A McKittypants Love Song

I got everything ready to write this blog, and then promptly went outside to the fenced area of Arroyo Minor to take the dogs for a walk-romp.

They enjoyed it.  Me, I was just looking for courage.


Five months old in 9/14, already Perfectly McPants

About a month ago, I blogged about our Plague Cat.  About how Mr. McKittypants came to us as an unadoptable barn cat, about his wild nature—about training him, managing him, and coming to terms with his brilliant, dichotomous personality.  How much he meant to us–especially to Tristan Beagle.  And also about his early, profound injury, and then about his recent illness.

Undaunted by either, he was not to be contained.  Four days after returning to us from his organ-cooking fever, he was back outside on demand.  (And when I say demand, I mean “Run for your lives!”)

A week after his return from that vet, he demanded unusual evening out time.  I allowed it, following a deliberate strategy to relieve his stress about confinement.  Then I went into the office and published the Plague Cat blog.

Mainly it was a blog about hard choices.  About letting Mickey be Mickey, seeking balance between between needs and safety.  Understanding the risks.

Timing is everything.  Because of course, I never saw him again.

It’s taken time to come to terms—tiny little steps along the way.  Some part of me knew, the very moment I woke to find him not here, that he was gone.  “Cats are cats,” people said, with hope.  “They do their own thing.”

But because of all our training and socialization and bonding, wild Mickey was, in some ways, a very, very predictable cat.  He had his ways.  He stuck to them.  Our routines revolved around rewards of very high value, and he not only went along with them, he demanded them!


I spent the day walking Arroyos Minor and Major.  Not looking for Mickey so much as looking for sign.

The truth is, when you go out searching the coyote highway, the only good news is no news.  And even that’s marginal.

After checking the lower, grassy section of Arroyo Major, I brought the dogs out to help.  After all, the first thing I’d done upon missing Mickey was to isolate his crate towel bedding, and I *do* have tracking dogs.


Connery took on the lower section of the arroyo without any hint of indication.  When he got worried about it, I pulled him off and planned a nice motivational track for the next day.  Dart did pretty much the same, but then I took him higher in the arroyo, where it goes from being a flood plain in a giant trench to steep, deep, and narrow terrain.


Up near our northern boundary, Dart found a tuft of skin and fur.

It was the right length, the right apparent color.  But it’s remarkably hard to tell when dealing with a very stripy cream and brown tabby, and rabbit remained a primary contender.  Dart was excited but stumped;  I cried but knew I hadn’t found a primary site or even all the evidence there was to be had.  I even brought baby Tristan out in the last part of the day, just to let him follow his nose, but found nothing more.

After three days of hiking and searching,  I finally found definitive sign–directly above where Dart had located the tuft, in a root- and tree-sheltered spot that created the perfect protection from the wind and the perfect foil for meaningful scent dispersion.  Additional tufts, blending perfectly into the completely undisturbed needle-covered ground, were scattered around.

I spent a very long time combing over that ground, and by then I knew: bird of prey.  But I still wasn’t sure about identity.

tb.mc.lap.732A week after Mickey went missing, the Other of Us and I woke up to discover that we’d had nearly identical dreams of Mickey’s return–dreams that had somehow felt like good-bye.

I went back to the tree spot–I’d been visiting it almost daily–and hung a wind dangly of shells and sticks that Mickey would have loved to eviscerate.  I named the spot the Vigil Tree.

After that, evidence mounted.  From my Facebook:

We came home from agility today to find mostly white feathers from a largish bird, bird poo, and blood…all scattered around Mickey’s killing zone on the back porch. W, we said, TF? And yes…we dared to hope.

I went out into Arroyo Minor to look around, calling for Mickey. Behind the fence, the dogs were sniffy and intent in a way that told me there was something to find, so that kept me looking until I heard the flap of large wings and turned around just in time to glimpse bird-of-prey tail flap away from a juniper with feathers scattered all beneath. It swooped off down the arroyo, immediately obscured by trees.

I collected feathers, and have identified them as dove–collared dove, probably. And the bird of prey, which was likely a goshawk.

If I’m right–and it was only a glimpse–then a goshawk is big enough to take a cat (but at late dusk–? I don’t know).

Or a puppy. And it quite clearly is willing to come into our yard.

Either way, it was a cosmically cruel thing to come home to signs of the hunt in Mickey’s killing corner. I’m glad I solved that much of the puzzle, but ugh…we’re reeling a little. Or a lot.


And within days:

…I already posted about the goshawk (pending ID) activity behind the house and in Arroyo Minor, which is a big deal for us here and which is a fairly stunning development in terms of Mickey’s situation(although the owl is still a significant suspect, as well). I haven’t seen the bird since then, but there’s enough sign in the area to make me believe s/he’s still around. Either way, I’m not taking chances. Tristan is never out unless I’m here, and never out without the adults (who don’t let large birds approach without objecting, not even ravens).

Since then the universe has been sending me messages–local folks in discussion about their cats and dogs, larger than Mickey, being taken or witnessed as nearly taken by owls/hawks, not even knowing my situation or that I’m on the periphery of the conversation. (This may well be contrary to the experience of those who live in less arid climes, or those less devastated by drought.)

Last weekend a friend of mine also stopped by with a new gift–the rabbit hair we’ve needed for comparison to the tufts I found. If our schedules work out, [my other friend] and I will look at those under her new ‘scope and compare them, but…

It’s hardly necessary. With rabbit samples in hand, the difference is so visually obvious as to be conclusive. But I’ll post a report on it.

Mickey still rules the house, even as we make tiny ongoing transitions to adjust for his absence–he rules it by dint of his giant personality, which still lingers everywhere, and in the size of the permanent hole in our lives.

Anyway, I’m headed out to the arroyo this morning again and hike north to hang some new dangly things from the Vigil Tree.

The Vigil Tree

The Vigil Tree

And then, finally, a couple days later:

 [Friend] brought her microscope over yesterday and we looked at various samples: Connery, for kicks. Her orange cat’s hair (Thank you, Calvin, for the donation!) Known rabbit hair. The mystery sample. And–something I hadn’t thought of until the microscope was there in front of me–I pulled Mickey’s crate towel out of its plastic bag and carefully plucked off the scant fur deposited there. (I felt like someone on BONES.) Since then, I’ve also looked at fleece hair from a black cat (Thank you, Caje.)

The gist of it is that the sample hair is NOT rabbit. Which we already knew from observation, but now have science behind it, too. The orange hairs are lighter, but similar in structure. The black cat hair is nearly identical. And the Mickey sample comes as close to matching the mystery tufts as an untrained eye can make out.

In the end, the recent illness is the root of what happened, whether the bird was hawk or owl.  Mickey was out of sync with his own habits, resentful of the evening indoor hours we’d established to keep him safe.  He left the house at an atypical time, with an atypical frame of mind.

He didn’t have his head in the game.  And that’s all it took.

So many friends have offered such comfort to us–understanding that we’d done our best to balance his safety and his risk to allow him both the social outlets he craved and the wild nature he couldn’t overcome.  For myself, I can hardly even believe he’s gone.  He was a larger than life cat living a larger than life…life.  His story was so very far from over, and I was so very far from ready to lose him.

Mr. McKittypants…The McPants…Mickey.  Love you forever, buddy.
–Signed, your McPerson


About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
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27 Responses to A McKittypants Love Song

  1. Sara Stamey says:

    Doranna, thanks for sharing all along the way. I miss the reports and photos of his adventures and friendship with Tristan. I, too, struggle with the balance of freedom and safety for my cats. Settled on open cat door during the day, then get them in before dusk, but sometimes they can be tricksy. All best wishes to you and blessings on our sweet animal pals.

    • Doranna says:

      That was the routine we’d shaped with Mickey, too, although we were struggling with it a little as the season/lighting changed. His mid-evening outing was entirely in response to his touchiness about being confined in the wake of being in veterinary ICU and then the house. It was a deliberate choice–a frightening one, too. But we were trying to regain his sanity…

  2. Suzan Morrow Farrell says:

    McK will live on in the hearts of many of us.

  3. Kada says:

    I’m shattered, so I cannot even begin to imagine how you’re all feeling. Especially with Lyme in the mix as well. I’m so very sorry for your loss, but so thankful we got to share his McBrilliance.
    P.S. T’was really NOT a good idea to read this with PMS. {tearful wry smile}

    • Doranna says:

      I’m glad you shared his McBrilliance, too. It makes him shine all the brighter!

  4. Louise Edwards says:

    so very sorry to read this, Doranna. I will never forget your McKittypants… and his fierce & unwavering spirit. Hugs to you and the dogs… xoxo

    • Doranna says:

      Thank you! He took us on an amazing cat journey. Taught me a lot along the way, too.

  5. Molly Moody says:

    I’ve got very leaky eyes. We all loved Mr.McKittypants dearly.

    • Doranna says:

      It’s such a comfort to know he touched others the way he touched us. It shines through, doesn’t it?

  6. Patty says:

    waa. No dry eyes here either. The Mc was quite the cat.

  7. Paula Helm Murray says:

    Hell, someone got video of a hawk trying to take someone’s tiny Yorkie… while it was on a leash with its human. Much sympathy.

    • Doranna says:

      Wow. But I can believe it. Not common, I know, but these birds are surviving with us the same way that coyotes are–finding new habits. And thank you!

  8. EMoonTX says:

    So sorry, Doranna.

  9. Marilyn says:

    Fare well, Mickey. You were an amazing cat — and attaching that adjective to “cat” is saying something. May your next eight lives be worthy of you.

  10. Peg Cartano says:

    We had one very like Mickey. She was called Cat (short for Pywacket). She too refused to be an indoor cat, tangled with a fox at one point, and was taken by what we assume was a badger. We will all miss Mickey; though not nearly as much as you guys. Thank you for sharing him with us. I have saved many of the pictures; hope that’s ok with you. Many prayers and blessings to you all. And, of course, Mickey will always be with you.

    • Doranna says:

      Gosh, yes–save the piccies, indeed! It’s a way to spread the Mickey.

  11. Ellen Heaton says:

    Tears…and hugs for you. I loved reading your stories of him and his Beagle buddies. I was so hoping he would come limping home to you one day… but Nature can be cruel and Micky needed to be true to his nature too. I too worry about my Smokey, who learned how to work the doggy door a year ago and goes hunting in our yard (he always stays inside the fence). We too have owls and they were very loud one night so I knew they were close. I chased all the critters inside, but not before I saw a swooping bird with a large wing span coming down near my fence… we have lots of small ground critters here too but now I worry. My vet says the owls don’t get big enough to pick up Smokey… I think I need to talk to the park folks (We back to a park that has a Nature Center for the kids. Mickey will live in our hearts and minds. He had the biggest McPersonality.

    • Doranna says:

      Owls certainly get big enough to take a cat–depending on the owl and the cat. It’s a well-known thing around here. Also it probably depends on the owl’s other choices. A cat might not be worth the trouble in a riparian area, for instance.

      Thanks for your understanding. The only way Mickey could BE was if we gave him that room to be who he was.

  12. Conni says:

    don’t ever blame yourself for McPants’ demise. Nature will out. He was an outdoor cat,
    who decided to come inside from time to time because of you (and then
    Tristan, I suspect). He wouldn’t have had nearly as long a life
    without you. I think he might have been one of those adrenalin junkies,
    you know? Taking the risk and accepting the consequences. Sounds to me
    like he was stomping around the house and raising havoc after being at
    the vets for the second time and was in the teenage “F* this” mode. As
    you said, he was not on his game. Not that he would’ve expected danger from above, even when he was completely aware. Who would? I’m leaking
    tears here because your time with him was way too short. But it was rich with his big personality! xo

    • Doranna says:

      “…In the teenage “F* this” mode–yes, very much, I think. Adrenaline junkie sounds just about right. That Mickey Cat!

  13. SueWeinberg says:

    I’m so sorry about Mickey. He was beautiful, and he lived life the way he wanted to. He’ll be waiting for you (and Tristan Beagle) at the Rainbow Bridge.
    Sue Weinberg

    • Doranna says:

      His time here was on his terms, all right. Fierce, wonderful, amazing cat. I fall in love with him all over again each time I see his piccies!

  14. Mary Ann Shinnick says:

    I have a 15year old cat with similar markings whom we also love . Read your stoty hoping Mr M would suddenly come home unharmed. So sorry that wasn’t how the story ended. Mary Ann Shinnick

  15. Doranna says:

    I sort of disappeared, but not really. Verizon took down my host server and then took forever to fix it…by the time they did, I was off at an agility trial! I’ve found my way back, and have found the gentle comments here to be of so much comfort. Thank you!

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