I woke a bit late on Saturday still struggling with the jet lag which takes me about a week to shed. I brewed my coffee and opened the window onto a typical winter day in Germany – cold and gray with the threat of snow, rain, or a mix of both. My Tony cat joyfully leaped out the window and went on his morning stroll through the neighborhood. A couple of hours later, he hadn’t returned and this is when I started to worry that my Kater was vermisst (missing).
First German culture lesson in this post: all the stores are closed on Sunday. If you want to know why just google it and you’ll find a bunch of theories. Whatever the reason, Saturday is the shopping day. I put a bowl of food and water outside and went about my weekly errands. A bit of shopping at the pharmacy, book store and a grocery store. I stopped in to the apartment to drop off my purchases and still no Tony. I roamed the neighborhood streets calling for Tony with no luck. I checked his local haunts and no Tony.
A friend called to invite me to dinner with some friends, so I went for a quick 5k run before Krav Maga technique training. I like to earn my dinner. I came home from my run and Still no Tony. I fretted about going to dinner or staying home to wait for him to return. My husband said, go and he’ll come back. So, I went to dinner and returned. Still no Tony. With difficulty I went to sleep and again in the morning…still no Tony.
Now I was really worried. Where could he be? Why didn’t he return? Theories began to build in my brain. Had someone taken him into their apartment because it was cold outside? Was he outside in the cold all night? I kicked myself for not having a collar on him which I had decided was too risky because he’s an avid tree climber. Now, granted I assumed people would recognize that a big, healthy cat belonged to someone. What had changed in his pattern and was keeping him from returning home?
I began to question my choice in letting him outside at all which was not my intention when I adopted Tony last March. I thought a nice rescue cat would contentedly sit inside with me, happy and warm and play-ful. Well, that is not the cat I adopted! This one wants to roam and have adventures in the world, much like his mother, I suppose…
A couple of weeks after I adopted Tony I walked up to my apartment in the evening and found him waiting in the ivy next to the door. I was relieved that he hadn’t run away, but immediately puzzled at how he had escaped. I had left an upper window tipped open in the bathroom and that was the only way to exit the apartment. The window is about 8 feet off the ground. How on earth did he manage to slip out? A few days later I heard a bit of banging in the bathroom and discovered Tony launching himself from the window ledge, to the top of the door and then slipping out the window! Mystery solved.
This escape was undeniable evidence that Tony wanted to go outside. Which led me to a dilemma, how could I give him some outside time without worrying about him running away?
This is when I did what I thought was a crazy, eccentric thing: I bought a cat leash. A cat leash you say, is that really a thing?That’s what I thought before I saw the entire wall section at the pet store displaying a wide variety of sizes and colors and styles of cat leashes. The first time I took Tony out for a walk in the courtyard I took pictures and posted them on Facebook because I found it completely hilarious. Boy was I surprised when many of my friends responded by also sharing pictures of their cat on a leash! It turned out to not so eccentric, or perhaps my friends are unique?
The window escape story leads me to another cultural fact about Germany. In Germany, there are no screens and pretty much no sliding windows (unless it’s a full door, which is rare). Little known fact, screens were invented in the US to prevent the transmission of fly-borne diseases and mosquito-borne diseases. In Germany, as in most of Europe, there are almost no flies or mosquitoes so, no screens. The windows open by tipping at an angle or swinging open like a door. Which means, sneaky cats can go absolutely batty trying to escape.
I thought it would be safe to tip the window since the opening is many feet off the ground, but one day I heard a series of yowls and found poor Tony with his foot caught in the wedge at the bottom of the tipped window. I carefully lifted him out and decided I’d learn to live with him roaming in and out of the apartment through the open windows. Because now it was becoming summer and while summer is not anywhere near Hot in Germany, it can become stuffy and it’s not an option to keep the place closed up with no central heat and air. It’s not very livable.
This is when Tony and I began a routine. Every morning my iPhone alarm would go off at 6 and Tony would follow me down the hall to boil water for my French press coffee. Don’t get the impression I’m drinking French press coffee because I’m a coffee aficionado, it’s because I’m cheap and I didn’t want to buy a coffee maker in Germany. But I digress, back to Tony…In the morning I would open the living room window and he’d happily hop out into the courtyard roaming the grounds. I was relieved that he didn’t leave the gate to enter our little street. He climbed the trees and brought me mice and cockroaches and one day a very large earthworm. Which, yes, was hilarious! During the warm summer months I would join him and have my breakfast and coffee in the courtyard during the long days. Yes, it was a very idyllic scene. I suspected it would not last.
Over time I noticed him looking curiously down the walkway toward the gate and I knew eventually he would leave to explore the neighborhood. Sure enough one day he was gone and when I went to call for him he came running. Eventually, we just set a pattern where I’d open the window in the morning and evening and he’d roam for an hour or so and return. I had no idea where he went until I began to occasionally go out and call for his return and I noticed he always appeared out of a neighboring courtyard.
So, when he disappeared and didn’t return my first theory was that he was in one of the apartments in the neighboring building. It seemed simple enough to figure this out. Just walk over and ask. But, in a city, where many people speak English, but everyone speaks German, this was a challenge. I also had no idea which buzzer to ring.
As I said, I awoke Sunday morning and Tony was still gone. I had made plans to go with a friend to a German spa on Sunday (the spa will the topic of another post). She also knows Tony well and agreed that going to the spa was nuts, all I would do is worry about Tony. Now was the time to search. I waited until 9 and went upstairs to see if my neighbors could help try to inquire about Tony at the neighboring building. He also loves Tony and quickly bundled up in a coat before we walked next door. We rang the buzzer of a doctor fellow and my lovely neighbor spoke a string of German about his “American neighbor who lost a cat and had he seen it?”?. He had not.
We returned to our apartments and decided we needed lost cat signs to locate Tony. I decided to make one and use their printer to make copies. Well, the sign needed to be in German. Funny enough my neighbor simultaneously had this realization and came to offer that his son could help us write signs. I could provide a picture.
I sat next to my neighbor’s son who also, by the way, is a good friend of Tony’s, composed a Kater Vermisst sign. I scrolled through my iPhone for a good picture of Tony. The experience suddenly overwhelmed me a bit and I realized he could really be gone. I focused on the task at hand and we decided on a picture that showed his face – he’s missing an eye so it’s a rather distinctive face. We printed the signs and I began to distribute them I’m the neighborhood.
As I began down my street my friend walked up to help. We posted signs at all the buildings on my block, in the square nearby and spoke with the people we saw walking about in German. I was surprised at the genuine concern many people
Expressed about Tony and how they earnestly wished me luck in finding him. During the brief exchanges, I was quite surprised at how much I could speak and understand. After a couple of hours the signs were all posted and we had no leads, so we went to my place and I made some chicken soup to warm up.
We tried to distract ourselves with a movie and this is when it really hit me that it had been 24 hours and Tony might really be gone. I had a hard time thinking of life without him in Germany. He’s my constant companion in the apartment. The thought was unsettling.
A few hours passed and the phone rang. It was a neighbor who lived, you guessed it, in the building next door. My theory was correct! Tony stopped by for his normal visit. It was cold, she thought he might be a feral cat and called the Tierheim (pound) to take him somewhere warm. So, they picked him up and I was so incredibly relieved to know he was safe at the Tierheim.
On Monday I drove to the Tierheim to bail out Tony. Happily we were reunited! I recognized the lady at the Tierheim as the same lady who first introduced me to Tony last spring when I adopted him. She remembered me too. I guess not many Americans stop in to adopt a one-eyed cat.
I brought Tony home and then ran back to work for meetings. In the evening I stopped at the pet store to buy a collar and some cat toys for entertainment. The cat collar didn’t last 12 hours, but the toy is still going strong.
Interestingly Tony isn’t quite as obsessed with getting outside, at least for now. He’s on lock down! Although, We shall see. As the says grow warmer, he might get his freedom again. This time I’ll warn the neighbor she might have a friendly visitor. Part of me wants to keep him locked up and safe, but if I did, so many people would miss out on having the chance to love Tony. When he was lost I was touched by how many people cared enough to help me locate Tony. Even far away from my home in North Carolina I’m grateful for the true friendships I have formed in Germany. People who will walk with me up to perfect strangers in the bitter cold to find my cat.
The irony of it is that if I would have kept Tony safe in the apartment my connection with many of my neighbors would be very different. By letting him roam he built a bridge that crossed language and culture. A connection with young and old that can so easily be forged by a furry creature with a gleaming golden eye. I expect that once again I’ll take the risk and share his joy with our little community. For now we’re safe and warm and huddled up for the winter together. All is right in my world. I’m grateful that Meine kater is nicht Vermisst!