t like the look they saw on mine. I’m the guy who always fixes stuff, but at this point I had nothing.
A Glimmer: Although there was still no car in the driveway, we knocked on the front door again. Within seconds another explosion of growling and barking greeted us from just inside the front door. Over the next 90 minutes we knocked 4 more times and got the same result. From on top of the wall in our backyard I could see what was happening with the dogs. A slightly opened sliding-glass door allowed the dogs to go freely in and out of their house. It was starting to get dark; our neighbors might be gone somewhere for the long Labor Day weekend and Pirate was running out of time. But now there was a glimmer of hope.
Distraction/Extraction: We took a few minutes to finalize the plan, go over details, contingencies and assignments. Everyone was in position. It was time for action. I grabbed my aluminum extension ladder, hauled it to the top of the bordering wall and slid it down the other side of the fence. The dogs barked furiously, the lab backed off a bit and “Dobie Vicious” moved a few steps closer. My wife stood below me with her phone, while the kids went to the neighbors’ front door with my phone. When we were all ready, I gave my wife the thumbs up and she gave the order for the kids to start knocking and keep knocking until she said to stop. Without the slightest hesitation both dogs bolted inside the house to the front door. I rattled the noisy aluminum ladder for a good 5 seconds to make sure the dogs wouldn’t come back. The coast was clear. I took a few steps down the ladder, leaped to the ground and dashed to the sliding-glass door and slid it closed. I let out an adrenaline fueled “YESSS” and told my wife the “chickens are in the coop”. She informed the kids and they rushed back to our house. I moved the ladder to the tree and climbed up for Pirate. As I reached for his limp self, I was afraid we were too late, but then his eyes opened a bit and I heard a faint, weak meow. He willingly let me take him out of the tree; I draped him over my shoulder, climbed down the ladder, moved the ladder back to the wall, climbed back up and passed him to my wife, who was at the top of the other ladder. She handed him to our swollen-eyed daughter, who went into full Florence Nightingale mode and rushed him into our house. During the rescue I kept an eye on the sliding-glass door. Neither dog barked, they just stood there dejected, watching me take “their toy” away.
Phase 2: We were ready for Phase 2. Our son went back to the front door of the neighbors’ house and called Mom. When we were all in position, I gave the thumbs up again and she told him to start knocking. I could hear the dogs trying to answer the front door. I hurried back down the ladder and over to the neighbors’ sliding-glass door and quietly slid it open enough for the dogs to get through and then flew back to the ladder and to safety.
That night we all went to bed a closer-knit family with a greater understanding of what can be accomplished with a well thought out plan and good teamwork. We’d also had quite an adventure, complete with a storybook ending, just outside of our own back door.
Later that night after some water, food and sleep, Pirate wobbled into the living room and plopped down at my feet. I put him in my lap and he purred. Pirate the Cat made full recovery. To this day, Pirate the Cat seems truly grateful for his rescue. He is always waiting at the front door when I come home, he follows me around like a dog and insists on “helping” me with whatever I’m doing around the house. When it’s bedtime he “bulldozes” his way under my arm to get cozy. He is my lion and I am his Androcles.