He was discovered as a kitten at my in-law’s auto parts business 13 years ago. Mama cat brought all of her kittens into the garage to shelter them from the cool spring rain. There was quite a mixture of long-haired gray cats, a short haired black cat, a short haired gray cat and an orange cat. At the time, my husband and I had only been dating for a few months but his mom thought that that we needed to have some kittens together and insisted that we take two. He chose a little long-haired puffy gray one and I wanted the orange one.
Shortly after we chose our kittens we went to Germany together for the first time. We went on a bus tour and our bus driver’s name was Heiko! He made the trip even more enjoyable and we became fast friends with him. He knew we were the “party” bunch on the trip and gave us the all knowing nod whenever we boarded for the next destination. I have such fond memories of my first trip to Germany with my husband that when we returned home to our kittens, I named my kitten Heiko.
We moved into an apartment together in 2004, the same year that we found our kittens. Our apartment was in the very back of the property which snuggled up to a little patch of trees. We had a small patio between our apartment back door and the garage. The patio was enclosed with a 6 foot fence. Heiko and his sister Mika (at least a year old by then) wanted desperately to go outside and be with us in the patio. I was actually afraid to let them outside but my husband convinced me that they would be okay in the patio so we let them out. Heiko sniffed around for a few minutes and then with two lightening fast leaps he was up and over the 6 foot fence. He took off running into the woods! He was gone. Mika took a shorter route and zipped under the fence through a gap. She was gone, too. My heart skipped a beat and then immediately sank into the pit of my stomach. Both of our cats had just escaped and disappeared right before our eyes.
My husband didn’t seem too worried. I had never had a cat before so I didn’t really know what to expect when a cat takes off. He, on the other hand, has had many cats growing up so I think he felt more confident than I did that they would return. And return, they did! Both cats were back in about 30 minutes. That brief 30 minutes of freedom was all it took for these cats to decide that they want go outside. We made every attempt to keep them indoors but after damaging carpeting, door frames, and screens we caved. We made a conscious decision to give our cats the freedom to come and go.
Many would argue that we were not being good pet owners by letting our cats outside because “fill in the blank with all sorts of reasons”. But when you come right down to it – these are cats! They are animals that WANT to be outside. It is actually where they belong. (Tilikum did not belong in a tank but rather the ocean. He was a whale. Just saying.) I feel like being a good pet owner means taking responsibility for making sure your pet is spayed / neutered, keeping your pet up to date on shots, getting them microchipped, providing them shelter when they need it, and feeding them! We have done all of these things for them and more. Maybe it is still wrong to let your cats outdoors, but this is not an ideal world we live in. I digress….
In 2009 we were ready to buy our first home. We decided that we would pick a place that was free of street traffic and full of wilderness for our cats to thrive. We found the perfect spot at the dead end of a street that turned out to be very close to where I work – it was a win! We immediately installed a cat door and the rest has been history – Heiko and Mika come and go as they please. They have a relatively small territory and whenever we are outside, they are sitting with us. When we call their names, they come running. They rarely ever stay out at night – they always come inside and we give them cat milk before bedtime. We have them trained and they have us trained.
I haven’t mentioned it yet but these cats are the friendliest, most lovable, and kind cats that I have ever known. Both are sweet in their own way. They each purr when you pet them. They do not know a stranger and are gentle with our friends and family. My husband and I each have our own special relationship with each cat. He taught Heiko to jump up and lay across his shoulders (for a treat of course). Mika will only lay in his lap when he is sitting in the basement listening to music. Heiko would curl up with me on the couch and we would lay together while I watched TV. At night he sleeps curled by my side. I nicknamed him Heiko “Pookie Bear”. Mika “speaks” to me with the sweetest little meows. We have formed a bond with these cats that comes from many years of trust, patience, and above all love. I truly believe that our cats love us just as we love them. I think maybe they chose us and not the other way around.
Heiko went out as normal last Saturday morning, 18 March, and has not returned home yet. Today is Thursday. We did all the things that a concerned pet owner would do: we searched our neighborhood and handed out flyers with his info, we posted missing info on social media, we called and visited local animal shelters and dropped off flyers, and we registered him as missing on the local animal shelter sites. We called the microchip company and inquired about whether his chip had been recently scanned. And we have waited for him.
I write this story to remember them both and to remember that the time that we have had with each of them is precious because life does not last forever. We have occasionally prepped each other for the chance that one or both of them may not come home. They are cats after all and life outside of our safe home is dangerous, sometimes cruel, and not forgiving. We know this and we have tried to remind each other that this is the reality of allowing our cats free will. It still doesn’t make it any easier to accept that he may be really gone. We miss him terribly and hope that maybe one day he will wander back home.