Monday, February 4, 2008

Ben There?

It was bad news. The furnace was on the fritz, and it wasn’t fixable. So when the service men came to install the new one, we had no idea just how hot things would end up in our house later that day.

The last thing I mentioned to the furnace guys, before the kids left for school and I took off for my college classes, was to make sure they didn’t let the cat out. You see Ben was an indoor cat, and I could just see him trying to sneak out.

I remember thinking that I was kind of being pet-owner-paranoid … asking these two overalled service-guys to “mind-the-cat.” The foreman on the job assured me that they would be very careful and as if on cue, Ben showed up in the kitchen at my heels to see me off.

Ben had been a birthday present for my daughter, Tami, and was our first feline pet. He had a beautiful coat of solid gray, with a little white under chin. His eyes were a light amber, very knowing somehow. He had a slight build. His body would just pour out of your grasp if he was done being held, slinking away on his declawed paws.

The whole family had fun with the idiosyncrasies that Ben displayed. When we’d leave, he would drag out Tami’s teddy bears (one by one) and leave them strewn around the house showing his displeasure with us for being left alone; or he’d hide from us in the hall closet on the middle shelf, way in the back. The only way we found out about his hiding place was when his meowing led us to the closed closet door. After a couple of “kitty-in-closet” episodes, we gave up and always left the hall closet door ajar.

So, when I returned home that particular afternoon, I checked the new furnace, and all appeared well. I hadn’t noticed Ben, but didn’t give it a second thought. Soon, the kids arrived home, we all settled into the after school routine.

That’s when the day really took an upside-down turn. Tami came out to the kitchen screaming, “Mom, It’s Ben! Something is wrong!” I was trying to make sense of her hysterical screams – she was shouting something about Ben isn’t Ben – Ben is missing! Somebody took Ben and left a different cat! She tried to convince me that there was a different cat in Tim’s room. A gray cat, it looked like Ben, but it was NOT Ben.

Figuring Ben may have been traumatized by all the commotion that day, I thought the poor ole’ cat probably had himself all stressed out and wasn’t acting – or looking – quite like himself.

I calmed Tami down, and walked with her to the Tim’s bedroom to assure her everything would be OK, that Ben was probably upset, and ….

And then I saw the cat.

In front of us, Tim was holding this very nice gray kitty, who seemed quite comfortable and very calm. Yes, the cat was a male, and gray and even had a small patch of white under his chin, but this Ben imposter had claws on all four wheels, so it was definitely, NOT Ben.

Thinking this was ending up more and more like a bizarre episode of the Twilight Zone, the situation raised a few questions. First, who is this gray kitty; second, how did he get into Tim’s room; and third, where is the REAL Ben.

When we calmed down a bit, we realized this little stranger probably had all the answers. He was very polite and accepting of our attention, he didn’t mind being handled, and in general appeared to like being – home? He had to be a pet, and no stranger to attention. So how did it come to be here?

Once we figured that we had an extra kitty, it only took a few steps to the hall closet to find the REAL Ben. He had been hiding out there … even when the serviceman came up from the basement earlier in the day. They discovered the back door was left open to the great outdoors, and imagined the worst when Ben was nowhere to be found in the house. One of them looked out into the driveway and across the street spotted a solid gray cat with bit of white fur under the chin. The cat was soliciting attention from some younger neighborhood kids. The serviceman hollered out, “Hold that cat!” What a relief, he must have thought as he brought that cat indoors, finished up his job, and left for the day. He had no idea he had just kidnapped – or catnapped – the wrong kitty!

Ben and his new “friend” didn’t mind each other at all, but both knew this was Ben’s home. And although Tim wanted to keep our visitor, it only took a few trips around the neighborhood to locate the little guy’s rightful owner!

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