Most children, when they are young, have a specific item to which they cling. One they carry with them everywhere, sleep with, dine with, play outside with, take on road trips. Sometimes its a stuffed animal, sometimes its a doll or a toy, and sometimes it’s simply a blanket. The latter was my item of choice as a kid. Typically the two become inseparable and if ever the two should part, screams and tears are sure to follow.
I have, however, never seen this same reaction duplicated in any other species… until now. Bella, the gray and white feline that resides in my home, has an unhealthy attachment to a toy rat that I gave her when she was about three months old. This little catnip-filled, tan-colored, plush toy has definitely seen better days. It now just reminds me of the tattered velveteen rabbit with its missing eyes and whiskers, the cloth covering that’s been rubbed shiny, the long-lost tail, with punctures abound with streams of stuffing pouring out. But no matter how ugly or smelly that thing becomes, Bella loves it.
She totes it around in her mouth all around the house, curls up to sleep with it, and even enjoys trying to provide it with food and water as evidenced by the many times I’ve had to bail the thing out of the food and water dishes. She growls if her sister Callie tries to chase it or take it away from her. She will even, get this, fetch this toy like a dog chasing a frisbee. She and I have spent countless hours with me throwing and she diving after it over and over again until she becomes exhausted and, instead of bringing it back and dumping it in my lap for the millionth time, decides to carry it to a corner in preparation for a nap.
Tragedy ocurred two weeks ago when I arrived home and Bella came timidly peering around the corner of the hallway and proceeded to stare a hole through me while filling the air with the irritating shreaks of her whiny meows. I knew something was up. She wasn’t acting herself. She was loud and annoying… much like one time a few months ago when she managed to drop her beloved rat into my upright piano. Yes, that’s right, inside the piano. She whined and cried and ran hopelessly round and round the base of the piano trying to figure out how to retrieve her precious friend. I ended up having to dismantle a portion of my beloved instrument to save Bella’s one true love. So I had seen this behavior before. The difference this time was that I had no idea where she had put her rat.
So began the search. I searched corners and baskets, shelves and counters, bags and boxes. I checked behind doors, and under couch cushions and furniture. Nothing… I thought to myself how I hoped she had not dropped it in the piano once again. But I let the search and rescue effort take a brief hiatus to be continued another day. Really I was hoping she would remember where she’d left it and eventually find it herself.
But I continued to worry a little for her. I thought maybe I accidently tossed it out with the trash or kicked it out the door and wind blew it away. I came up with so many scenarios all the while Bella just looked lost. Days passed and the poor thing just wasn’t the same. The joy in her life had been vacuumed out and what was left was only a depressed, quiet shell of what she used to be. She wasn’t eating, she wouldn’t cuddle with me. She seemed scared of everything (totally unlike her). I mean it was truly amazing the effect this loss was having on her.
I tried everything. I tried giving her special food and more treats, showing her new toys she could adopt, and spent more time with her trying to comfort her in my lap. She wasn’t having it. I seriously considered cracking open my 30 year old piano again to see if by some chance she had made that mistake a second time.
I was at a point where I was ready to take her to the vet and see if there was something else we could do when as luck would have it I decided to do one final sweep of the house just to make sure I didn’t miss anything the first go around. I pulled the yardstick from the closet and took a swipe under the furniture, then the stove, then the washer and dryer… BINGO!! The dryer had kept that smelly, unrecognizably horrific looking rat captive for nearly two weeks. What a miracle! The relief I felt is indescribable. I know this sounds crazy but you animal people will understand my worry.
I came around the corner, looked at Bella, threw the rat across the den and she immediately tore across the room in such a haste of which I had never seen before. A joyful reunion followed and she played with her rat the rest of the evening, the old Bella had returned. It was an incredible transition and beyond my understanding of how a feline could form such a strong bond with something that she would actually grieve for it when it was gone. All I can say is that I’m ecstatic that the cat and her rat have been reunited and balance has been restored to the household. Surely she won’t lose this thing a third time but I’m being more proactive now with a rat check everyday when I get home. Next project – to figure out what to do when the rat eventually disintegrates to a small pile of old, nasty cloth and stuffing… anyone know how to sew?