Daylight was bailing out on a drizzly February day when I saw the telltale mound of dirt and a shallow hole. Heather had at last fulfilled her long-term plan to burrow under the fence and escape. I was pet-sitting my sister's raggedy and willful terrier, and knew from experience that she was silly enough to get lost or hit by a car, so I clipped a leash on my sister’s other dog Fiona—a black Belgian Shepherd—shouted "Heather, Heather, Heather!" and began the search.
We circled the block, walked up the street to Heather's favorite park, and down the street to her second favorite, while I bellowed her name in all directions. Fiona was not much help; I always suspected she wanted to rid herself of her noisy and attention-seeking companion. The streets were silent, still. Heather was chronic yapper, so the silence was ominous.
After an hour and a half, Fiona and I jumped into the car and drove all over the neighborhood while I poked my head out the window calling for Heather. I'm sure more than a few innocent passers-by shook their heads ruefully as I passed, wondering how lunatics like me managed to obtain drivers licenses and vehicles, or why someone thought that selling Scottish bushes out of his car was a good way to spend a Sunday evening.
I don't know how many hours we spent in that fruitless search, but my throat was beginning to hurt and it was too dark to see. We drove back home, where I called the animal shelters, the town police, left messages with all the local veterinarians, made a sandwich for myself and a bowl of food for Fiona, grabbed a flashlight, and opened the door to keep searching.
Just as I was about to step outside, my new little tortoiseshell kitten, Isabella, scampered out the door, dove into some bushes, and disappeared. "Oh, great, just what I need. I've got to find her, too."
Now calling to both Heather and Isabella, I crept around the yard listening and sweeping the area with the flashlight beam. I finally spotted Isabella perched on the fence between my yard and the property of Brian, the neighborhood crank.
"No, Isabella, no. Come on, come here! Good kitty! Good little kitty!"
The kitten turned to me for a moment with a triumphant sneer, then leapt into Brian's yard and crawled under his porch.
Brian was not an animal lover, nor did he have a scrap of a sense of humor. What he did have was a keen sense of what was his, and he didn't like anybody invading his property. But there was Isabella, flouting the unspoken neighborhood laws, clambering up onto Brian's front porch to roll around, snatch his doormat up with her claws, and begin a manic wrestling match with it right in front of his door.
Brian wouldn’t be amused to find me running around on his porch at—I checked my watch—11:30 at night. So all I could do was stare helplessly, in horror, as my little kitten played on the precipice of doom.
Behind me I could hear scratching and the creak of a door opening. My other cat, Felicity, a fluffy black longhair who rarely left her high perch overlooking the downstairs area, had decided to join in the spirit of the occasion, pried open the door, spurted out, and before I could crash through the bushes and stop her, melted into the night.
"Oh no," I muttered. "Now what do I do?"
I spotted Felicity in the yard and tried to creep up on her while she crouched and sniffed the ground, but when I got close enough to grab her, she slithered through the fence into the street and under a parked truck. When I tried to coax her out, she skittered across the street and into a neighbor's rose garden.
Rounding up a herd of cats is a notoriously difficult business, and few can manage it. I am not one of the few. My cooing entreaties only seemed to inspire them to prance further into the distance, and I had to bear in mind that Heather was still at large.
At approximately 2:30 in the morning—after waking most of the neighbors with my hollering, crawling around under every tree and bush, and wandering through the back yards of people I didn't know, I decided to toss the ball into the pets' court. I had done all I could—it was up to them.
In one last, desperate hope, I took Fiona off the leash and hoped she could call on her ancestral genes and herd them back. "Go get the cats, Fiona, go get Heather! Go get them!"
She put her nose to the ground for a moment, then dashed into the brush. Moments later, two cats raced helter-skelter for the house with Fiona trotting behind. Soon they stood waiting at the door, their paws on the glass, their ears upright. "Oh, for the love of ... well, at least you came back. Good dog, Fiona, good dog! Now get Heather! Go get Heather!"
Fiona looked at me sideways and asked to go inside. She had no interest in finding Heather. Exhausted, I decided there was no choice but to wait for morning.
I didn't wait long. Very early next morning the phone rang. It was the local police. "We think we have your dog in custody," said an official voice. "You're looking for a white and black little terrier, long ears, plaid pink collar..."
"Thank God," I breathed. "Where was she..."
"She was running around in the middle of a major intersection near your house. We had to get several squad cars over there to stop traffic and catch her."
Relief flamed into horror. I wanted to hang up the phone and deny any knowledge of the alleged miscreant.
"We've got her locked up right now, ready to go to Central Booking in the county shelter. You'd better get here in the next ten minutes or you'll have to try to get her in Upper Marlboro. She won't last long there, I'm afraid."
The county shelter in Upper Malboro was an hour away. My sister's face seemed to flash before me, twisted in grief and rage. "I'll be right there," I heard myself intone through dry lips. "Please, don't take her away yet. I'll be right there."
When I pulled up to the police station in a freezing rain, I saw Heather's face bobbing with a goofy expression in the back window of a police car while she pawed at the glass. I could have sworn I saw handcuffs on her paws. A policeman sauntered out to meet me, and the prisoner was transferred without further delay. Heather was uncharacteristically silent on the ride home. We both felt a distinct strain in the atmosphere. I didn't speak, and she didn't so much as pant or even look at me.
When at last we reached my house, she leapt out. She twirled to face me and let loose a barrage of barking as if I were the last mailman on earth. Fiona managed to push the door to the house open to race over and greet her old friend.
When at last I got everybody into the house, the two cats appeared to observe Heather's return. They also didn't say a thing, but they both gave me a look that said more than a thousand words. I walked carefully around the yard, filling in and blocking any potential exit routes. I had no doubt that inside, Heather was already hard at work plotting her next escape.